Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Cap for President! Captain America 250
Captain America #250 (Oct 1980)
"Cap for President!"
Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: John Byrne, Joe Rubenstein
Karen: Here's a great standalone issue from the excellent Roger Stern-John Byrne run on Cap in the 80s. Reading this issue, I'm struck how different in tone Cap was then and now. The book and the character had matured a great deal by 1980, growing more nuanced as he progressed from Stan Lee to Steve Englehart and onward (except for the the Kirby run, of course). The modern day Steve Rogers seems so disillusioned and worn down. This Cap still has an optimism in America.
Doug: Why do you think that is? I agree with you -- I wasn't a regular reader of Cap's title back in these days, but he is totally in-character with his appearances in The Avengers. But when you look at what was going on back when this would have been written (early 1980), the Iran hostage crisis was in its early stages, the economy was still sluggish, and the Soviets were in Afghanistan, prompting President Jimmy Carter to force the Western boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Overall, in the real world it was a pretty depressing and uncertain time! Talk about escapist literature...
Karen: Our story begins as Cap foils a hostage situation at the National Populist Party's convention. After easily disarming the gunmen, the party's chairman, Samuel T. Underwood, takes Cap around to meet some of his staff. Of course, they are all thrilled to meet Cap. Somebody jokes that he should run for president. Before you know it, Underwood is talking seriously to Cap about being his party's candidate. He talks about how he wants to offer a real alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Cap scoffs at the idea, but Underwood pushes him. "At least promise me that you'll think about it!" Not wanting to crush the man, Cap says he'll think about it -although he also thinks to himself, "But not too seriously."
Doug: The scene with the terrorists (funny how the stereotype of that term has changed over the years) was somewhat Batman-like, particularly the end of it when Cap saves the hostage. Cold-blooded move on our hero's part. As to Samuel T. Underwood -- he was just like a smarmy used car salesman; or Herb Tarlek...
Karen: Cap returns to his apartment when his neighbor Josh Cooper shows up, asking if Steve is ready to help their friend Bernie Rosenthal move some boxes into her place. Just as they are finishing up, another neighbor, Mike Farrell, arrives with a copy of the Daily Globe. On the cover: news that Cap is going to run for president!
Doug: It was good to meet this cast of characters, and see some normalcy in Steve Rogers' life. However, one of the things that made this title unappealing to me through the years was that lack of a firm anchor to the secret identity. There have been arguments made over the years as to what was real, (for example) Clark Kent or Superman? I think Cap falls into that same realm, where the mask is more important than the man. Maybe that's one of the reasons he's been such a brooding character under different writers. And to some extent, it is able fodder for stories -- the Cap/Peggy Carter relationship is a microcosm of one of the main problems. Here's a guy who wakes up one day, and he's 20 years younger, not older, than everyone he knows. That can alter some relationships and cause some instability, huh? Interesting, too, that the newspaper referenced is the Globe and not the Bugle.
Karen: Steve is stunned. But he's even more surprised when all three of his friends say they'd vote for Cap! "You'd actually vote for a man who is basically anonymous...who wears a mask?" All three say that they trust Cap completely. This gives Steve something to think about.
Doug: Who in America could you say that about today? Since Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America", I don't think anyone else in our society has filled that bill. There certainly is no politician I could say that about. Am I older and wiser, or just beat down and more cynical?
Karen: I can't think of any public figure that I trust completely. I think in that, we're just maybe more realistic than cynical. When Cap goes to Avengers Mansion he finds it surrounded by reporters. Once he gets inside, the Beast does a little song and dance and says he can guarantee Cap the mutant vote. In the mansion's library, Cap finds Iron Man, the Wasp, and the Vision discussing Cap's candidacy. Although the Wasp is supportive, both Iron Man and the Vision feel strongly that Cap should not run. Then Jarvis steps in -the Secret Service called and wants to know if Cap will need protection! This is a lot for Cap to take in; despite himself, he's starting to wonder if he should be considering really making a run for the presidency.
Doug: The Avengers interlude was nice -- loved the scene with the Beast. I know Stern was writing this (I don't know to what extent John Byrne had anything to do with the script), but I found it odd that the Vision had more personality than we were perhaps used to seeing out of him at this time, yet by the end of the decade Byrne would forever alter that character.
Karen: That's funny, because I felt like the Vision was acting more stiffly and logical than he was portrayed n Avengers at this time! I guess it all depends on your point of view. Cap leaves the mansion and does a little roof-hopping, trying to clear his head. He comes across his old grade school, apparently abandoned for years. Going inside, he remembers his teacher, Mrs. Crosley, and the lessons she taught about doing one's duty to their country. Cap seems to have come to a decision, and contacts Underwood to hold a press conference.
Doug: We've discussed Marvel time quite a bit lately in regard to the FF. Cap will forever be linked to WWII, and so the 1930's will remain his childhood. I really liked this scene at the abandoned school -- very sentimental.
Karen: It's a very well done scene that manages to get across the whole 'man out of time' element and yet discuss virtues that are (in my opinion anyway) timeless. I hate when people call Cap (or Superman for that matter) 'boy scouts', as if being virtuous and honorable is somehow naive or juvenile. Call me old fashioned, but I want my heroes to be good guys!
Karen: Cap tells the gathered crowd that while he has great respect for the presidency, he has made a pledge to uphold the dream of America, to keep striving for that day that the dream becomes reality, and until the dream is fulfilled, he must devote his life to it. He then implores the crowd to look within themselves and become the candidates they need to keep the nation strong -"And God willing, to help make the dream come true!" He leaves the stage. The story ends with a quote from President Kennedy: "The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle...but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy. A man does what he must...in spite of personal consequences...in spite of dangers and pressures...and that is the basis of all human morality."
Doug: No Red Skull, no Sleepers, no Batroc... but this was a Captain America story, wasn't it?
Karen: I've always liked this story. It seems a logical idea -wouldn't Cap make a great president? - and Stern does a good job showing why that isn't a path Cap cares to tread. I enjoyed how Steve at first dismisses the idea quickly, but then, after hearing others say what a great job he'd do, he has to consider it. But ultimately, his sense of his role in things wins out. I think he made the right choice.