Captain America and Civil War

A recent comic book “mega-event” ended this month when Marvel published issue seven of Civil War. The series introduced the concept of a registration act that would require all heroes to reveal their identities and work more closely with whatever government was in office at the time. Heroes were divided in their support for the measures, and (not surprisingly) conflict ensued. Pro-registration forces were led by corporate/financial powerhouse Iron Man, while those who would challenge the act fell in step beside Captain America.

My thoughts on the finale of series, from the forumยน at Comic Readers:

I think my frustrations are just the all-too-common result of broken-hearted fanboyism. I may be out of touch with the character (as I don’t currently read any of his titles) but I appreciate Captain America as a symbol of what was once right about the USA. Having him stand up to his own government was fitting in a few different regards. I’d hoped that this logic and the consequent narrative validity would continue through to resolution, but… it didn’t. That logic disappeared with a tiny whimper when Cap surrendered, and then ordered his forces to do the same.

Captain America surrendered.

Done properly, this might have been a significant character moment in a history that stretches back more than 60 years. In this context, however, it’s illogical, disheartening, and awfully convenient for the writers. More than any other superhero, I expect Cap to know that liberty has its costs. Sacrifices are made in times of war, and they certainly are not limited to armed forces. Collateral damage is a terrible thing, but it isn’t a new aspect of conflict–look back to Cap’s own war, where civilian death exceeded soldier death by more than 50%.

Yet in the final issue of Civil War, rather than risk the populace further, Captain American decides he would rather have everyone live in a world with fewer freedoms? Doesn’t this cast a depressing light on any parallels drawn to issues in the world right outside your door: censorship, privacy, American foreign policy, basic human rights?

“Don’t trust your instincts, ethics, or past accomplishments; do what what your government tells you to do or they will use force to deny you further rights.”

Now I know why Cap was crying.ยฒ

Enough about comics, but more about the world’s only superpower. As I’ve noted before, John Hodgman is also an example of everything that is (or once was) right with America. I bring him up again because his almanac of complete world knowledge is available for FREE (as in beer) to Canadian iTunes customers this week. Spring into action!


1. The Internet was invented so that people could argue. Especially about comic books.
2. Please excuse the melodrama, but I like to think it’s allowed when discussing mediums where melodramas flourish–like RPGs and comics.

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20 Comments

Filed under Comic Books

20 responses to “Captain America and Civil War

  1. Oh, I hear ya, man! I think Captain America surrendering was a complete cop-out and out-of-character for Steve Rogers. Unless, of course (as you suggested), it’s there to reflect the ongoing suspension of civil liberties in America. I mean, next time I go back to Canada and return to the States, I’m going to have to be fingerprinted as part of new security measures. Fingerprinted! I’m not a criminal, but it doesn’t mean I like being treated like one.

  2. crocodoyle

    John Hodgman had a great article last month in Wired about the greatest unanswered questions. Smart guy! How is he affiliated with the Daily show, though?

  3. It’s good to know that someone agrees with me, R:tAG! I had no idea you were a comic book fan, but I guess I should have guessed you get exposure from work. What titles do you read?

    I had a post about my pull list a few months back, but this is what I’m buying these days…

    Action Comics
    All Star: Superman
    Batman
    Casanova
    Crickets
    Criminal
    Detective Comics
    Elephantmen
    Fell
    Gร˜DLAND
    The Goon
    Hip Flask
    Justice
    Justice League of America
    Local
    Loveless
    Mouse Guard
    Rex Libris
    Rocketo
    Superman
    Superman/Batman
    Superman Confidential
    Tales Designed to Thrizzle
    The Spirit
    Uptight

    Plus some trades collecting Silver Age stuff, and anything that Chris Ware deems fit to release.

  4. Doyle! Happy to see you here. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I know exactly the article of which you speak; it was far more enjoyable than Colbert’s piece last summer. Hodgman seems to be a media darling as of late, though I must confess to having not yet seen him on the Daily Show. I am now decrepitly old, and thus never awake late enough to watch it.

  5. Make mine Marvel! ๐Ÿ™‚ Sorry, that goes along with the job now with MUO development in full swing. My comics are primarily:

    Doctor Strange (my fav Marvel)
    Ghost Rider
    Heroes for Hire (cheesy, but fun!)

    (We get a shipment in every month or so to the office, so I try to keep up on the rest of the Marvel line too, but the ones above are the ones I actively collect myself.)

    Conan (new series)
    Fables (highly recommended!)
    Jack of Fables
    Lucifer

  6. I would love to hit up Fables and Jack of Fables, but I’m anal about reading (though not necessarily owning) complete runs of a series. Thus far, I haven’t set to picking up the necessary trades to catch up.

    I guess I should have known that you’d be knee deep in Marvel, what with projects being what they are. ๐Ÿ™‚ As for me and “The House of Ideas,” I enjoyed Brubaker’s Books of Doom last year, and Ellis/Immonen’s NEXTWAVE was brilliant. I was disappointed to see it end. I guess I have no active Marvel titles, but I’ll be adding Runaways to the pile once Joss Whedon comes aboard with issue #25.

