As superheroes go, I was always a bit luke-warm with Captain America. I was an X-Men disciple from the jump, and the broad range of personalities and cool powers (combined with the struggle to find their place in a society that misunderstood or rejected them completely) felt far closer to my reality as an early teen than fighting evil in the name of country ever did.
Nor did Cap have traits I liked in other heroes: the brooding conflict of the Dark Knight, the isolation of Dare Devil, or even the snappy banter of Spiderman. Instead, he was just a man: tall, broad, and muscled, and unquestionably tough. He also sported an indestructible, absolutely righteous shield. And while that combination pretty much did the trick in the days of single-fire weapons or a good-old knife fight, they didn’t really reach out and grab me the way a furry blue teleporter nicknamed “Elf,” or a crazy-hot southern lass who couldn’t be touched, or a soulful Russian artist who transformed into organic steel and put himself in front of harm’s way, did every time I cracked open the cover of my newest issue of X-Men.
Of all Captain America’s assets, however, I think his most endearing was a steadfast moral compass that most of us share only a marginal acquaintance. He didn’t have three razor-sharp adamantium claws popping out of both clenched fists (Snikt!), but this was a hero who always knew right from wrong and fought for the former – even when it cost him to do so. And I think I’ve come to appreciate his kind of heroism more and more as the years have passed.
Which is why I was surprised and actually saddened when I saw the “Where were you when Captain America died?” link on Twitter not long ago. It led to a page on the Marvel Website where industry players (writers, artists, execs, and on) wrote about their reaction to hearing the news that Captain America had died. The page also had the issue’s cover art you see below.
But killing off heroes for weeks, months, or even years and then bringing them back is hardly uncommon in comics – DC even did it to Superman in the early 90s. However, fairly quickly after Superman’s death a handful of limited series (one of which introduced the character “Steel” and later made it to the big screen in a fairly awful movie starring Shaq) were released that developed the plot for the Man in Blue’s return.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this one’s going to play that way.
Sure, there are a million things far more important than the death of a fictional character in a comic book. I get it. But I’m also not too old to remember just how important those stories were to me when I was young. He wasn’t my favorite good guy, nor was he flashy, conflicted, or edgy, but the lack of those things didn’t stop me from collecting a stack of his comics right next to his mutant cousins on my bedroom bookshelf.
All of which makes me think. I’ve written about this before, but comics seem to be far, far darker than they were when I was a kid. Hell, entertainment seems darker and scarier before. Movies, television, music, and yes, comics, all seem a bit more real than they once did. And while conflict and dark, brooding anger are great for a boy – as boys we were often mired in it – I’m left wondering. What comic is going to give my nephew what Steve Rogers gave to us? What hero will teach him doing the right thing even when it hurts is still the right thing?