Thursday, March 15, 2007

Culture Shock 03.15.07: Captain America is just resting

Captain America is dead. Long live Captain America!

There is a temptation to view Cap's demise as a kind of metaphor. Is it the death of patriotism? The death of the American dream? The death of the nation's innocence in a post-9/11 world?

Oh, sure, I could join in the chorus of commentators searching for meaning in the demise of a fictional character. But how could I sleep at night?

For those of you just coming in, Captain America died last week in issue No. 25 of either the fifth or sixth volume — depending on how you count them — of his self-titled comic book. He was shot while being escorted into a federal courthouse to be arraigned on charges of some sort.

Wait a minute. Captain America under arrest? How can this be?

It was the fallout from Marvel Comics' most recent "nothing will ever be the same again" miniseries, "Civil War," in which, instead of fighting villains, superheroes fought each other over the issue of whether they should have to register with the government.

Of course, when superheroes fight, things, like entire cities, get broken. And when Cap's side — the anti-registration heroes — lost, Captain America was hauled in to stand trial.

The bottom line is that Cap's death was simply the dramatic payoff to a months-long story line of interest to only the most obsessive fans of superhero comics. Ultimately, it is meaningless, except as a way for Marvel Comics to grab some headlines and sell a few more books. "Captain America" No. 25 is already sold out at most retailers and going for about $25 on eBay. A second printing is due in stores later this month.

If all of this seems familiar, it's because we've been through it before.

Superman died in 1993. He got better. But not before his death became big news and DC Comics milked it for a year, during which four pretenders to the Man of Steel's legacy reigned.

Expect pretty much the same for Captain America.

He'll be back within a year or two, if not sooner. In the meantime, someone else will put on Cap's red, white and blue costume to fight the forces of evil.

A good candidate for Cap's fill in is his former sidekick, Bucky, who, for reasons too complicated to relate here, now goes by the name Winter Soldier. And that would be ironic, seeing as how Bucky himself came back from the dead just two years ago, after having been officially dead since either 1964 (our time) or 1945 (comic-book time).

For most superheroes, death isn't much of a problem. Off the top of my head, I can think of lots of heroes who have died and come back: Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Green Arrow, Wonder Man, Wonder Woman, Robin (Jason Todd), Nick Fury, Mr. Fantastic and Hawkman, just for starters. It's not much of an exaggeration to note that every member of the X-Men has died and come back at least twice. Thor is still dead but is scheduled for resurrection later this year.

You only really have to worry if you're a C-list hero. DC Comics has declared open season on its lesser-known characters. Within the past couple of years, Firestorm, Blue Beetle and The Question, have met untimely ends. But DC has replaced all of them with new characters using the same names.

So, don't shed any tears for Cap. He's beaten the Red Skull, and he'll beat death, too.

Old superheroes never die. They don't even fade away.

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