Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Simple Question About Captain America

Doug: Is Captain America a person, or an ideal? As we come to comics in the modern age, the guise of Captain America has been worn (in "reality" as well as through retcons) by Steve Rogers, Isaiah Bradley, William Nasland, Jeff Mace, William Burnside, Roscoe Simons, John Walker, James Buchanan Barnes, and Sam Wilson.

EDIT: File this under "great minds think alike". Late last night (7/28/15) we received an email from frequent commenter Tom. Tom had a couple of suggestions for post ideas. I almost laughed out loud when I saw his second one. I'd written today's post around three days ago, and then opened this:

Tom: Idea #2 is a little late. I meant to send it for the 4th of July but you can use it on any patriotic occasion. It would be titled "The Many identities of Captain America/Steve Rogers." We all love Cap, right? So discuss Bucky as Cap, Falc as Cap, the fake Caps,etc. but also Steve as Cap, Steve as Nomad, Steve as The Captain (is that who he was? I dunno). So, when you think about it, there were a lot of takes on America's superhero. So...which stories/incarnations did you like...not like?

So there you have it. Not exactly what I've posited at the top, but it certainly should enhance the rest of today's conversation. Thanks, Tom!


Anonymous said...
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Humanbelly said...

He is a very specific individual (person), one Steve Rogers, who has taken on the mantle of being the embodiment of an ideal . Without getting too soap-boxy or jingoistic, I think that a good bit of American self-identity could be said to go along with having a very strong sense of the rights and liberties of the individual , even as that individual is able to recognize and work toward both the common good and the plight of those less well-off. And that's Steve-- from the very get-go.

There've been a lot of good guys that've carried that shield-- and a couple of not-so-good ones-- but none of them have that unique WW2 origin, where the character was truly driven by an overriding sense of patriotic duty and love of country and fellow man. I get that it makes him impossibly hokey and rather dull for the writers, I suppose-- but it doesn't change the fact that Steve is the BEST GUY in the Marvel Universe, which is what makes him absolutely the best "representative" of the USofA to wear that uniform. Every 10 years or so we get a "ground-breaking" storyline that hands it to someone else. . . and regardless of how one feels about the newcomer, it simply never feels like anything but a stand-in.

God knows, I've always liked Sam--- but unless he's had a personality transplant, he's always been faaaaaaar more pragmatic (cynical? realistic?) than Steve. Not the type to try to explain to a downed foe the error of his ways whilst helping him gently into the paddy wagon, y'know?


Dr. Oyola said...

Steve Rogers to me is the ideal of the American icon as New Deal liberal.

I think what the other variations of that ideal depend on who is writing and who is reading.

Anonymous said...

Wow Doug. Scary.

I think your question runs a little deeper than my rambling semblance of a topic. I find it interesting that your question is about "Captain America" and both HB and Osvaldo answered it with "Steve Rogers" as the subject. Steve Rogers, the person, is carrying the ideal of Captain America.

As to variations, I remember liking the Nomad storyline. I don't remember a lot of the details so one day I'd like to give it a re-read and see how it holds up for me now. I don't know much about post Bronze Age incarnations so I was just hoping someone might chime in with some thoughts.


Anonymous said...

And yes Colin, what ARE those wings for? American Bald Eagle, maybe?


William said...

To me, Steve Rogers IS Captain America. In the exact same way that Bruce Wayne IS Batman.

They kind of made the point clear (in the comics and the first movie) that you can't just give someone superpowers and a costume and make him a hero and a symbol. It has to be just the right person.

That's why Steve Rogers was chosen to be Captain America. Even though he lacked the physical characteristics for the job, he had what was really important - the character for the job.

That's why whenever anyone else has taken up the mantle of Captain America, it's been a failure (and in some cases a disaster). And Steve Rogers always returns to the role.

If you took away the costume and the shield, Steve Rogers would still be a hero, because that's just who is. The same way that no one else can be Batman except Bruce Wayne. Other people have tried to take up the identity, but they just couldn't carry the weight of it.

ColinBray said...

Cap is Steve Rogers, yes. But he represents much more than one man. The key for me is not who Steve Rogers is but how writers have used him and his Cap identity to reflect America's relationship with itself.

So we had the extended post-Watergate road trip of self doubt and self-discovery, and a newly confident and assertive Cap in the mid-80s. What is so interesting is that somehow through all that, Steve Rogers somehow manages to remain the same man representing the same ideals.

