This is indeed a blog post about American comics, but there will be no playing at false elitism in any post of mine: I started reading comics because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It took seeing Iron Man, X-Men: First Class, and Thor before I even picked up a comic book out of simple curiosity; however, it was the 2012 summer blockbuster The Avengers that really sold me on getting into the Marvel fandom once and for all. I was familiar with most of the superheroes in the team movie, but not all, and so I left the theater with a few questions. Not the least of them being:
Two movies and multiple Marvel Wiki entries, comic issues, fanfictions, and character analysis blogs later, my questions were answered: Captain America, AKA Steven Grant Rogers, was my soon-to-be new favorite superhero, and I should care about him for so many reasons.
**POSSIBLE SPOILERS: Marvel comics story arcs Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War; Marvel Cinematic Universe films Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier**
Although the title would be used by quite a few characters, the first and most popular hero to carry the mantle of Captain America was Steve Rogers, born in 1918 Brooklyn to an Irish immigrant family. Initially frail and sickly, what he lacked in body he made up for with his sense of justice, courage, and compassionate heart. The orphaned art student attempted to enlist in the US Army once WWII broke out, but was continually rejected…until his resolve allowed him to be noticed by “Project: Rebirth”, a government-sponsored scientific experiment that endeavored to create a new breed of perfect soldiers to assist in the war effort. A super-soldier serum completely healed Steve of his health problems and altered his cells to reach the peak of human potential. However, the creator of the serum was killed only minutes after Steve’s transformation, leaving him as the only successful “perfect soldier” that would ever be created in the Marvel timeline. Instead of being a common soldier, Steve is cast into the role of the patriotic superhero persona Captain America, a foil to Nazi Germany’s super villain, the Red Skull. His storyline eventually led to him being trapped in a frozen suspended animation, before being awoken in the modern era.
What drew me to Captain America initially was his power — or lack thereof. When you get down to it, Cap doesn’t have any special powers; he’s as powered as a human can get without becoming something more than human, and that’s it. The physical super-powered side of Steve Rogers is…unremarkable. Cool, yes, but it definitely pales in comparison with Iron Man’s armor or Thor’s storm manipulation. It’s a good thing, then, that the super soldier serum isn’t the source of his real power.
Captain America’s superpower is his heart.
So often I see Steve reduced to a patriotic “AMERICA HECK YEAH” stereotype, a one-dimensional extension of the government whose colors he wears. I suppose this is easy to do if you completely forget his entire backstory. Steve Rogers was a first-generation Irish immigrant, presumably Catholic, disabled by his multitude of illnesses, lived right in the middle of an area of Brooklyn known for its working-class LGBTQIA+ community in the 30s and 40s — in other words, he was disadvantaged. He knew the importance of inclusion, compassion, and siding with the forgotten and left behind, and those ideals didn’t go away when he became a superhero. If anything, they were intensified, since he then had the physical and social power to match the power of his heart that had always been there. The most “American” thing I’ve ever seen Steve Rogers do is calling America out when something harmful is going on. In the Marvel Civil War storyline, he vehemently opposed an act that would cause super humans to be outed unwillingly, and spoke out against the militarization of his division, S.H.I.E.L.D., in both The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He stands up for those being unjustly persecuted, such as when his formerly-brainwashed partner Bucky Barnes was accused of being a traitor, even though he had no agency during his time as the enemy assassin, the Winter Soldier.
It’s no accident that Steve’s signature weapon isn’t really a weapon at all, but a shield. He’s not a killer, not even a purely offensive force, but a defender, both in his actions and his character (I’m an English teacher in training, you can trust my shield symbolism). Not only does the Captain carry this characteristic in his narratives, but also outside of it, among his fanbase. In my corner of the Marvel fandom, superheroes are not as much action heroes or power fantasies as they are characters to analyze, fall in love with, find vulnerabilities and unconventional strengths in. The unconventional strength in Steve Rogers is one that takes root both in his persona as constructed by fans and outside of the story as well: his strength of standing up for the marginalized.
Male comic book readers being cruel to female fans because girls don’t really like comics and must be faking it? Guess what: Captain America would be the first to jump to these girls’ defense. Readers asserting that Steve can never be anything other than heterosexual even though it’s never explicitly stated in the story? The #BisexualSteveRogers campaign begins on Twitter, with many Cap roleplayers and headcanon writers jumping on board. Readers getting angry that the African-American hero Sam Wilson is taking up the mantle of Captain America in the newest Avengers comics? That’s Steve’s best friend you’re talking about. The writer of the current Captain America comic run writing incredibly problematic and regressive material and getting called out on it by mostly female fans, only to have their criticisms run into the ground by both other fans and Marvel officials? At least we know Cap would’ve been on our side.
Perhaps my interpretation of Captain America and everything I love about him can be summed up by these words he once said: “When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree by the river of truth, and tell the whole world, ‘No, you move.’” Captain America is an idealist, a fighter and defender who knows the value of compassion, of standing up against a harmful status quo and daring the world to try and silence him – all qualities I hope to one day embody.
Pretty much all of my friends here at LMU know that I love Captain America, but few knew the exact reasons why. The nature of my obsession has finally been revealed! What about you, readers? Do you have a particular superhero or comic book character you identify with? Why them over others? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments. To stay updated on my further reading adventures, hit the Follow button!