  7. Ah yes, Runaways! Another excellent series. Another guy I work with leant me volumes one and two in hardcover (he only collects hardcovers – it’s a sickness), and I found them quite entertaining. I borrowed Books of Doom from him too. Good stuff!

    And by the way, if you get the chance, check out the Twisted Toyfare Theatre volume compilations. They’re a bit purile at times, but they’re also laugh-out-loud funny!

  8. (hysterical laughter)

    I haven’t been present while you two do a comic geeking-out in a long time. And here we are, in Chad’s cyber-living-room, so I’ll do what I normally do, and clench my eyebrows to attempt to look more intrigued rather than confused.

  9. We’re only happy to have you along, Cara! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m certain there’s at least half a dozen titles I know you’d love, and likely understand in a deeper, more arty level than me–start with Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy on Earth (your friendly neighbourhood library is certain to have it). If that doesn’t knock your booties off, we’ll move on to suggestion two.

  10. And also, Mark Millar licks goats:

    From an interview with Newsarama (emphasis mine)…

    NRAMA: Finally, before we let you go, what is interesting you/what are you working on outside the realm of comic book publishing?

    MM: Like all my pals, the TV and movie people have come calling and even the computer game people (which is weird because games are for pedos and I have no interest). Comics are my first love, but it would be crazy to turn down some of these gigs and so we’re all biting at the moment. I’ve been developing King and Country as a TV thing as well as an original graphic novel, but my main area of interest is genre movies in Hollywood.

    THE HELL is that supposed to mean?!

  11. tim

    Hey Chad,

    First of all I think your post on Marvel counts as a post on politics and war (2 things you’re trying to avoid with this blog :>). Rather than complain, however, I will respond.

    I know not of comics but I found your critical interpretation of what Marvel did with it’s character quite interesting in many ways but I will just provide two comments. One is a theroetical thought for reflection and (2) a more hopeful note for you to consider.

    (1) From your presepctive the values Captain America has deviated from (American Liberty) and the value’s he has taken up (The gaze of, and burreaucratic management by, the state on populations under the auspices of order) is actually linked, histroically and theroetically, together in polticial practice. It’s not just that the realities of violence and disturbance require a pragmatic deviance from the value of liberty, as you note in your post, but that the value of American Liberty is, on the surface paradoxically, a political theory that prescribes a homogenous cultural, economic, social, and political order for humanity.

    (2) On a hopeful note, the lament you’ve expressed over Captain America’s betrayal to the libertarian values you’ve come to expect from him over a long history may be overstated. Perhaps Captain America has to hit rockbottom in his advocacy of freedom before he is able to come to find new pathways of action that can resist the tyranny of American Liberty. Furthermore, Captain America, like us, should not be judged on one action but rather judged on the pattern of his character, the web of actions he has performed and the context he has performed them in. And perhaps by hitting rock bottom and finding new pathways of action and freedom in the future, he will not be so easily co-opted as an icon of ‘American Liberty’. Perhaps he will articulate a way of being that is not commensurable with a “registration act’ but rather some post-modern notion of freedom for which one group of people is not able to impose their vision of the good life on another group and sell it as freedom and liberty that belongs to humanity universally.

    Allow a non-comic booker to posit the follwoing. Perhaps Captain America needs to destroy the concepts of being a “Captain” of/for “America” in order to truly practice and teach freedom in resistence empire and imperialism in it’s modern liberal forms. This future being might no have a fancy name at all. He might just be a humble elementary school teacher with a blog and a sweet hot sauce collection that takes tryanny by suprise, not with a sweet round-house kick to the head wearing American Flag karate pants, but by tactics and practices of living that deviate from prescribed norms. Freedom is lived in the ouliers, in the interstices of ecologies of knowledge, (including thesistic and non-theistic locations), and by living in respect of epsitemological plurality a resister formely known as Captain America will not end his existence as the person who capitulated to the “registration act”.

  12. My friendly neighborhood library did have Jimmy Corrigan. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve only read the inside cover and I quite like it already.

  13. Wow. I hope “pedos” aren’t what I think he’s referring to. I’ve got to send that to my boss…

  14. Well, we at comicbookflicks.blogspot.com are pretty ticked.

    What does that say about Heros like Captain America? There is no room for them in our world? There was an “elseworlds” like issue that came out a while back, where it featured Cap not dead, surviving the fight against ZEMO and in the end fighting for Mutant Rights. Although he fought all the great battles, he wasn’t remembered and it looks like his efforts were in vain.

    In this the new reality we are living in? The 300, Frank Miller reality: where live is tough and the idea of hero’s or the anti-hero makes more sense?

