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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
The Meaningless Death of Captain America 
Friday, March 9th, 2007 | 02:23 pm [captain america, comics, commentary]
Steve

Captain America is dead.  Check out the New York Daily News if you don’t believe me — they had the “exclusive” two days ago.  He exited a courthouse and was unceremoniously felled by a sniper’s rifle.  The Super-Soldier, the great Nazi smasher of World War II, the former leader of the Avengers, dead.

 

This all took place in the pages of a comic book.  It was not the assassin’s bullet that killed our star-spangled icon, but writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting.  Captain America is — and please forgive my use of jargon here — imaginary.  Legendary artist Jack Kirby and writing partner Joe Simon created Cap in 1941 for Timely Comics (which eventually became Marvel).  Unlike many of his superhero peers during the Golden Age, Cap got his own title right out of the gate, making his debut on the cover and in the pages of Captain America Comics #1.

 

Far more surprising than Cap’s death is the reaction it’s gotten in both the traditional media and the blogosphere.  People seem to be taking this very, very seriously.  On American Chronicles, Daniel Tavern wrote an insightful piece critiquing the sorry state of our government and politics, using the death of Cap as his launching pad.  The hysterical headline on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Culture Blog! read “Captain America is WHAT???”  Other bloggers and columnists have wondered whether or not the death of Captain America is an allegory for the death of optimism, hope, or faith in the American way of life.

 

As a lifelong comic book reader, I find all of this hysterical.  I remember well the coverage given the death of Superman in 1993.  Before there was much of an online media, Superman’s fictional demise was announced in newspapers and on television with the sobriety of a presidential assassination.  Citizens of Metropolis, IL, Superman’s self-proclaimed “hometown,” held protests in their streets, shouting at DC Comics through the various news cameras to “Let him live!”

 

Superman was back a year later, no worse for having been dead (although not really dead, it was explained) and with a new longer haircut to boot.  This was the plan all along.  Superman “died,” four new characters emerged to take his place in his various monthly titles, and when the real Supes came back from the grave, two of the new guys graduated to titles of their own (the other two turned out to be not so heroic).  The entire saga boosted sales of the Superman family of comics, and that’s all DC Comics, struggling along with every other comic publisher in the lean 1990s, was after.  It’s all they were after a year later when Bruce Wayne’s back was broken and Jean-Paul Valley took over as the new Batman.  It’s all they’ve been after the last two years with the endless Identity and Infinite Crisis crossovers.

 

It’s all Marvel’s after now with the death of Captain America, which is itself a tie-in to a much larger story, the ongoing Civil War saga.  The death of Cap isn’t the first time Marvel has made real headlines with Civil War, either — remember last year when Spider-Man’s public revelation of his secret identity in Civil War #2 rated a full-page story in the New York Post?

 

As a comic fan, it’s always fun to see mainstream outlets sit up and take notice of major events in the DC or Marvel universes (the poor independent publishers are hardly ever mentioned).  And it’s not always the tragedies that make the news — both Spider-Man and Superman received coverage when they got married — though some readers would say those weddings were tragedies.

 

What amazes me is how much of the mainstream media attention totally misses the point of something like the death of Captain America.  There’s this compulsion to read too much into it, to try and make it stand for something.  Does Marvel have some statement to make by killing Captain America?  Is this a commentary on our nation losing its way?  You’d have to ask Ed Brubaker on that one; I expect the only commentary the publisher has is, “Buy this book.”

 

When Superman Returns opened last year, a few conservative bloggers pitched a minor fit over Perry White omitting “the American way” from the list of things Superman supposedly stands for.  He gets “truth and justice” in there, but seems to intentionally leave off the last bit.  Was this the film’s way of announcing that its version of Superman would no longer stand up for his country?  No.  What those who complained didn’t mention, and probably didn’t know, was that the phrase originally was only “truth and justice” — like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, “the American way” didn’t find its way onto Superman’s list of sacred causes until the 1950s.

 

So yeah, it’s worth a giggle watching pundits and commentators weigh in on the death of Captain America, trying to figure out what it means.  But the truth is that it doesn’t mean a thing.  It’s a plot point, a gimmick to draw readers, a shocking twist to get us all to buy the next issue.  In five years even die-hard Cap fans will have forgotten it ever happened.  These days no one stays dead, not even Bucky.
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