I love Captain America. The character is one of the greatest true heroes in Marvel’s stable. He’s noble, honorable, stubborn, driven, and decent beyond all benchmarks. Captain America is the embodiment of what a superhero should be.
It’s been hard for me not to think of the character of late. It’s been a bleak two weeks in America as we’re confronted with hate. There’s a sense that something horrible is coming, if not already here. In that light we inevitably turn to the arts. So it is I find myself thinking about Steve Rogers.
Few characters are as unlike expectations as Captain America. The name calls to mind a propaganda image, and indeed that was his reason for creation both in the real world and in the movies. The character could easily be a symbol for the idea that the government is always right. He could be the face of authoritarianism. He is after all a dream Aryan.
Except that’s rarely been the case. Sure it was in his inception, during the 50s, and the less said about the sad 9/11 issues the better. But it’s the exception for the character rather than the rule.
Instead what we’ve tended to get is a character who challenges the government. In the 70s he outright faced Richard Nixon. In the 80s he turned to the identity of Nomad when he lost faith in the US. Then in Civil War, he made his strongest stance ever, becoming a fugitive because he believed that strongly in liberty.
That’s because Cap represents our country’s ideals, not the state of it. He’s the embodiment of who we wish we were. And it frustrates him just as much as it frustrates us. But he keeps trying anyway. I would argue there’s nothing more American than that.
This view of the character is strongly enhanced by the MCU. There it’s made expressly clear that he hates oppression and will fight it forever. Chris Evans does a stellar job in his performance of bringing that decency to the forefront. This is a good, flawed man. We need more like him.
But then there’s the current arc. We don’t give Nick Spencer enough credit for seeing the rise of authoritarian groups and getting on it early. The idea that this symbol has been corrupted feels painfully resonant today. America has been tainted by this.
But there’s a beauty in status quo in comics. Cap will heal. His mind will be fixed. He will be righted. He will again be a symbol of good. We can hope the same for us.
That’s why we need Captain America more than ever. We need a symbol to inspire us and remind us of who we can be. I’m not happy with how things are. But I can have hope.