This indicates both that Cap is an effective conduit for universal American themes and that those themes are flexible enough to move with the times. What are those themes? Well they might include distrust of authoritarian government, the importance of personal responsibility, a noble ideal and how that ideal is not always lived up to, along with awareness of the dangers of cynicism when that ideal is betrayed.

As a British person I find Cap endlessly fascinating as a window on the American psyche with all it's admirable qualities.

Ewan said...

I agree with a lot of comments about Steve defining Captain America. I think he became so much more than a patriotic ideal when he was revived in the 60's. He still wore the red, white, and blue, but it went way beyond "stop Hitler" and "buy war bonds".

He evolved into this pure hero, it wasn't just about being a great loyal American, and I loved how Cap was always depicted as bringing the best out in other heroes. And I think that had made his shoes too big to fill with other characters attempting to take on that role...Steve is an ideal person making a patriotic icon great, not the other way around.

As for the wings, I've always assumed either the eagle connection, or the winged liberty look like on the Mercury dime from that era in the 40's (which is really Liberty wearing a winged cap, not the Roman god).

Edo Bosnar said...

I suppose he should be an ideal, but (much as I love Sam/Falcon) I really can't separate him from Steve Rogers. And I have to say, incidentally, that the movie version just nails the character perfectly...

Karen said...

I think Steve Rogers (and I speak of the character as I knew him from several years ago) has always had a moral certitude that all of the others have lacked. This was most clearly delineated after the Secret Empire/Nomad saga when he understood his role as Captain America, as dedicated to the ideals of America, not to any government or party. As others have said, Steve would be a hero regardless of the costume or super-powers. But he has specifically chosen to bear that identity to represent an idealistic viewpoint of what America should be.

Undoubtedly, this has varied somewhat with the times and with different writers. But certain things seem consistent. A thug like John Walker could never really be Captain America (the Ultimates Cap with his "this A doesn't stand for France" was equally unworthy). Some good men may have worn the uniform in times of crises, like Jeff Mace, but they weren't dedicated to the American ideals the way Rogers is. As much as I love Sam Wilson as a character, he is not Captain America. There's really only one man who is. So, to answer the question, Captain America is a person...who embodies an ideal!

Anonymous said...

It's telling that Steve Rogers' origin really HAS to be linked to WWII and a desire at that time to fight evil, and has not been "updated", but, rather, remains fixed in time, and the period spent on ice shifts in the re-telling. Steve is as much a symbol, and possibly an anachronism as Cap himself. (I liked the BuckyCap series, but there was never any expectation that it was permanent, and Bucky himself always seemed to think of himself as subbing for the real deal, much as DickBats did at the same time at DC; not that they copy each other!)

Humanbelly said...

Karen & I are definitely in step, yessir.

A quick thought or two:

Before I'd completely dropped comics a little while back, Bendis or one of his pals completely disrespected Steve's character (in Hawkeye's book, maybe?) with a flashback/retcon that showed Steve rather sadistically sucker-punching Clint, drill-sergeant style, in order to get his "respect" during the Kooky Quartet era. Absolutely horrifying liberty to take with such a deeply-established character. Mind you, Avengers Prime did a great job of giving us the wonderful, resourceful Cap we've always loved--- but he simply can't be BOTH of those guys. Ugh. That being said, I do think that the anachronistic, man-out-of-time aspect plays muuuuuuuch better now than it did upon his "real" return in 1963. Stan tended to, of course, play it the hilt with all of this "dim, dark, swirling mists of time; in the distant past; alllllll those years ago" hyperbole, and. . . it hadn't even been 20 years. 18 years, in fact, since Cap had been "lost". Stan also tended to forget (most of the time really) that Steve was UNCONSCIOUS for all of that, so he had no experience or sensation of the "long, long passing of all those years", etc. Stan tended to play it as if Steve had been stranded next to Gilligan's Island, but with no radio--- waiting, waiting. The culture shock NOW is much, much more accute-- Cap truly is a man out of an interesting point in history. . . a living artifact. I've always liked when we see that side of him. (Dare I suggest that Steve was probably a bit of a square even in the late 30's and 40's. . . ?)

In a way, Crane from SLEEPY HOLLOW has a bit of a similar vibe. Extraordinary fellow whisked into modern society, who maintains his sense of mission and self even as he struggles to adapt to the new world around him. And certainly has the whole Patriotic thing goin' for him!


The Prowler said...

(Tap, tap)........Hello, is this on?

Steve Rogers is Captain America..........(drops mic)

(A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while)

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