13 March 2007

He's Dead, Jim

...and good riddance to Captain America.

The biggest problem with most comic-book (as opposed to graphic novel1) superheroes is that, underneath it all, they ultimately establish "heroism" as a slightly twisted variety of "might makes right." That's not to say that "power" and "might" are necessarily evil, or wrong, or even slightly disreputable, in and of themselves. Neither is it to say that resisting ill-used "power" and "might" never requires "power" or "might" in opposition. In this particular instance, though, identifying "Captain America" with physical prowess and force unfettered by discretion, or by doubt, is antithetical to what "America" is about: the Rule of Law.

You can have your Superman, and your Green Lantern, and your Batman, and your Fantastic Four. If you're going to call a "superhero" by the moniker "Captain America," though, he (or, I suppose, she) needs to stand for American values in both ends and means. Of course, that kind of subtlety is a lot harder to write, and to draw, than even self-doubting heroes like Spider-Man.

The family hired a private prosecutor. Unacceptable. They conducted a private search. Now, we let 'em get away with that, [and] rich people won't go to the cops anymore. You know what they're gonna do? They're going to get their own lawyers to collect evidence. And then they are going to choose which evidence they feel like passing on to the DA. The next victim isn't going to be rich, like von Bulow, but is going going to be some poor schnook in Detroit who can't afford, or can't find, a decent lawyer.

I think it's a little more complicated than your simple moral superiority.2

Now, I'm not saying that a true "Captain America" needs to be a lawyer — just that he needs to play by the rules. Besides, he can't be much of an officer if he's still an O–3 sixty years on. He would have been more believable as "Lieutenant Colonel America." Or, maybe, that's the point: He's not a leader. In which case maybe we need to look to Sergeant Rock...

  1. I stopped reading "comic books" at about the time the English-language graphic novel became commercially viable in the early 1980s. Thus, the following comments don't apply to Neil Gaiman's Sandman, nor to Alan Moore's work, among others.
  2. Reversal of Fortune (1990). I'll pause for a moment while we consider the irony that the speaker of this line has since descended into a disturbingly absolutist, might-makes-right dementia.