    I own a foundation http://www.csef.ca focused on Social Entrepeneurship. I don’t believe this is the case. There are heros working day in and day out to keep our world free of terror and the poor off the streets.

    ahh this is frustrating ๐Ÿ™‚

    JL

  15. Tim! That is epic.

    You are certainly correct about unintentionally addressing war and politics–two topics on which I am woefully ill-equipped to speak. If that were ever in doubt, I’ll reassure you with my comments below…

    Your optimism regarding Cap’s potential metamorphosis towards an ideal of freedom more commensurate with contemporary reality is intriguing, but I fear that change simply comes slow to this medium. More importantly, developments seldom lasts, all-too-often reverting to classic archetypes after brief stints of re-imagining. That said, notable character development has been demonstrated in the intervening decades between inception and current existence, almost always through details which emerge during new interpretations yet were judged worthy enough to remain around after the next reboot. We’ll have to wait for future issues to find out, but perhaps that’s exactly what they want.

    The actual deconstruction of Captain America within his current series may be more complete and literal than you posited–within a subsequent comic, he’s been felled by a single bullet from an assassin. Until he re-emerges, it seems he’ll be replaced by Punisher, a veteran of the Vietnam War with a markedly different take on acceptable losses.

    Is 21st-century America better represented by an ends-before-means problem solver? Perhaps, but even outside the hobby, comic book death is understood as temporary at best. This interruption might be exactly the continuity hiccup necessary for his reemergence as your champion of “epistemological plurality.” But I can guarantee that the Stars ‘n’ Stripes shield is here stay.

  16. Cara: happy to know that you found and have enjoyed a little bit of Chris Ware. As I said before, I’m certain you’ll get even more out of it than I did, and I’d recommend his gorgeous (and dense) Acme Novelty Library stuff next.

    Maverick: I know exactly the story of which you speak, and it too proves that, as terribly cheesy as it may sound, the US on its current course needs Captain America’s liberty (or his post-modern potentiality, as Tim demonstrates) now more than ever. And at least on first look, the link you provided is encouraging, indeed.

  17. tim

    Chad:

    Thank-you for responding to my post despite my lack of credentials when it comes to entering the discourse on comic book heroes.

    As for the discourse on war and politics it should never be left to those who claim to be experts on the subjects–as is too often the reality of the status quo and our faith in experts.

    I find two aspects of your response of interest for coninuing dialogue.

    (1) One is the way conceptions of time and change affect the realm of what”s possible. Western epistmology predomiately interprets the past as a universal linear story, the present as a fleeting moment too quick allow for considered reflection and agency, and the future as a quasi-scientific/deterministic inevitably. These leave the fact of epistemological pluarality (especially those that challenge the conception of time above) and the fact of unpredicatable and non-subordiante change.

    These two facts are, simplistically speaking, dealt with in two ways. Either both are treated as non-existent or they are treated as backwards/underdeveloped nodes of existence that need to be re-tooled to fit the model. And, actually , a third approach is to aggressively oppose them as something that needs to be destroyed. So it’s not that change is to slow to to encompass epistemological pluarlity its that uncontroled and non-subordiante change is itself viewed as a threat
    to the linear conception of progress and time.

    Captain America and Punisher in the end are both fighting for an order that denies not merely an ideal notion of epistempoligical plurality in the future but refuses to recognize and dialogue with longstanding and continuing practices of living alternative normative orders.

    Consider Means and Ends have long been seperated especially since the 19th cwntury utilitarians (although a contemporary version of this can be seen in our possible future PM Michael Ignatieff’s work The Lesser Evil which jusfies extreme measures of coercion [torture] for the protection of freedom/humanity/democracy/order) on conseuential grounds).

    Its Ghandi, for example, not a super-hero or anti-hero but a promoter of an alternative normative order, who most powerfully articulated a perspective that intimately ties the means to the ends in ethical and practical action and this is a result of his profound crtique of liberal-modernity and its force through British imperialism.

    (2) Second, I know someone who is really interetsted in the way the notion of death plays factors into poltical and metaphysical theory. That death, in comic books, is not the end of life or the end of a character and their narrative is reaaly interesting to me. I would also be interested to hear any interpretations of what the role of birth is in comic book narrative.

  18. (1) Comic books are epistemological plurality. Uncontrolled and non-subordinate change cannot be a threat to linear realities because time/cause/effect as we understand them simply do not exist in the superhero comics. Noted cultural observers William S. Burroughs and Allan Dotson frequently quote the dying words of Hasaan I Sabah, “nothing is true; everything is permitted.” Though the hobby of discussion perfectly inverts this relationship, it just as perfectly maintains and propagates the Old Man in the Mountain’s argument for total relativism. Suggested reading: hypertime, comic book death.

    (2) The old standby in the funny book world was “No one in comics stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben,” but all three came back in 2006. As for births, they do happen in comic books, though they are hardly of critical interest. Instead, the emphasis is upon character origin, which in tales of superheroes takes on the importance of birth in more traditional narratives.

    [To clarify (and likely contradict how I have phrased things above), most of what we have been discussing refers to the genre of superheroes–not the medium of comic books.]

  19. This is some great writing! We at CBF were wondering if you had time to do a post at Comicbookflicks.com ?

    Cheers

    Chief Webhead
    comicbookflicks.com
    Premier resource for Comic Book News

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