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Captain America, Anti-Hero?

Now that CAPTAIN AMERICA 2: THE WINTER SOLDIER has had a gigantic opening weekend, people are starting to talk about how it ought to have been done.

Take this post on Vulture, which says that Cap would be interesting if he was a prick. As supporting evidence, the author trots out Millar’s repugnant characterization of Steve Rogers in the first few Ultimates comics, adding this panel to his post:

Captain Freeper

Do we really think a guy who actually fought the Nazis would have the same opinion of France as some random member of the freeper cheetotariat? Yes, the Nazis attacked and occupied France in WW2. You know what we call people who mock victims of the Nazi war machine? Assholes.

So try to guess how impressed I am by the idea that Steve Rogers isn’t actually interesting unless he’s being some kind of jerk. (Not very.) There’s a weird mentality in comics that treats cynicism, misanthropy, and nihilism are somehow more mature than idealism; it’s a teenage boy’s idea of agency. It’s all about contempt: for people without power, for social rules and bonds, and for compassion. It’s a hero who “Does what has to be done,” which the narrative conveniently frames as acting like a ruthless thug.

But none of these stories are being created by teenage boys: it’s middle-aged adults, whether we’re talking about The Boys, or Wanted, or one of the New 52 storylines (like the much-discussed new Harley Quinn or Starfire, or the bit about the Joker’s face) that rub their hands together gleefully and sell ever-shrinking numbers of copies to their aging audiences. Clearly, the author of the Vulture article is deep into this mindset; why else discuss (and post a panel from) part of a story where Bucky is made out to be the killer that Captain America could never be, as though the American people couldn’t accept a WW2 soldier who kills Nazis? [1]

Nevermind that, based on where Cap was born and raised, he’s unlikely to be the France-mocking conservative reactionary the Vulture writer seems to expect. Nevermind that the big wave of anti-heroes seems to have passed and left us with very few lasting characters. [2]

More interesting is that Captain America has been around, and been successful, for decades. Comic book characters come and go and they always have. Some are superpopular and fade away. Some keep getting reinvented without really breaking out. Some fade into obscurity. How many times has Marvel tried to launch a Dr. Strange comic to middling sales and eventual cancellation? [3]

Most of these characters stick around. They’re ongoing IP, turning up in other characters’ stories, but they can’t sustain their own ongoing series.

Cap is one of those who can. Forget about the ridiculous costume (which they had fun mocking in THE FIRST AVENGER), he’s been popular for a long time, even with readers like me, who are not exactly overflowing with reflexive patriotism. He works in the comics (and has for decades). He works in the movies (as you can see by the box office and rave reviews). Where so many others have failed, he continues.

Instead of saying he needs to be roughed up to make him interesting, it would be worthwhile to figure out why he’s already successful. [4] I suspect it’s because the conflict is not inside him, it’s between his ideals and the distinctly non-ideal world around him. No anti-heroes necessary.

My spoiler-filled review of CA2: THE WINTER SOLDIER here.

[1] Yes, there were years when comics were ridiculous about the death toll that would come from superpowered combat in Manhattan. “Thank goodness the buildings the Hulk just collapsed were all condemned! Someone might have gotten hurt!” When comics became more realistic about the damage their fights could do, that was a welcome development. I just wish it hadn’t gone so far.

[2] Wither art thou, Darkhawk? What about you, Maggot? Shatterstar?

[3] Not that I have anything against Dr. Strange, who ought to be a wildly successful character, with the right writer.

[4] A trade collecting part of Mark Waid’s run is pretty much the only superhero comic my son has ever enjoyed.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
muirecan
Apr. 9th, 2014 03:02 pm (UTC)
Sadly there seems to be a small but vocal subgroup that loves or at least pushes the darkity dark dark dark missantrope as a great character. :p

Personally I think they are idiots and that it was a minor thing of interest that was over done and dead in less than a year.
burger_eater
Apr. 9th, 2014 03:16 pm (UTC)
I'll admit that I'm a fan of the dark misanthrope as a character, in some stories. My main complaint is that CA can't be interesting without being one, too, which is demonstrably wrong.
blairmacg
Apr. 9th, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
There’s a weird mentality in comics that treats cynicism, misanthropy, and nihilism are somehow more mature than idealism; it’s a teenage boy’s idea of agency.

Totally agree, though I'd expand it to include teenage girls (says the woman who remembers playing "Blasphemous Rumors" on her Walkman over and over and over... :)
burger_eater
Apr. 9th, 2014 04:41 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you're correct, although it wasn't really my experience of teenagerdom.
mizkit
Apr. 9th, 2014 04:45 pm (UTC)
I used to like Batman best, because Batman. But I've come around to Superman for essentially the same reasons I love Cap: because he is, in fact, the good guy. There aren't enough straight-up heroes.

