Monday, July 4, 2016

Captain America - 240 Years and Counting

I was 10 when I first saw Captain America in a comic. He was fighting big nasty spiders in New York under the control of the Yellow Claw in Captain America & Falcon #165.

The next time I saw him, he was with Iron Man and helping Patsy Walker become the Hellcat. I showed my dad the splash page after he was asking why I was reading comics in the car. "Because they are cool, dad - look!" He took one look at George Perez's fetching pinup of Hellcat and gave a appreciative grin. "Yeah. O.K."

He never bothered me about reading comics in the car again.

The next thing I remember seeing Cap in was a read-along Power Record, where he fights the son of an old villain. It was essentially a radio drama, an edited version of Captain America #168, put on a 45 rpm record.

I learned a lot about the burdens Cap carried, just for being alive. All his enemies of ages past - or their offspring - hated him still. It was no fun surviving World War II. It seemed only your foes stayed vibrant.

I kept seeing Cap every month in the Avengers and so I was happy. He was a great soldier - a veteran like my dad and his friends - and he had an indestructible shield which simply was too cool for words. Back then, we comic fans knew only three things were absolutely indestructible in the Marvel Universe: Thor's hammer, Cap's shield and Ultron's robotic body.

As I matured and different writers came aboard, Cap changed to - he became more stalwart and less dramatic. I imagine it must have been the legacy of the writers as well - each one wanting in their time to add to the legend of Captain America.

But I think something else was transpiring, and it is hard to put into words so bear with me, gentle reader.

Captain America looks and sounds just like your iconic superhero, one can easily forgive this error.

But the fact is, Cap is a super soldier, a man who wanted to fight for his country and stepped up to be experimented on. He is neither a victim nor an accident. His training came afterwards. He was always been a man on a mission. He's just America's most patriotic superhero.

Even his "secret identity" is as nothing. Steve Rogers is known by anyone who cares on sight.

When Cap returned from "suspended animation", that was Jack Kirby bringing back his WW2 creation to speak to the disaffected youth of the 60s. I mean, seriously, you bring back a supersoldier patriot, and saddle him with a smart aleck carny trickshooter and two mutants and call them the new Avengers?


But Jack and Stan knew that kids were feeling the changes in their society and it must have been just the easiest gut instinct to pair an old WW2 vet with some weird punks, just to show that old does not mean square or stupid. There can be acceptance and wisdom and respect - if you give some.

Cap is therefore a symbol - not just of America, but her veterans and her ideals worth fighting for.

In the first Avengers movie, there are some fabulously great "Cap" lines that say all the things we want to say as Americans. Things John Wayne used to say.
Steve Rogers: Word is you can find the cube.
Bruce Banner: Is that the only word on me?
Steve Rogers: Only word I care about.

Did you miss that?

You see America has this hope and ideal that men should not be judged except for their character. Not by the color of their skin, nor their wealth or power, just their character. In this brief exchange, actor Chris Evans simply NAILS the essence of Captain America: he doesn't care what the world says [i.e. "word on the street" or "word"], just that this cursed and alienated man is here to help, so Cap immediately accepts him without judgment.

This is the Cap we have before us now, and he's pretty good.

He's struggled and limped through Viet Nam, Watergate and the end of the Cold War. He's been Nomad, the man without a nation and simply "the Captain" in the 80s, but we always knew Cap would come back, it just would take time.

Cap reflected our disillusionments in America after the glorious victory of WW2. The things we feared, he took on. From embracing mutants [hippies] to fighting the Serpent Crown [Watergate] to refusing to be a government puppet [Iran-Contra] and even fighting Iron Man [yuppies in corporations].

He's part of American history now. He's arguably one of the most recognizable superheroes ever created outside of Superman.

What did Cap do for me, as a kid, then as a young adult, by reading him and watching his legacy grow in the pages of the Avengers and the greater Marvel Universe?

He made me realize how tough it is to be good and how nobility is won by lots of little decisions. That a God-fearing American soldier was not some gung-ho nationalistic machine-gun toting testosterone-filled killing machine.

He was rather a man of conviction, of faith, of integrity who honored those who had fallen so that all men could live in freedom.

He stood for American ideals and lived them out. He was never petty nor rancorous nor fearful. He led with his body and mind and never backed down.

Cap had Batman's intensity but Superman's kindness. I have always - I mean after 40 years of reading - admired that.

There's one last weird thing about Cap, though.

He's no good by himself. He exists to serve and protect. I always, always imagine him with a team or with a partner. He's just too perfect by himself and it hurts me to see him alone. Cap loves people and needs people.

You see, his indestructible shield is not just to protect himself; it's so he can protect others.

Captain America may often walk alone, but he can never stay alone.

A captain needs men to lead, and America needs Americans to exist.

A super man can be super by himself. So can a wonder woman by wonderful or a bat man be... uh... batty.

But not so with Captain America. We created him and he has defined us.

Thanks, Cap.


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