Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Day The Captain Died...

There are many things I can say about the apparent death of Captain America. For one thing, I might be the world's biggest Captain America fan who is a black man. Not to say that the brothas don't or can't like Cap, but the image and idea of Cap isn't usually associated with black men. (note: I do love the fact that they did the Tuskegee Experiment version of the super soldier serum story called THE TRUTH a few years back.)

Anyway, all day today (March 7th, 2007) I have been deluged by friends, associates, fellow comics fans, and random strangers on the NYC subway who feel that it is necessary to explain to me how they heard of Cap's death on the radio just because they see me reading the damn issue.

I am all for spreading the word of how great the comic book medium is; but sometimes our fascination with the random sputterings from our media-saturated, commercialized lives annoys me.

90% of the folks who talked about Cap's death are just the kind of people who get upset over whomever the hell Flavor Flav sleeps with or folks who really, REALLY cares who wins on American Idol (and if you can't tell by my sardonic tone -- I HATE REALITY TV). If it wasn't Cap's death they prattled about, it would have been Anna Nicole's burial.

Also (and these are the people who really get me pissed) the internet comic book message boards have been lit up by fans who take comic books entirely too seriously. I love comics and can geek out with the best of them, but there comes a point where I am painfully aware that this is yet another one of those perfectly calculated marketing stunts that garners just the right amount of financial return and possible growth from said media saturation.


Sure, he might not be around for a little while, but the Steve Rogers character and the Captain America license is simply too lucrative to permanently shelve. Considering the fact that there is a Captain America feature film in early development in Hollywood, I can see Cap making a ceremonious return in the summer of 2009 right in time for a July 4th film release.

Second, Captain America has been nicely positioned as a cypher for all kinds of beliefs. For example, there are extreme right-wing types who buy the comic book who believe that Cap is standing up for their rights to believe that gays, blacks, and jews deserve to burn in hell just because.

And then you have the centrist-lefty folks like me who believe that Cap's role in the Civil War storyline was a thiny-veiled strike against the Bush administation trampling on the Constitution.

And you know what? We are both right.

That's what makes Cap so different and strongly resonant with many fans than other heroes. Spidey, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, X-Men, and even the Hulk don't fall within that schism. They are ideological extremes that are popular because they are so. The Hulk is an unstoppable machine of destruction. Spidey is the loveable loser who never stops fighting the against the odds.

Captain America is someone who is supposed to represent what we COULD be. Strong, resolute, intelligent, understanding of what the Constitution actually means, aware of history, politically tolerant, and willing to defend the rights of people who can't defend themselves.

Of course, that is a far cry from what many Americans have become: weak, wishy-washy, non-committal to a set of beliefs, ignorant of history and our place in it, casually intolerant, addicted to electronic media/gadgets, and unaware of suffering that doesn't immediately impact our lives.

However, when I was in Midtown Comics in Times Square, it was a virtual mob scene. I hadn't seen a comic book store this packed since the Death of Superman back in the day. All kinds of people were in there -- and honestly, many believe that they are going to "cash in" on the death craze in the short term -- but I saw the faces of some fans who appeared to be bothered by the death of their favorite hero.

I won't make a cynical remark to that. Our society is tailor made to trash naive idealism.

So on a brighter note, its certainly been a fun ride Mr. Steve Rogers. Thanks to the work of Joe Simon/Jack Kirby (creators of Cap), Mark Gruenwald (the definitive Cap writer from the 1980s), Mark Waid (wrote some killer stories a few years back), and the current writer Ed Brubaker; I have a ton of Cap comics to keep me entertained until your inevitable return.

Au Revoir Mon Capitane...