A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 2, Captain America

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern.

I’ll be honest. This character is unlikely to be my favorite. I have a pre-existing bias against Captain America. Its not that I don’t enjoy stories with Cap in them, and its not that I don’t see the good in him, but overall, I think the symbolism represented by his name and costume has been so abused, and continues to be abused with no end in sight, that the character inhabiting it becomes an anachronism at best, at worst, a prop that validates the worst about the USofA. Without further ado…

Who is Captain America?

Captain America’s alter ego is Steve Rogers, who came of age just before World War 2. The character is so tied to WW2 that the further real time gets away from that period of time, the more anachronistic Cap becomes. But here’s what happened. A scrawny kid (Rogers) tries to enlist in the military to go fight Hitler. He is deemed to unhealthy to enlist, but his courage impresses a scientist, Dr. Erskine, who signs Steve up for an experimental Super-Soldier program. Steve takes the Super Soldier Serum and becomes a… well, Super Soldier. But Erskine dies before anyone else can benefit from the serum. So Steve becomes the best soldier America can ask for, and punches Hitler in the face. At some point, his sidekick, Bucky, dies, and after a little while longer, Cap himself dissapears in icy waters, never to be found again…. except he is found, and thawed out in our current times, and becomes the hero America wants and needs. He dresses in a giant american flag, and along the way he acquired a mighty shield (all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield) which is unbreakable. Now, onto the criteria for judging:

Is this character heroic? Safe to say yes. While having no true superpowers, Captain America is known for always putting himself front and center when the danger happens. He is always the first to put himself in harms way in order to save someone else, and he does it all for the greater good, thinking very little about selfish desires in the process. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Cap represents the biggest power there is in our modern world. This is probably the biggest mark against Cap on my list. Captain America is a walking, talking poster child for America and its place in the world. Cap is always talking about American values as if they are somehow higher than those of the rest of the world, and depending on the era in which you read Cap, he has been downright snobbish, elitist, and exceptionalistic about America.  (0 points)

Does this character kill? Ummm… yeah. When Cap first hit the scene, he was all about the gun-slinging. Of course, he got dialed down quite a bit during the 60’s and 70’s, but he has made a fierce return to the world of militarism as of late. Also, particularly problematic for me, it is usually the case that Captain America uses guns when fighting some non-American threat. And while that may seem quite appropriate and apropos, given the nature of the character, I find that buoying of American exceptionalism problematic. But in short, Cap doesn’t like it, but does take human lives. (0 points)

Does this character have a spirituality? Yes. Cap is almost always portrayed a protestant Christian of sorts. He is depicted as in church every Sunday, and dislikes vulgarity and profanity in movies, and has been known to blush at overly racy discussion. Still, he is portrayed in a very stereotypical way for protestant Christians. Almost as if he is the token Christian in a mdeium that has largely moved away from any sort of real discussion about spirituality. (1 begrudging point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Yeah. Cap is a man out of his time. He is a living anachronism and him trying to live in a modern world with such a distant worldview can be very engaging. At the same time, this anachronism can be used to draw attention to and critique both our current time and the time from which Captain America comes, which often is given a pass as the “greatest generation.” (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Not really. Captain America does have a supporting cast, and they are fairly well known, but they aren’t given much time to shine. From Sharon/Peggy Carter to Falcon and/or Bucky, they have usually been used to show how awesome Cap is. That has changed much recently, especially with Bucky/Winter Soldier but not enough to say that Cap has a robust supporting cast. (0 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Yes. plenty. (1 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Unfortunately not. Cap is a living, breathing embodiment of one country to the exclusion of all others. Of course, Cap would never say that out-loud, but American exceptionalism is front and center on every page. Also, no matter which American values Cap claims to represent, there has never been a time period in which America and her militaristic elements (which Cap represents) has been anything close to heroic, when you count her sins as well. Many will claim Cap represents what America should and can be, but without any proof that America CAN be those things, this rings hollow, and sounds like propaganda of peace layered over injustice.  (0 Points)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Totally. Cap might not technically have any superpowers, but the super soldier serum coursing through his body make him peak human in every way. He represents the pinnacle of humanity on nearly every way that matters. Of course, that in and of itself is a not-so-subtle commentary about America’s place in the world, but without judging that at the moment, yes. Cap’s powers make him very interesting, both as he towers above mortals, as well as having to reach to play ball with the gods and monsters that inhabit the rest of his universe. (1 point)

Verdict: 4 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Wolverine….

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