Steve Rogers, Cpt. America US Army, 1941-2007 RIP

Yesterday morning, as delivery trucks rolled up to newsstands, the word began to spread—Steve Rogers, Captain America, was dead, killed by an assassin’s bullet on the steps of a New York City court house. I heard myself from cnn.com while checking the news before I headed home for the day.

I stopped reading comics in 2000 when I quit my job of six years as assistant manager at Dewey’s Comic City in Madison, NJ to go to college. I’m not sure why I responded to Captain America so much. I started reading the book at a particularly bad time in Cap’s existence—around issue 400, the story arc in which he was turned into a werewolf, or “Capwolf” as the writers would have it. I was reading all sorts of other stuff as well—Astro City, Transmetropolitan, Planetary, Frank Miller’s 300 was out as a graphic novel during my tenure—but through it all, adding and subtracting of countless titles to and from my subscription list, Captain America was the one constant.

I had a wholesome childhood complete with happy, still-together parents, fun friends, a cool sister, and a huge comic book collection. Maybe that’s why the hokiness of Captain America’s unfailing patriotism, unbendable morals, and unyielding positive message never bothered me. I think it was something more complicated than that.

Captain America was so important to me because he provided an imperfect escape. So many comic books and other works of fantasy take you far away into another world. Sure, Cap’s world was filled with super serums, a never-dying and never-aging cast of friends and villains, and plenty of manly men comfortable in tights and underwear, but it represents a world much more familiar to us than most. Cap’s world is the world of everything we’re taught to believe as kids that turns out, maybe, not to be true. America is the greatest. Good always wins. Integrity is most important. People respect a leader. And, until now, you’ll never die.

Captain America is like Santa Claus in that it’s not important if he’s real or if he’s right. It’s the spirit of the character that exists in us. It’s what we wish to be true and to have a symbol of that is an important thing for a kid, and for a grown up. Symbols and ritual figures allows to participate in something greater than ourselves, to bring us, for a brief time, back into line with the way things should be.

I haven’t read one panel of a Captain America comic in the last seven years but when I saw that headline I was sad. Something incorruptible for me had come to ruin. Nothing is going to change in the world because Captain America is dead. In fact, he’s probably not even really dead, but with the change of Captain America’s world we’ve lost a connection to an early time and an early way of thinking.

When I go visit my parents home in Virginia in a week, I’m going to go down to the basement and reread some of the over 300 issues of Captain America I have—maybe not the “Capwolf” one—but some of the older ones about fighting the bad guys and being a good guy and hope that in the coming years, whatever they do with him, Captain America’s world doesn’t change too much; we might need it to escape to.


Anonymous said...

In 4th grade I remember reading a Capt. America issue wherein he was captured by 4 evil women wearing extremely tight clothing who would do who knows what to him...and feeling the first faint stirrings of that funny feeling Garth of Wayne's World would experience climbing the rope in gym class.

These faint stirrings were further felt that same year while reading a Star Wars comic. Luke was confounded by a semi-evil woman with a light-saber like, multi-pronged whip. She defeated him, and he narrowly escaped (their enmity, it turned out, hinged on a nisunderstanding...how typical)
He took her on again, and defeated her, by using two lightsabers, the symbolic meaning of which has suddenly become clear.

Take it away, Dr. Freud!

Kyle said...

the assassination of cap, i think holds even more significance in it's relationship to the storyline it took place in.

a 'civil war' was going on between the heroes due to a patriot act like decree that powered citizens be registered and sanctioned by the govt. capt, embodying what he thought america should be, fought against the govt until he realised that he was only endangering others with the war. i thought they were going to end the metaphor there. but apparently, he not only lost, leaving his associates outside the law, but then the embodiment of america was shot in the heart by the bad guys.

something about it makes me blame george bush for killing capt america. like the comic creators wanted to push the metaphor as far as they could.

it reminds me that a few years ago it seemed like dc comics had lex luthor elected president because that idea was a better one than accepting the idea that GWB was really in office.