Captain America was killed today, shot by an assassin while descending the steps of a courthouse where he was being tried for treason. Captain America? Treason?
It would be easy to dismiss this news as just an odd side story of the day, but it isn't. Superhero comic books are modern allegories and Captain America has been a prominent star since 1941 when he took on Hitler and the Third Reich.
The current story began in 2006 when Marvel Comics chose a story line called "Civil War". Joe Quesada, the Marvel Comics editor-in-chief, summarized the plot line to George Gene Gustines of the NY Times:
"Civil War" provides problems in spades. The story opens with a reckless fight between a novice group of heroes (filming a reality television show) and a cadre of villains. The battle becomes quite literally explosive, killing some of the superheroes and many innocent bystanders. That crystallizes a government movement to register all super-powered beings as living weapons of mass destruction. The subsequent Registration Act will divide the heroes into two camps, one led by Captain America, the other by Iron Man. Along the way, Marvel will unveil its version of Guantánamo Bay, enemy combatants, embedded reporters and more. The question at the heart of the series is a fundamental one: "Would you give up your civil liberties to feel safer in the world?""Civil War" was not written by Americans. Rather it was written by a Scotsman, Mark Millar, living in Glasgow. Millar said there would be a "seismic shift" in the Marvel heroes. "Before the civil war, the Marvel universe was a certain way. After the civil war, the heroes are employed by the government...Some people refuse to do it and those guys are performing an illegal act by doing so."
Millar explained that Civil War works on two levels. "At the core, it's one half of the Marvel heroes vs. the other half...The political allegory is only for those that are politically aware. Kids are going to read it and just see a big superhero fight."
And this is where we should really pay attention to what the kids will remember about the superhero civil war and what they will see in real life. We all learn to interpret the world around us through our experiences and the stories to which we are exposed. Superhero comic books are super powerful moral vehicles reaching vast numbers of children. This is serious stuff to kids trying to make sense of the world they are entering. It's also serious stuff to the adults who write the stories.
Synopsis for "Civil War":
The New Warriors battle a group of villains in Stamford, Connecticut while filming a reality television show. One of the villains, Nitro, explodes, killing more than 600 people, including school children and all of the New Warriors except Speedball. Public opinion against superhumans turns, giving momentum to the Superhuman Registration Act [Patriot Act]. Angry civilians attack Johnny Storm, the Human Torch.
After Captain America refuses to join a S.H.I.E.L.D. strikeforce created to fight all superhumans in violation of the act, he becomes a fugitive and forms an underground resistance called the "Secret Avengers". This team includes Hercules, Falcon, and Danny Rand, (who is acting as Daredevil). Luke Cage and the Young Avengers also join. Tony Stark (Iron Man), who supports the act [though not originally; he later supports the act and is appointed by the President as Secretary of Defense], organizes registered superhumans and makes plans to support the act with Reed Richards and Hank Pym. Spider-Man unmasks himself at a press conference at Stark's behest as a show of support for the act [even Iron man unmasks himself while saving a puppy from being run over]. The X-Men declare their official neutrality in the conflict.
A large battle between the two sides culminates in the appearance of a cyborg clone of Thor, who kills the Secret Avenger Bill Foster. Sue Richards, a member of Stark's team, defends the Secret Avengers from the Thor clone's lightning blast, giving them a chance to escape. In the fight's aftermath, several Secret Avengers leave to join Stark. Meanwhile, Johnny Storm and Sue Richards join Captain America. Stark, Richards, and Pym draft the Thunderbolts to their cause.
After contemplating the brutal death of Bill Foster and touring the Pro-Registration prison facilities [Guantanamo Bay] in the Negative Zone, Spider-Man decides that he has made a mistake, and after a battle with Stark and the Thunderbolts, he escapes [with his family] and joins the Secret Avengers.
The Secret Avengers break into the Negative Zone prison, where Hulkling, who has been disguised as Hank Pym, releases the imprisoned heroes from their cells to join the fight. Cloak teleports the combatants to New York City, where Namor and an army of Atlanteans arrive to fight alongside the Secret Avengers, whereas the Champions, the Thor clone, and Captain Marvel reinforce Stark's team. As Captain America is about to deliver a final blow to Stark, police, EMTs, and firefighters try to hold him back. Realizing how much damage the fight has cost the very people he wishes to protect, Captain America orders his team to stand down, and he surrenders.
In the aftermath of the event, the President of the United States grants general amnesty to all those who opposed the Superhuman Registration Act (except Captain America who is sent to jail); Tony Stark is appointed as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., demoting Maria Hill to deputy status; the 50-State Initiative, which puts a superhero team in every state, launches; and the Mighty Avengers assemble as a new team. Some heroes choose to move to Canada (resulting in the creation of the second Omega Flight), and some stay underground, including the New Avengers.
In the latest issue of "Captain America", the NY Times' Gustines relates how the title hero is shot in the shoulder and stomach as he stands on the courthouse steps. The alleged assassin is Sharon Carter, an intelligence agent who has had a romantic relationship with Captain America/ Steve Rogers. Apparently, Ms. Carter was under Manchurian Candidate-like control of Dr. Faustus, a supervillain, who is undisguisedly based on the Christopher Marlowe character, Dr. Faust, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power.
Even in this brief, it should be obvious the "Civil War" President is an adaptation of George Bush, with Iron Man in the role of Donald Rumsfeld. The liberty restricting acts and the island located prisons are also obvious to the news savvy adult world. These parallels may not be so obvious to the younger reader who will probably remember the story line later when political consciousness begins. And who do you think Captain America will represent to these future voters? How will they envision one political ideology over the other? Captain America chose to take his fight to the courts and talk to his opponents rather than fight in the streets while his opponents chose to murder him on the doorsteps of justice. Is it now hard to see why Captain America is being tried for treason and who brought the charges? This is American History Propaganda 101, and it is no longer the winner who writes the history. These comic books are even now collectors items to be protected and lovingly cared for. These comic books are the history books of tomorrow - today.
Captain America differs from many other superheroes in that Captain America is an ideal, an idea, a mantle rather than an individual. Cap's shoes can be filled by any full blooded patriot of the American cause. In this sense, Captain America was not killed today. Captain America can never be killed; Captain America can never die.
Unless we dismiss these allegories as only silly comic books.
Addendum: In 2003, Michael Medved wrote Captain America, Traitor? for National Review Online. It's amazing this has been going on for so long and so few noticed. But iit really is just a silly comic book story, isn't it?
The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.