There’s been a lot of upheaval regarding the “big reveal” with Captain America. And there’s been a lot of articles saying “Calm down, this probably isn’t what you think,” though Marvel has apparently said “Some stories aren’t for everyone.” Personally, I have a huge problem with this, but has little do to with the fact that I have a couple of hundred Captain America comics in my basement, all bagged and boarded, from what I was a kid. This has everything to do with the era of “ruin all heroes” that we live in.
I loath the Zack Synder version of the DC universe. The idea that Superman would steal clothes, kill someone, and have no issue with the deaths of countless humans bothers me immensely. For a while, in the 90s, we seem to be in an era of “the forced every man,” where our heroes had to be grounded or suffer the consequences. But back then, those consequences were mild compared to today. Back then, people were “ruining” heroes of history, like trying to tear down Shakespeare and what not. It’s one thing if there is evidence that comes up that casts someone in a new light, maybe says that they were really Person X instead of Person Y, and its quite another to try and claim that everything they did was worthless because of it, and to build a narrative of “everything we are told is lies, believe nothing.” Everything old has been new again for a while, but it keeps one upping itself this time.
Characters like Superman and Captain America have historically represent the best of us, of what we could be. Whether its Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Bucky, Clint Barton, or someone else under the mask, they all held themselves to that same standard that we did as readers. We all wanted to be like them, and all of them were written as wanting to be even more. Marvel has just done what Zack Synder did.
Zack Synder’s Superman couldn’t be further away from the idea that tremendous power can only be kept in check through tremendous humanity and humility. These weren’t lessons learned over time for the character, they were inherant. They were the idea that we are all inherantly good, and those that fall (like Batman when he goes too far) can be brought back and accepted (and I’m not touching the religious stuff). These characters, they were about ideals. Zack Synder gave us a version of Superman that’s really the Ultraman but less evil version (if you’re an Earth 3 comic-book geek, otherwise, think of that as ‘evil superman’).
Humanizing a character, bringing them to their breaking point, challenging them to the last moment where there is any “them” left, can make for great story telling. But there are lines you cannot cross without breaking the concept of the character, and you’re left with pieces that cannot go back together. Crossing fundamental character lines trashes the integrity of the character and betrays the trust with the reader. It doesn’t matter if Cap is revealed to be a triple agent, the very idea that Marvel has just said that we should not expect to have heroes we can trust, that we can aspire to, in this era, is the problem. It means that everything is available for a price, and that shock value is worth more than inspiring people. I’ve always believed that the real goal of any story teller is to entertain, inspire and inform.
Marvel, you completely Super Synder’ed this. You might as well have had Cap cross a number of other serious moral lines that defiled the character (which I’m able to think but I just can’t put into words because I can’t let myself right those words and have them associated with the character). There are things that you cannot take back because you went there: “I was joking about having the affair, honey! Well, mostly. No, I’m kidding!”
Aren’t I jumping the gun? Shouldn’t I allow this to be played out? Am I not just being one of those typical, hyper-reactionary people who doesn’t want to listen to the other side and instead, yell and scream my own perspective instead? No.
See, it’s my view that as a broad society, in the current era, we are in need of heroes, desperately. We need the fantastic ones (the imaginary ones that are just beyond what is humanly possible but are so compelling that they remind us to do better) and we need those like the firefighters at Fort McMurry who fought The Beast and showed how people are able to come close to that. We are in an era where we’ve learned that we have been betrayed by those with trust with our money, with the governance of our cities and countries, etc. and to be betrayed by our heroes leaves us with little else.
Maybe the reaction seems a bit strong, but this is “in addition to” what Synder did. Enough with trying to cheat writing a great story. Stop trying to rob our little jar where we keep the few things that give us hope, even if it’s imaginary hope, we need more in there, not less. Wow us not with scandal, but with stories that show skill and lift us up. Don’t knock down the walls that we quietly lean on when life knocks us sideways.
Marvel, this isn’t a case of “some stories aren’t for some people,” this is a case that we trusted you. You trusted you to be better than this, to be, at least for this one character, willing to not stab us for believing in him. We accepted him being dead for a while because we hoped. We accepted all manner of things, because we knew that those who would fill his boots would have to rise up, and that someday, he’d come back. And now, you seem to be calling us whiney wimps for complaining when we feel that all of that hope and energy was wasted. No retcon or clever twist is going to fix that.
But hey, that’s just my 2 cents.
And by the way, this is from a Canadian comic book lover. I can only imagine how my American friends feel.