I don’t believe you, Captain America
A few months ago, Marvel announced a storyline in which it was revealed that Captain America was, and apparently always had been, a sleeper agent of the criminal organization, Hydra. This inspired a number of online rants and set the social media world aflame. Before I begin, I want everyone to know that I understand Captain America is fiction. Cap is Marvel’s character. They have a right to do what they want with him, and the current writer has a right to do a creative storyline. In many ways, this is similar to what happened when Spider-Man was replaced by Doc Ock ‘The Superior Spider-Man’.
So here’s how I feel about Captain America. Brace yourself.
The second Marvel comic book I remember owning was Captain America and the Falcon #199 (The first was The Incredible Hulk #200, but that’s a story for another day). I’ve included an image of the cover to the left.
When I got the comic book, I had no idea who Captain America was or who the Falcon was. All I knew was that they were colorful and pretty amazing-looking. The two of them spent the issue struggling to stop a guy named William Taurey from unleashing the might of the Madbomb. The issue hooked me. I liked both characters, and they risked their lives against overwhelming odds. Unlike most of Saturday morning’s Superfriends, they didn’t incredible powers, just wings and a shield. When I was done reading, two Madbombs were still going to explode, and only Captain America and the Falcon could save the United States. I had to own the next issue (which I managed to find at a local drugstore – for the record, they did save the United States). However, as Falcon dropped out of the series a little less than year after I started collecting them, I stopped being as interested in the title.
A different comic book series kept my interest in Captain America from waning. I discovered the Avengers. The issue that really struck me was Avengers #165 where a villain named Count Nefaria had absorbed the abilities of the Whirlwind, the Living Laser and another villain whose name escapes me, but had them magnified a hundredfold. This gave him the power to take on the entire team of Avengers, and these were the days when the Avengers had lots of members, including Scarlet Witch, Vision, Iron Man, the Beast, Wonder Man, Black Panther, Wasp, Yellowjacket and of course, Captain America.
Still, it was a thrilling issue, and so was the next one. I won’t reveal how it all ends, but lots of people who remember these issues. They were fun. They were some of my favorites to reread, and I’m kind of concerned about the condition mine are in.
Regardless, there was a part in the issue where Captain America defiantly threw his shield at Nefaria to try and stop him. Unfortunately for Cap, Nefaria plucked the shield out of the air. Now, at this point in my young life, I figured Captain America had a shield made out of titanium steel or something like that. Imagine how I felt as an excited kid when Nefaria tried to crush it, but discovered that despite all his power, Captain America’s shield refused to crumple like aluminum foil. That’s when I learned that Captain America’s shield was unbreakable.
To me, that shield has been a symbol of the American spirit. Captain America isn’t great because he was a super-soldier, but because he never gave up, no matter what the odds. He represented faith and belief in the best of us. As I continued to follow him, I could cheer for Steve because he would do what was right, while respecting the freedoms of others. Captain America was a hero. Probably the best issue to illustrate this for me was issue 237, “It Happened at Diebenwald.”
It was my first real introduction to the Holocaust in a way that I could understand. The story is a flashback told by a survivor who remembers Captain America liberating the prisoners at a concentration camp. Cap represented those real soldiers who discovered the true horrors of the Nazi regime. His comic book was a vehicle for showing me the good that the greatest generation did in winning World War II.
We have lots of heroes who have fallen in real life. It feels like everyday there’s a scandal. We don’t trust our leaders, we discover corruption in the best institutions, we find out that our entertainers have terrible secrets. I understand that people are human, and that they have human failings.
I need Captain America.
I want to hold on to the ideals of our forefathers, whether they actually lived up to those ideals or not. His shield gave me strength when I was picked on by bullies, when I was the slowest kid in the class, the one who was the last chosen in P.E. He taught me that one man could make a difference. He taught me that you defended the little guy. He taught me that every person has rights and deserves to be free. Captain America represented truth and justice, sacrifice and commitment, and the desire to fight for what’s right no matter what the odds.
Marvel can do what it wants. Maybe it was a good story. I don’t want to read it. I want to keep my Captain America. As my friend Terry said, He’s a moral compass in cartoon form.
So, here’s the thing. When I’m presented with a story that tells me that everything I believed about Captain America isn’t true, that my image of Captain America is wrong, my first reaction is: I don’t believe you, Marvel.
This is nothing new in comics and certainly not limited to Marvel. DC has had the same issues in the past. From the Death of Superman, to the Spider-Man Clone fiasco of years ago (when the readership was told that our Peter Parker was a clone), to the innumerable times that Jean Grey and/or Phoenix have returned from the dead, many stories over the last few decades feel more like storylines that belonged in “What if…?” comic books, rather than canon. And it all seems to be an attempt to drive more sales, not that I blame them.
As these stories have built on each other, we’ve gotten to the point where we can’t trust heroes in comic books. A revelation, twist or death only works if it’s plausible and has consequences.
Marvel seems to be on the cusp of making some awesome changes. From the new Thor to Ironheart to Miles Morales, I’m impressed at the commitment they seem to have. DC is doing some shifts as well. But can I trust them? Do I believe them? Will everything shift back next year?
And that is the heart of my problem. When a comic company takes one of these icons and changes him or her or retcons things to a point that seems implausible, it makes every story that follows seem less believable. I can’t take the death of Bruce Banner seriously, when he’s still the Hulk in the movies, in cartoons, plus the death itself doesn’t seem plausible (or feel right), and I have every expectation that he’ll be back unless Amadeus Cho (the new Hulk) becomes exceedingly popular.
The real problem is sales. Comic sales aren’t what they used to be, although I’d say that the medium has more talent than ever.
I don’t really know the solution to prevent companies from trying these implausible stories, but I have some thoughts. I’d like to see comic companies show a greater diversity of characters. They seem to have the same thoughts, so I hope they carry on.
However, as I read how I came to love Captain America, I’m struck by the fact that the people who used to read those comics were kids. As comic books now focus on adults, much of the material is inappropriate for kids. And yet, there are more superhero toys than ever before. Cartoons for kids featuring heroes are common, but I have trouble finding comic books that I’d share with a child.
I asked a comic book store owner about this problem. His suggestion was that I buy back issues from the days when comics were written for kids. I can’t help but think that we need to strive to give kids more comic books that they can read. To help them learn, improve their reading abilities and most of all, to inspire them.
On that note, I’ll end my rant. I might try to see if I can find my copy of Avengers #165. It really was a good issue. Thanks!