Friday, June 24, 2011

On Captain America

With the live action movie starring Chris Evans coming this Friday, I feel like now is about the best time to put down some thoughts in regards to Captain America. The prompting of this is fairly simple. I feel like many people see the costume and hear the name and judge the character without any other thoughts. This is, of course, unfair to any character of any medium, but as I was once guilty of this with Cap, specifically, I wanted to put down why this has changed for me and why I think it should for others.

So basically, the reasoning is very similar to my general talks on comic art and the medium: Why does it mean and why does it matter?

The best place to start is, of course, at the beginning. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941, part of Timely Comics, the company that would eventually become Marvel Comics. The basics of the character are pretty simple. A young, weak, skinny kid named Steve Rogers wants to fight in WWII like everyone else his age, but isn't allowed to sign up due to being so weak and small. Instead, he is given the chance to take part in a top secret project, Operation: Rebirth, with the goal of creating the perfect soldier. Rogers is selected as the first test subject, and it succeeds, transforming him into the a strong, perfect human specimen, but the project is sabotaged leaving him the only Super Soldier created by the project.

From there, Cap goes to fight in WWII. He servers as a symbol to the troops and fights Nazi super soldiers and mad scientists during the war, until being presumably killed in action attempting to stop an experimental plane late in the war. In fact, Cap is not killed, but falls into the ocean and is frozen in the ice until being found in the 1960s, then joining the newly-formed Avengers with Iron Man, The Hulk, Wasp, Giant Man, and Thor, and that's when the more typical super hero things begin.

Since then, the usual insanity of a 50 years of publishing serialized stories has occurred, with Cap having done everything from fighting aliens in space, giving up the mantle of Captain America, and even the requisite super hero death and return.

There have even been others to take up the Captain America name, most recently his former sidekick Bucky, but the fact remains that Steve Rogers will always be the Captain America we think of the most. Any detours from this path tend to be temporary and mainly to explore other aspects of the character.

And that, right there, is what I want to get into. The character of Steve Rogers.

It is extremely easy to dismiss Captain America as a jingoistic, overly-patriotic anachronism. Hell, his costume is pretty much the American flag. But that is very much judging a book by its cover. While draped in those colors, the real focus is not on patriotism or some nationalistic push, but instead what it is to be good. Steve Rogers, at his core, is a good man. He does what is right because it is right, not for some political ideal. Cap is, or at least should be, above politics and nationalism.

He is the American ideal, yes, but he's also more than that. He is a human ideal, and not just physically. In many ways, he is comparable to Superman. They are the pinnacles of good in their respective universes, the role models that everyone looks up to, and the ones that never flinch in the face of evil. They are, put simply, true heroes. But while there are countless similarities, a key difference that truly defines Captain America remains.

Superman is an alien. He is from another planet, has powers we can only dream of, and is simply not human despite how close he may seem. Captain America is human. He has all of our faults, yet through it all is able to remain good. His powers are super human, yes, but to a degree that one could argue is attainable more than things like flight or heat vision or anything like that. Captain America is us. He is an ideal that is within reach for the common man in some way.

That is because the essence of what makes Captain America what he is does not come from the super strength or the costume or the title. The essence of it all is Steve Rogers. The kid from Brooklyn that always had the strong convictions and good heart that made him the hero he became. He may have been a scrawny kid, but his true strength comes from his desire to do good. And even with all the powers, that is who Steve Rogers has remained. That is why no one can really replace him as Captain America.

And that is why Captain America matters.

He may fight Nazis, aliens, super soldiers, mad scientists, and a few random criminals, but he is what we should all attempt to be in the end: A good man.