Captain America turned 70 this month! Marvel celebrated the occasion with a freshly colored reprint of that very first story, and with the coming feature film, this looks to be a banner year for the Star Spangled Avenger.
But Cap is far more than just any comic book character.
Along with Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman, Captain America is iconic. He is much more than just another superhero.
How does a character created as a World War II adventure hero, wrapped in the American flag no less, remain relevant and vital to audiences seven decades after his creation? By changing with the times. If Cap had STAYED a Nazi fighter bordering on Jingoism, his relevance would have ended in 1945. In fact the WWII years were replete with flag draped adventurers who did NOT survive after the war because they remained stagnant.
And to be sure Cap WAS a casualty of the decline in the popularity of the Superhero.
He was also one of the first to make a comeback in Young Men #24 – 1953. In his first reincarnation he was a force against Communism, reflecting the national attitude of the times. Later this 1950’s Cap would be retconned as a separate character, but at the time he WAS the original Steve Rogers and so this Cap is rightfully placed in the lineage of the mythos.
Then Avengers #4 (1964) hit the stands and Steve Rogers was back for good. Over the ensuing decades he would reflect the ever changing American Condition as a man out of his time, an ANTI War figure, a secret agent, and as an elder father figure to a new generation of heroes. He’s the hero to other heroes!
But Cap’s appeal is as much about what hasn’t changed as what has. The quality about Cap that has never changed is that he represents not the American reality but the American idea. Captain America is not beholding to any administration or government. His mission is to embody all that is good about America. Freedom, the rights of the individual, teamwork and sacrifice.
These are qualities than no one can dispute whatever their individual politics. Those are the ideals that Cap embodies. Like Superman, Captain America is a true hero, not an anti-hero. He is not morally ambivalent. There are no shades of gray. Cap knows right from wrong and acts accordingly.
I think this quality is particularly resonant today because it is in fact a time of great moral ambivalence and many people feel inspired by a hero who is solid in his beliefs. In short you can always count on Cap. Finally, the image of Cap is something special.
Maybe I am just old fashioned but the iconography of the American Flag is a very stirring image. The proud carriage, the shield, the red, white and blue. They can bring a lump to the throat for sure.
Happy Birthday Cap!
Here’s to 70 more!