“Vera! How are you?”
Darling, I am wonderful as you well know. All my imperfections are exactly in the right place.
“Well, I will leave that for others to judge. You are gaining quite a reputation as a critic yourself.”
Oh, I am not a critic, love. I *critique.*
“Fair enough. You know there is a Captain America sequel to be released in theaters next month.”
“I enjoy movies, as you know, but my first love will always be the comic books themselves. There’s something about superheroes that captivates my imagination. So maybe we can talk about the character of Captain America itself? Here’s the cover of the first Captain America I ever read.”
Oh, that’s special. But you are fibbing, surely?
“Ok, you caught me. But Captain America has nearly always been a member of the Avengers, and THOSE guys are my go-to comic heroes. Like this, one of my first Avengers’ tales I ever read. See? Cap. There he is.”
Ah, but of course! Notice how you’ve captured something realllly interesting, here. One really must distinguish the use and purpose of Captain America BY HIMSELF and Captain America as a team member.
I can see it in that strong chin of yours, my dear. You never liked Captain America when you were younger. You liked the teams, mostly. I mean, of course, sure, you liked the Spider-Man, maybe even a Batman here or there. But there was something about the Captain by himself that just didn’t SPEAK to you, n’est ce pas?
For you, Captain America, as a solo hero, could never just BE a hero fighting for himself– because he always represented something LARGER. You thought he MUST be fighting always because of something else, yes? Look at him! Dressed with patriotic colors, holding a powerful round shield, often seen in the company of flags, stars, and stripes? How could he NOT be a soldier for some “agenda” of The Man? A super-soldier, of course, but a soldier nonetheless. Whereas the BEST heroes were vigilantes, outliers, the MAVericks. By definition, OUTside the system.
Ah! But you were young and so beautifully superficial! Just looking at surface details.
You see, what really makes Captain America work as a hero is NOT any kind of red-white-and-blue conformity. That turns out to be irrelevant! No, his story is all about one theme– STRIVE FORWARD. Now, obviously, this theme absoLUTEly thrives in context of a super-soldier– just throw in some World War II, or even some classical “American Dream” mythos in general. BOOM! INstant story– but one in danger of not just being a metaphor but an allegory that is so punch-Hitler-in-the-face that the READER sees stars and stripes. No wonder young little fanboys like yourself think that’s all there really is to Captain America!
Luckily, you are so smart in your biggie little head, so you DID recognize that when he’s in a group setting like the Avengers, this theme gets to be juxtaposed in all KINDS of other contexts. Now, the whole “to strive” thing gets to play off of Iron Man, who’s more about simply “forward” than “strive forward,” or Hawkeye, who’s theme is more like …
“Uh, ‘Don’t mess up’?”
Hmm, that works.
“So, as long as you play to his strengths, the powerful theme of “Strive Forward,” then Captain America is a success?”
Let’s not be so hasty, dear. There are some clear problems, here, OB-viously. What good is this theme without a steady way to highlight it? Cap has no *regularly*-featured supporting cast. Sure, you may have Falcon or some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents here or there, but there is no ensemble cast for him to be compared/contrasted against or to offer some plot springboards, et cetera et cetera. No wonder this central theme is lost!
For Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, even Hulk (well, SOMEtimes) have what we call whole *franchises* surrounding them. The good Cap has a few of these, in a pinch, but is nowhere near the same level. Is there no wonder that he has a hard time resonating with readers *as a property,* when all the trappings of a property are either superficial or essentially non-existent? Would Superman be as iconic as a property without having the same amount of shared history with Lois Lane, the Daily Planet, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, et cetera et cetera? Instead, with Cap, one has a hero that works best in an ensemble but is never given time to actually DEVELOP with a supporting cast?
(And really, is there something in the zeitgeist or something? Captain used to be a solo hero, on the sidelines, fighting to support American ideals but never REALLY identifying with the government per se. Now? He’s leading whole organizations, on the front lines of a capital-I Institution like SHIELD so much so that he’s practically a punch-the-clock company man. For shame.)
Oh, and please tell me you consider villains every time you’re considering heroes, yes? I mean, REALLY iconic heroes have also villains that can *specifically* highlight their themes, too. And where’s Captain America’s? Ah, ah, ah! I know! You are about to say “Red Skull,” aren’t you? Yes, yes, yes, a FABulous villain, yes. But really THINK. Is the Skull as a villain REALLY able to show what Captain America is all about? The Skull’s just, well, EVIL. Where’s the nuance? Where’s the thematic resonance? There’s no contrast in the same way Spider-Man/Dr. Octopus play off one another, to say nothing of Batman/Joker.
(In fact, I’d say a kind of “Joker” is what Cap really needs. He *should* be paired with a villain who’s theme is all about selfish play. So bring back Madcap, Jester, Screwball, or even, heaven’s forfend, Deadpool!) Try pairing him also against villains like Flagsmasher, Nekra, Black Mamba, or maybe crime cartels like Count Nefarius or Madame Masque. One “classic” villain used well in this regard recently was Arnim Zola under Rick Remender’s pen (Captain America #1, Nov. 2012 – Captain America #10, July 2013; collected in Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z Book 1 and Book 2) As a bonus, Cap was given a sidekick, first his “son” and then Zola’s “daughter” Jet Black. Could it be that the good Captain has a chance to really show his STRIVE FORWARD theme for the first time in ages?
Oh, such a classic hero, with dramatic imagery? He’s near the top of the scale, surely, but points have to be taken for such dangerously superficial trappings and a lack of driving story devices. Also, the current portrayal in the comics is just so leathery-strappy, like they are forced to draw some hyper-realistic version from the movies instead of a clean line of comic booky graphic design. So I’m thinking… a 7. Solidly.
“You are a wonder, Vera Maven.”
One does one’s best.