Sunday, July 11, 2010

Marvel Comics and American Values: Whose Side are You On?

Those of you who read this no doubt realize by the backdrop against my title that I am a fan of the great Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America. Ever since I was a kid I've been a fan of superheroes, like most geeks, nerds, and dweebs out there, but oddly enough, even before I started READING Captain America in earnest a few years ago, he was and still is my favorite comic book hero. He, and others at Marvel, created by comic giant Stan Lee, reinforced quite handily the values my mother and father taught me as a child about honesty, integrity, and justice for all (Cap's influence is especially responsible for my views on number 3).

A few years back, I attended MTI College of Business and Technology for a year in the hopes of gaining a "suck the money out of honest people" degree, otherwise known as a law degree. Fortunately I have since come to my senses and have decided to, like Cap, do some good with the gifts God has given me. What that is, remains to be seen. But I'm getting off track here. While I was at MTI, I had the opportunity, in my American History class, to do a homework assignment that allowed me to learn more about the Red White and Blue Avenger than I ever thought I'd have the chance to learn. We were supposed to come up with an idea involving how American values are reflected through history, and I chose Marvel Comics to be my guide through the process.

Oddly, though, it wasn't until Captain America's untimely (yet fortunately short-lived) death and the mourning period that followed that sparked my interest for this idea. Hearing on AOL news that Marvel had decided to gun down Cap on the steps of a federal courthouse, I was driven with an insatiable need to answer one single question: WHY?! Why would the editorial staff decide at such a crucial point in our history, with the country divided along political and ideological lines as it hadn't been since the Civil War, would Captain America's writers decide to shuffle him off this mortal coil? With a new sense of purpoes, I went on a journey of information gathering. Like many such journeys, it turned out to have far different outcomes and consequences than I had first realized it would have.

With excitement building in me as never before, I approached my professor and asked for approval of the idea. It was granted. What was that idea exactly? I would show how, through the eyes of Marvel Comics character Captain America, show just how and why America as a nation had gone through the changes it had, and how Marvel chose to reflect those changes through Cap's interaction with the other characters in his story lines.

It began, of course, with his origin in the 1940s:

At the height of World War II, Captain America was created to serve as a piece of American propaganda, which would result in Cap becoming literally a symbol of all that was good and great about our Republic. Cap's chief enemy at this time was, predictably, Nazi Germany.

Cap's enemies and allies changed throughout the decades, with the 50's and 60's resulting in him adopting an anti-Communist attitude, the seventies pitting him against a corrupt Nixonesque administration within the very government he fought to defend, and ended briefly with his tragic death on the steps of a courthouse at the hands of the assassin Crossbones.

Why am I telling you all this? Because even today, Marvel continues to have its ear to the ground regarding our values and the emotional climate of the decade.

Here in the 21st century, Cap's new foes are chiefly terrorists, though in classic comic book fashion, the terrorists are not Al Quaeda or the Taliban, but an alien race known as the Skrull, coupled as well with sleeper cells from the underwater city of Atlantis (who have since been dealt with.) this, in my view, clearly is a mirror image of what is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years, but not only does it deal with the war. At home, an initiative was created that was known as the Superhero Registration Act, which forced all heroes to register against their will with the federal government. this leads to a split in the community of superheroes, resulting in a knockdown drag out fight. in the end, the federal government reigns victorious and the 50 state initiative is put into place.

Eventually, the initiative is revealed to be what it truly is: A plot by a race known as the Skrulls to conquer Earth by dividing its most powerful weapons and heroes against themselves, thus rendering them too weak to resist. However, the heroes emerge victorious after rallying due to the death of one of their own: Founding Avenger Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp. Even Earth's super criminals are brought into the fray against the invaders, proving that when given common cause, a group of individuals can accomplish the impossible, as they have.

Like the America of the real world, the Marvel America was brought to heel with overreaching governmental policies, a tyrannical bill-become-law that nearly resulted in America becoming a police state, and ultimately an invasion conducted from within the very core of society (the enemy were shape-shifting infiltrators, and had replaced several dozen heroes with enemy spies.)

We here in the real US face similar challenges in today's environment: A tyrannical health care bill, an overreaching government, and terrorist threats that seek nothing less than our conquest in the form of Islamofascist dictators.

Yet, as has happened in the comic book US, we are also starting to band together and prove that we as Americans can achieve the impossible. Like the players in the Civil War story, we are choosing sides in the battle to take the country back. Some are choosing the big government side (pro-registration) and some are choosing the side of personal liberty and responsibility (anti-registration). Which side will win depends on which side wants it more, of course, but we must not lose sight of the bigger picture, as the heroes of Marvel did. Namely, we must hold to our principals, whatever those may be, if we truly wish to gain victory and bring this country back from the brink.

How long will it take for our own heroes to band together with those whom they do not necessarily agree with and do what is truly best for this country? This one awaits the answer to that question with anxiety, nervousness, and trepidation, but also a nagging optimism.

Continuing to Fight the Good Fight.