Thursday, January 10, 2008

Die, Steve, Die

I was thinking about the latest issue of Captain America recently, and something occurred to me: I’m glad Steve Rogers died, and I hope he stays dead.

Captain America is one of those characters that has seemingly always been there, along with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. When I was a kid my dad made a shield for me out of cardboard and rope, painting it in that red-white-and-blue so I could run around outside (for a change) and block imaginary bullets that peowed! off my indestructible disk. I loved Captain America.

I still do, especially with what writer Ed Brubaker has been doing with his definitive run on the title. Brubaker has taken what has always been great about Cap and brought him — as much as is possible — into the real world. Captain America became complex, all too human while remaining iconic and inspirational to other characters in the Marvel Universe. He had gnawing regrets, loneliness and the simple pleasure of friendships. And then, seemingly betrayed by one of those friends, he died.

I’m OK with that. When it was first rumored that Captain America was going to die I rolled my eyes like everyone else. The only sure thing about death in comics is that death is not a sure thing. If they even have the guts to do it, I thought, they’ll bring him back eventually. Lame, lame, lame.

But Brubaker’s a hell of a writer, and he pulled it off in a way that made perfect sense while still moving the story forward. And since then we’ve had something strange; a very good and engaging comic book that doesn’t feature its title character. With the exception of an autopsy room scene, Steve Rogers has been missing. Gone. Dead. And yet, the story goes on and the influence of Captain America permeates everything. His death is part of a larger conspiracy, one that his friends and colleagues are determined to put to an end. Characters find themselves looking to Steve’s example when trying to make tough decisions. And now, someone is poised to take up the shield in his absence.

It makes sense. Both as a character and as a living part of the Marvel U, Captain America has become more than Steve Rogers. As obvious as it is to say, Captain America is an icon, a symbol of ideals to strive toward. You could argue that Bucky Barnes, Cap’s former partner and now a trying-to-reform assassin known as the Winter Soldier, doesn’t embody those ideals. And you’d be right.

But he wants to, so badly it jumps off the page. Bucky wants to live up to the example Captain America provided; he wants to be better than he is. They all do. From the Falcon to Black Widow to Agent 13 and even Tony Stark, no one wants to let Steve Rogers down. Ultimately, they know the world needs to have a Captain America. And no one believes in Captain America more than Bucky.

Brubaker’s not going to write Captain America forever (though I wish he would), but he’s laid what could be a solid and lasting foundation for years' worth of stories. Watching Bucky step up as the new Cap (assuming there’s no last-minute fake-out), struggling with his own demons while trying to meet the enormous expectations he and others will put on him, would be an interesting part of that story. Watching how other characters and heroes react to him and his no-doubt different methods has a lot of potential. And watching how those characters continue to deal with the loss of Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, offers something that has been missing from comics — a meaningful death.

It can’t happen if Marvel decides to bring the original Captain America back to life. Steve Rogers has died, and he needs to stay dead.


Khairul H. said...

I agree. When he died, I too rolled my eyes and gave Marvel maybe about 12 issues before they brought him back. Even after I saw his corpse in the autopsy room, I was still sure Brubaker had written an escape clause somewhere (the corpse is a clone/Skrull/whatever).

But now, I wish Rogers would remain dead. Maybe he could star in a retrospective one-shot special or maybe one of those time travel stories but in the here and now, he should remain dead. Now I'll be pissed off if they do bring him back from the dead.

snell said...

I feel the same way about the Barry Allen Flash. Aside from a couple of time-travel stories and an imposter, DC wisely (and unbelievable, given how much of the past 5 years has been spent undoing Crisis 1) has resisted all temptations to revive him, even though he's Barry Freakin' Allen. For whatever undefinable reason, his death felt special and sancrosact, and DC treated it that way.

But Steve, I grew up with Cap. And he PUNCHED HITLER IN THE FACE! So, while I would accept your reasons for keeping him dead, inside I will be cheering quite loudly when they revive him.

Maxo said...

Khairul: Exactly. I'd love to see Steve Rogers kicking ass in one-shot "Tales of Captain America" style comics; I'd buy that stuff up. And as far as I'm concerned the Marvel Adventures and Ultimate Caps are Steve Rogers. That's fine because they're separate from the main Marvel Universe.

But when it comes to that main "reality," he should stay dead. I think Brubaker's just done too good a job to undercut it by reviving Steve Rogers.

Snell: I'm with you on Barry - he's MY Flash, y'know? And you're right, DC has done the right thing by not bringing him back even as they've resurrected every other hero and villain they can get their hands on (Jason Todd? Seriously?).

And the reasons I have for thinking it's worked to let Barry stay dead are the same reasons I think Cap should stay on the slab. Barry's death was heroic, it was self-sacrificing and it continues to mean something in the DCU. Steve's death can have the same impact, if not an even larger one.

That said ... every time I see a Flash that's not Barry there's a little part of me that sneers, "Imposter!"

Maybe Bucky can crack Bin Laden one across the jaw?