Thursday, June 07, 2007

Captain America: representing what exactly?

Here's an interesting (if kinda silly) article about Captain America and his role as the representative of an entire country. Like Wonder Woman, I've never been able to get my mind around Captain America and -- again, like her -- it's related to this idea of "mission." Now that I've got Wonder Woman figured out for myself, it seems like maybe I should try to get Captain America under control too, but that feels like a daunting task and I don't know that I'm that interested.

I do know this though: I completely disagree with the Brian Michael Bendis quote from the article that says, "If the country is angry, he gets angry. If the country is sad, he gets sad… He doesn’t represent a flag, but a collective emotion." That's a shaky grasp on the character, isn't it? What do you do with him when the mood of the country is generally apathetic or self-involved? Or completely schizophrenic as it was during the last Presidential election? There's no way Captain America can represent the mood of the freakin' country. He's absolutely got to represent the flag. He's got to emulate what's best about the country: it's ideals. Otherwise, maybe he should be sitting around surfing MySpace and YouTube.

I don't know if it's possible to get a good handle on Captain America though. As shaky as his representing the country's collective emotion is already, it's made even less steady by the fact that he's really representing one particular writer's interpretation of the country's collective emotion. If the writer's especially perceptive, that might be possible, but it's still going to get filtered through the writer's eyes. And the same is true if Cap represents American ideals, which vary from citizen to citizen. And writer to writer.

Does Cap represent the American Dream (which, let's face it, is pretty selfish)? Does he represent the spirit of Independence? Does he represent the power of the People to truly make a difference in the adminstration of their government? It's the same problem Wonder Woman has when writers focus too much on her Mission. The writers' personal interpretations change from run to run and makes it very difficult for readers to get their arms around the character.

I think that's one reason why people (myself included) are enjoying Ed Brubaker's work on Captain America right now. Brubaker focuses on the spy drama and the man-out-of-time angle and leaves the "representing America" stuff alone. Kevin has it right: Cap is so much more cool when he's fighting America's enemies than he is when he's trying to figure out her ideals.


West said...

Bendis' take sounds more like (or more appropriate for) DC's Uncle Sam than Marvel Captain America.

That said, Cap needn't represent the real America's mood - just that of Marvel's America.

Michael May said...

Huh. I hadn't thought of that because I don't think Marvel sees a distinction, but you're right in pointing out that there is. That's a really interesting idea.

Siskoid said...

I'm with you on Cap, Michael. To the people around him, he should represent his country's ideals, and being heroic, those should be justice and freedom and the chance to make a new life for yourself. He's the statue of liberty and the US constitution rolled into one. he probably shouldn't be too much about free enterprise and consumer values... it's just too selfish a thing to be part of a hero's mission (though as a character, it would be interesting to see Steve Rogers - listen to me, I'm talking as if he wasn't dead, wink wink - face the American Dream by starting a small business - art related? war memorabilia?).

As a PERSON, Cap should merely BELIEVE fiercely in those things and he's often been written as taking the government to task on this. Government does not equal Nation. And once you've nailed down what he believes in, who he is, then no matter where the country is heading, he shouldn't change. What changes is his position in relation to American attitudes and policy.

In those terms, I don't see how much more difficult it should be to write Cap than other "principled" heroes like Superman (oops, yeah, it may not be that easy looking at the number of dark or flawed heroes on the racks over the last 30 years).


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