Growing up, Captain America seemed kind of , well, lame to me. Goofy costume. Kind of lame superpowers. A relic of a bygone age. I was into the X-men, who I related to much more: disaffected youth, prejudice, unique superpowers, and guys like Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus that despite being from Canada, Germany, and Russia, all fought for the same thing. But there was one important piece of my childhood: X-men vs the Avengers - and Cap really affected me at a young age. But more on that in a second.
Then I grew up, and so did Captain America. The Cap from The Ultimates was amazing: a man trapped in a modern world that he didn’t quite understand. He saw things in the black and white morality of World War II, and in a world so compromised. And in Spring 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, that was refreshing to see return because it kind of made sense again.
Then Ed Brubaker started writing Cap. One of my friends told me, “You HAVE to read this- they brought Bucky back– and he kicks ass!!” I was skeptical, and then told, “And he’s taking over Daredevil after Bendis, so check him out.” So I did. And I was hooked. Then came the Civil War and the Death of Captain America. I never so admired Steve Rodgers as at those moments when he went against superhero registration. The fact that he died as a martyr for it. . .well, it made me cry.
Then Joe Quesdada gave Cap’s shield to Stephen Colbert. Perfect. And I still kept reading Captain America, never enjoying a comic so much that did not at all feature it’s title character. Bucky was, in many ways, an even better Cap than Steve Rogers.
And I love dearly my Captain America #602 which included the famous sign: Tea Bag the Liberals before they Tea Bag you!!! Ironic that despite tea party protests (and death threats to Brubaker from “peaceful protesters“) that you could find the exact same sign among actual tea partiers, AND that no one really gave them problems for the Falcon saying that a person like him (a black man) would probably not be welcome among the teabaggers.
And now Cap’s back (we always knew he would be, right?), and with Bucky looking pretty dead in the last Fear Itself issues, Steve Rogers will again be Captain America.
But one of my favorite moments occurred in the Tony Stark:Disassembled arc of Iron Man, where Tony is speaking in a pre-taped video asking Thor and Cap to help him “reboot” the hard drive he’d turned his brain into. He told them that he’d never really been religious, but that to him, Thor and Steve Rogers were his gods. They were his moral compass. Because they always knew what to do and why. And in so many ways, I agree with Iron Man.
Cap is part of my moral compass. Largely because of X-men vs. Avengers, which I’d previously mentioned. In this crossover, a reformed Magneto has taken over as head of the X-men. The World Court indicts him for crimes against humanity for his earlier terrorist acts (yeah, ummm. . . creating a volcano in the middle of a city and killing everyone? Not cool.) And so The Avengers are called to help bring him in. The team is, at first, hesitant, not knowing whether or not Magneto could ever receive a fair trial because of anti-mutant hysteria. But Cap says that’s what they’re going to do– and find a way to make sure he does get a fair trial. After several encounters and battles, Magneto has rebuilt some circuitry into his helmet, giving him telepathic powers that rival Charles Xavier’s. He says he will use the helmet to erase anti-mutant bigotry from the world, which is where we find ourselves in the last two pages of issue 3:
In this one moment, Steve Rogers taught me something important. That freedom means being free even to do those things we find morally base or repugnant. You have a right to be a bigot. You have a right to be an asshole. Only many year later after reading a lot of philosophy from around the ero of the enlightenment did I find this again repeated. But because of Captain America, I’d already learned that lesson.
So, back to the comic– Magneto had made his decision– to use the helmet. . . .
It hasn’t changed. I still believe everything I said… for the same reason. Cap was the bomb. Magneto was right- he was not only one of the most honorable people on the planet but also spoke from a place of pure moral center, without any trace of bigotry or hatred.
And herin lies the final lesson. That the only way to defeat bigotry and hatred is to purge it from ourselves. By having a clear idea of our own morality and making sure it is untouched by hatred or prejudice will silence even the harshest critics.
And that’s why I love Captain America. There is a purity of purpose, of morality, in fighting a conflict like WWII. We fought against the closest thing possible to pure evil, and triumphed. Because our morality, our diversity, our acceptance of others, is ultimately strong. I love America. It has its problems, but I love her, warts and all.
And i love Captain America, as a symbol of everything that I hope that we strive for. Dopey costume and all.
Movie comes out in less than a month. i’ll see you there.