Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Funeral of Captain America

So Cap gets his Arlington funeral this week, as the Associated Press reported, complete with stunning John Cassaday art:




It's not the first time Cap has died (Steranko killed him off in a memorable arc in which it was revealed that the God of Thunder is susceptible to knockout gas), and it may not be the last, but give Marvel (and Cap writer Ed Brubaker) credit for giving this death the kind of weight and significance that makes it feel like it could be the real thing.

Will Marvel bring him back? Well, they brought back Bucky. And you can make a case that Steve Rogers has done nothing but come back from the dead since he was reintroduced to the MarvelVerse in Avengers #4. When I bought that issue, I didn't know who the hell he was. But my Dad did. "Captain America? Christ Almighty!" he said, "I used to have all those comic books when I was a kid, until your grandmother threw them out." (This was about two years before my mother threw out all my comics. Some experiences truly are cross-generational.)



At the time, there was a 20-year gap between Cap's last official appearance at the end of World War II and his revival as an Avenger, which is next to nothing in comic book years, and that's probably why the man-out-of-time facet of Cap's character took another 20 years to be played with by writers like Frank Miller, who refers to Cap as "the soldier" in his Daredevil run and portrays him as a man for whom the sound of helicopters is a constant reminder of how out of place he feels in these days of modern times. He is, after all (as my father would be the first to remind me), a man who made his entry into the world by punching Adolf Hitler in the face:




Talk about your wish-fulfilment fantasies, huh? I guess something analogous would be like, oh, I don't know--maybe seeing Batman hunt down Osama Bin Laden. (Like that's ever gonna happen. Oh wait.)

What's interesting to me is that, since Cap is a child of the 40's, his death implies a critique on a set of values from that era in a way that his resurrection and survival never did. Created during a time of war, Steve (Captain America) Rogers wasn't a symbol of anything more than the national desire to kick Nazi ass. It's only after the war is over that his symbolic nature becomes confusing or questionable. So perhaps it's fitting that the week of Cap's funeral (which also occurs during a time of war) sees the reissue of one of the best, if briefest, re-envisionings of Steve Rogers, the Roger Stern/John Byrne run:



Why did I like this run so much? Because it not only dealt with Cap's history and continuity, it dealt with the idea-of-America part of his character that, to me, is what makes him interesting, inspirational, and potentially tragic. It opens up all kinds of stories revolving around the nature of patriotism, nationalism, and obedience to authority; and whatever your opinion of Civil War, putting Cap on the anti-government side feels exactly right. (My opinion of Civil War? Great concept; lousy execution. For something that was supposed to be politically relevant, it's totally ironic and fitting that it's the epilogue--Cap's death--which is resonating more with the public-at-large than the actual issues leading up to that death. Although, can I just say? Tony Stark is a dick.)



To my mind, the flag and the shield make Cap's death more (shall we say) thought-provoking and socially relevant than the death of Superman. Is it a symbol of the death of the New Deal? The death of conscience? The end of nationalism? --patriotism? --jingoism? The death of the dream? (What dream?) Or is it, like an amendment to the Constitution, part of an ongoing, on-growing experiment in government?

In the end, it's like any other life--now that it's over, we try to figure out what it all means.


So where do I stand on the "Will they bring Cap back?" question. I'd like to think that Cap will stay dead because freedom demands sacrifice--because soldiers give their lives in every age for the values of this country. But mostly, I'd like him to stay dead because that's what happens to real people. And to me, Captain America was real.




4 comments:

Felicity said...

I'd like to think it's the death of jingoism, (That big 'A' doesn't stand for 'France'), but we all know I'm 'une optimiste'.

L'art de Cassaday est toujours beau, n'est-ce pas ? Sa perspective, sa ligne... pefect.
Son bande dessinée est le coup de foudre.

- F.

Gloria said...

Hi Felicity,

The unfortunate phrase about France belongs to the CA of "that" Unfortunate... i mean, Ultimate Universe... I suppose Mark Millar thought he was being "veddy" funny when he wrote it.

The real Cap, or the real Steve Rogers, as Stern/Byrne and Brubaker have reminded us, fought alongside WITH the French against Hitler. What has always surprised me, is that I'm anti-jingo, so I'd not supposed to even like the character, but the best Marvel writers always choose to write, not the walking flag, but the man under the costume, and that eventually won my reticence: Rogers is a child of the New Deal -a son of the Roosevelt era- essentially loyal to "the dream" (as Frank Miller -wrote it), not the Army or White House bureaucracy.

(When I put "best writers I am, of course, NOT including Mark "Jingo" Millar, who writes Cap as if he were a Reagan-era second-rate Rambo)

Cassaday c'est magnifique. Epting c'est tres bon aussi.

Horvendile said...

Gloria:

I'm with you on Millar. And so is Brubaker, if we can read his personal opinion into that wonderful scene in issue 3 between Steve and Sharon in Paris, where he talks about the French during the Occupation.

Gloria said...

Horvendile,

Yes, I loved that scene, too. Maybe because one of my most favourite films is Jean Renoir's "This Land is Mine", a fine film about the resistance, which also exemplifies how difficult is/was life in an occupied country, and that people choosing to resist was really taking chances with their lives, and those of their dear ones.

Since the French are my neighbours upstairs, my country has had, of course, the inevitable occasional rows: I could mention the Napoleonic invasion or the French support to Castile during our Secession war... Anyway, we are all members of teh European Union now, so I won't rehash the past, LOL.

But, historical and eventual disagreements apart, I must confess that I don't feel comfortable with French-bashing (noblesse obligue), such as sampled in Millar's work.

I much prefer Brubaker's Cap... (also, he writes such a fine Daredevil ;D)