One of my favourite things about The First Avenger was the in-so-many-words explanation that the serum takes the good in a man and makes it great (and takes the bad and makes it evil). The idea that Cappy isn't just good or right, but that he's the *best* and that his moral judgments are the *strongest*. And then of course Chris Evans plays the role so goddamn well, and makes it feel so real.
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 05:30 pm (UTC)
Yep. That was one of the points of the original Super-Soldier serum concept; it was supposed to take a human being and make him a paragon, the best that any human being could possibly achieve in ALL aspects, at once... although it might magnify your darkness along with your light.

All other versions of the Super-Soldier formula, however, have been flawed in one way or another, lacking Erskine's key innovations.
burger_eater
Apr. 9th, 2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
It's interesting that, as I get older, I circle back toward preferring basic decency in characters. It doesn't feel as artificial as it did when I was younger.
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:08 pm (UTC)
Heh. I never left that. I never understood the attraction of GrimDark characters over the good guys. Yeah, I like there to be some complexity -- something that tells me the character isn't just a bunch of white paint on whiteness -- but while I found Batman *cool* he wasn't ever in danger of taking a top slot in my superhero parade, and neither was Wolverine or any of the other darker types.
burger_eater
Apr. 9th, 2014 10:44 pm (UTC)
While I was reading a shitload of Grimjack and the Punisher.
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
Rgh. I *hate* the Punisher. Hate hate hate. At least Batman's got STYLE, and he doesn't go around elevating himself to Judge, Jury, and Executioner; he's just a freelance cop who takes 'em in rough.
mastadge
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:04 am (UTC)
Oh my. We need a GrimJack movie. 80s-style.
fidelioscabinet
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:07 am (UTC)
When you come right down to it, being decent takes some effort most times.
burger_eater
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:38 am (UTC)
I wish I was decent more often then I am.
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 05:28 pm (UTC)
I'm firmly in the "Captain America's PURPOSE is to be the white light" camp. He's the touchstone, to me, of what's right and wrong in the Marvel Universe. Other characters can go down a darkish path, but not him. That violates my view of the character completely.
burger_eater
Apr. 9th, 2014 05:54 pm (UTC)
I don't think that sort of archetype characterization works as well in the movies. You get a real person playing the role, with wrinkles and birthmarks, and the characters need to be more grounded than they are with the symbolic style of art in the comics and cartoons.

Still, I can't picture Cap being the jerk who tortures a bad guy to get what he wants. He might be tempted, depending on how angry they've made him, but that's it.
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:05 pm (UTC)
I think it works fine in the movies; this Cap IS the touchstone, pretty much. He didn't have to change his personality to be a hero and he IS a HERO; he's not a former assassin working for the government (Widow, Hawkeye), he's not a former jerkass who got a wakeup call of DOOM (Iron Man), he's not an arrogant SOB who was given a stern lesson in humility (Thor) and he's not a guy who's had to learn to control literally world-shaking rages (Hulk). He's the true and heroic patriot who was given a chance to serve his country, and did, over and over again, and still is pretty much the same guy he was when he was being beaten in an alley.
martianmooncrab
Apr. 9th, 2014 06:54 pm (UTC)
I loved Doc Strange.. sigh..
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:06 pm (UTC)
Doctor Strange could be utterly awesome, but jeez, I haven't any idea who could do him justice.
martianmooncrab
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:19 pm (UTC)
JMS (Strazyski.. except I cant remember how to spell his name)... because that dude can write!
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
Mmmmmmaybe. He's one of the few I wouldn't just scream NNNNOOOOOOO!!!! at.
mastadge
Apr. 9th, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC)
I would! He writes lots of literally self-aggrandizing comics and a number of terrible screenplays. Babylon 5 was influential but certainly not for its dialogue!
seawasp
Apr. 9th, 2014 10:58 pm (UTC)
You're kidding; Bab5's melodramatic dialogue is *PERFECT* for that kind of thing. Comic books LIVE on melodrama, and if there's one thing JMS knows full well, it's how to mellow that drama.
martianmooncrab
Apr. 10th, 2014 02:03 am (UTC)
he has been writing for comix the past few years... he had his own and then some established stuff.. DC and Marvel..
his wiki goes into more detail..
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Michael_Straczynski

I loved B5, and most of his other projects.. so I am biased.
burger_eater
Apr. 9th, 2014 10:48 pm (UTC)
I think Dr. Strange is a great character who needs an opportunity to be showcased just the right way. He's Dumbledore in the superhero world, for god's sake; there's no excuse for him not to be hugely popular.

But I'd rather see the guy I linked above writing him than JMS. #notafan
kiwisue
Apr. 17th, 2014 02:26 pm (UTC)
Mark Millar

Mark Millar has always been overrated.
He's an iconoclast whose stock in trade is shock value. And that's all there is to him.
burger_eater
Apr. 17th, 2014 02:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Mark Millar
Agreed, but there's someone out there impressed with him. He keeps getting big jobs.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )