March 06, 2006

Comics and politics -- again

I'm home today because my daughter has caught that flu bug that has been going around. While she was sleeping, I pulled out some of my favorite back-issues of comics that were created by some of the best in the business. One was 1980's Captain America #250. (Every 50th issue usually is a "special" issue featuring some "big" event or appearance of a classic villain.)

Cap #250's "event" was the Capt.'s actual consideration of running for president! After rescuing a group of folks from a small terrorist band, Cap is approached by the head of the New Populist Party (NPP) about running for the highest office in the land. He initially shrugs it off as a joke, but eventually takes it more seriously -- especially after the party chair plants a newspaper headline that says "Cap for President!" Cap (or Steve Rogers, Cap's secret ID) hears advice from both sides, pro and con. Two of those who attempt to dissuade Cap are Iron Man and the Vision, two of my favorite characters. Iron Man says

"Come on, Cap! You of all people should know better than to get mixed up in politics! You know the kind of red tape and corruption you'd be faced with!"

The Vision offers

"The question is not one of respect, but of qualifications! You are a man out of time, Cap -- 1940's solutions will not work for today's problems!"

Supporting the idea are the Wasp and Steve's [future] girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal.

Cap does some "heavy thinking," and in one neat sequence, while hurdling NYC skyscrapers, he happens upon his now-delapidated and abandoned elementary school building from the 1930s. He recalls his teacher, Mrs. Edna Crosley, discussing the idealism of America, and about keeping keep faith in the trying times that were the Depression. This apparently solidifies Cap's decision, and he makes his way to a convention center to address the NPP faithful. In a brief address, Cap states

"[A president] must be ready to negotiate -- to compromise -- 24 hours a day, to preserve the Republic at all costs! I understand this ... I appreciate this ... and I realize the need to work within such a framework. By the same token -- I have worked and fought all my life for the growth and advancement of the American Dream. And I believe that my duty to the Dream would severely limit any abilities I might have to preserve the reality. We must all live in the real world ... and sometimes that world can be pretty grim. But it is the Dream ... the Hope ... that makes the reality worth living.

And with that, Cap turns down the offer of presidential candidate.

This awesome story was written by Roger Stern and drawn by the spectacular John Byrne.

Seven years later, Captain America stalwart writer Mark Gruenwald takes this concept to a different level: The US government claims "ownership" of the very concept of Captain America, and demands that Steve Rogers work for the government as their operative. The government's claims are indeed difficult to dispute. Some of them were: they financed "Project Rebirth," which gave Cap his powers; Steve signed a contract that he'd serve the US in an "official capacity" until the president relieved him of that duty; and, Cap's uniform and shield were designed and created by the federal government. The special commission is actually incredulous that Rogers is contemplating not agreeing to the government's demands!

The dilemma facing Cap is almost the same as that which he faced seven years ago. In one panel he thinks "I'd be compromising my effectiveness as a symbol that transcends mere politics." In another panel (that clearly demonstrates the political situation at that time) Cap wonders "[Would they] maybe send me to Nicaragua to help the Contras?" and shows Cap firing a gun at some (apparent) Sandinistas.

Eventually Steve Rogers decides to give up the role of Captain America, making for one of the most controversial moves in Marvel Comics history. As Steve enters the government building to relinquish his uniform and shield, he tells the commission

"Captain America was created to be a soldier. But I have made him far more than that. To return to being a mere soldier would be a betrayal of all I've striven for, for the better part of my career. To serve the country your way, I would have to give up my personal freedom ... and place myself in a position where I might have to compromise my ideals to obey your orders.

I cannot represent the American government; the president does that. I must represent the American people. I represent the American Dream, the freedom to strive to become all that you dream of being. Being Captain America has been my American Dream. To become what you want me to be, I would have to compromise that Dream ... abandon what I have come to stand for."

And so, for the next 18 issues of Captain America, Steve Rogers operates solo, becoming "The Captain" (and using a uniform very similar to his Capt. America suit, but with a red, white and black motif). The US government chooses John Walker to become the "new" Captain America, but he becomes a liability after his secret identity becomes known, his parents are assassinated, and then he goes nuts as a result.

Steve Rogers reassumes the mantle of Capt. America in the landmark #350.

Posted by Hube at March 6, 2006 09:35 AM | TrackBack

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