Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Friday, January 28, 2005

Even Though the Wings Look Dumb

It’s a stupid-looking costume. Electric blue with heavy doses of red and white, buccanneer boots, a circular target-looking shield, and wings on his head?

Wings on his head? Huh? And why does nobody ever just shoot his legs? That shield isn't very big.


And yet, I find Captain America compelling. Routinely getting into scrapes with beings far more powerful, surrounded by cynicism, always outnumbered, and six decades out of time, he still wins the fight, does the right thing, and believes in a better tomorrow.

What can I say, I find a grizzled optimism in the face of long odds admirable. I dig the guy.

Lately I’ve been annoyed with a motif among comic writers discussing Cap in interviews.

(Yes, welcome to another peevish rant.)

Whenever some guy is taking up the title of late, he likes to begin with “he’s different from other costumed heroes...he’s a soldier.” Bleh.

First, though this is often sold as a new approach, every damn writer says it. C'mon, if you're gonna try a new approach, be new. "Cap's not like other costumed his heart, he's a jazz flutist." See, now that would be new.

Second, it’s not true. He was a soldier long ago, but he isn’t anymore.

Look, does he follow orders? Does he fight wars on behalf of the US gub’mint? Does he shave his head and live with a large group of men in matching outfits? Nope, nope, and nope.

Yes, it’s an interpretation of the character, but it’s a lame one. I think it subtracts from his intrinsic coolness. As the character himself has pointed out, he’s not the instrument of the US Army, the President, or the government of America in any way. He doesn’t represent them or answer to them. His only loyalty is to the ideals they’re supposed to represent.

One could argue that a soldier is also supposed to embody those ideals. You could argue that, but you’d be wrong. His core purpose is not to “represent” anything, but to do things. A soldier is supposed to do what he’s told by his superiors. If the orders coincide with the high ideals America tries to embrace, that’s great, but if they don’t, well, too bad, soldier boy. No such constraints exist on the good captain, nor can they.

He’s a soldier? Nah. He’s a superhero, first and foremost. He’s the ultimate Boy Scout, the personification of the urge to do the right thing, courage in a dopey wing-headed mask. In this he is unique, and that’s what makes him interesting.

You couldn’t have more than one character like him, though. He works best in contrast, as the ideal to which the rest of us aspire.

Comic writers don’t really follow the soldier idea very far, and what they really mean by saying “he’s a soldier” is that he has military ties and a bit more rigid of a demeanor. It's not much of a change, really. So I guess my rant here is kinda pointless.

...dammit, this post was much more interesting inside my head.

Maybe my complaint isn’t with the interpretation of Captain A, but of the use of the word “soldier.”

I’ll explain why in my next post. Which I guarantee will be more interesting and insightful than this one. Really.


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