Friday, 18 April 2014

Captain America: The Geriatric Avenger

Captain America was a hero I used to actively avoid. The Aryan good looks, boy-scout wholesomeness, old-fashioned values, and overt patriotism (his name is Captain America), all turn me off a little.

This is similar to how I didn't like Superman for a while because of his chiseled good looks, boy-scout wholesomeness, old-fashioned values, and hammy commitment to fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way, particularly when you consider that he's an alien. Literally.
"Immigration papers? What immigration papers?"

These things made Superman and Captain America boring to me, particularly in light of more dark or flawed (read: angst-filled) heroes like Batman or Spider-Man. However, I eventually realised that it is because Superman and Captain America are good-looking boy-scouts which makes them great, as it makes them perfect symbols for good. They are steadfast and true, paragons of virtue and icons of inspiration. They serve to remind us of the good inherent in everyone and strive us to be better since they will never stop trying to do what is right. And that's a powerful message.

Unfortunately, they are also quite hard to write because all-too-often the very same qualities that make them icons can actually make them kind of boring since they can come off as too perfect with old-timey values in a modern world and therefore, stoic and stale.

Pictured: Stoic and stale.

But Captain America is not limited to the stars and stripes or the red, white and blue. He is courageous to a fault and never gives up. He also hold his own in the Avengers and commands the respect of all superheroes to whom he is a living legend, despite the fact he is the least powerful of the original Big Four (with Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk).

While he is a soldier and at times prone to following orders, he is also a natural-born leader. But more than simply leading, he instinctively knows when to back down and let others take charge if the situation calls for it. That's why he has no qualms about letting Iron Man call the shots if things are getting too sciency or Ant-Man if giant insects are rampaging New York.

Yet another picnic ruined by ants.

Before, I said that Captain America has a tendency to just follow orders, and he does. If he thinks the people giving those orders are worth following. But really, he follows his conscience if he disagrees with what he is told to do. Asked. What he is asked to do. You don't tell Captain America anything. You ask politely. He's a senior after all.

You're really going to tell this man what to do? You know he once punched Hitler, right?

And Captain America is old. Like really old. With every new reboot, the time between getting frozen in ice and getting thawed out like last night's chicken roast gets bigger and bigger. At first, it was 20 years and Captain America had to adjust to life in the 1960's. In the Ultimate comics line and the current movies, it was 60 and 70 years, respectively.

Captain America is currently 90 years old or so. And looking good for someone who should be in a rest home and an oxygen tank.

Like really good.

But it is this 'man out of time' scenario that really hammers home what an important character Captain America is. Because his old-fashion values aren't a result of small town homeliness like Superman's. They are because he is old. He lived in a time when those values were what people held dear and the ideals they thought were most important.

Values such as making a young boy your side-kick if he discovers your secret identity. Just cause.

This also means he offers a perfect means of examining the values of America during World War II, a war with a clear villain and where the lines between good and bad were relatively clean-cut, and comparing them to whatever time they defrost him in.

So, in the sixties, he had to deal with changing attitudes towards war and the protest against Vietnam, where the motives for going to war weren't as obvious, and there was no clear villain to punch in the jaw.

And his adventures got a little psychedelic. Evident by Big Head Toilet Seat Man.
On the plus side, he did have a bigger jaw to punch.

Cap actually serves as a means for us to see what we think the values of the 1940's were in contrast with those today. What we imagine those values to be. Where we think the world was a more black and white place, where evil was easier to identify as it came with a silly moustache and ridiculous comb-over, and things were a little less confusing.

Captain American is not only a symbol of the best values of America as a country, but what we think the values of an Allied soldier in World War II would have been. And this is something addressed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier while it was busy smashing box office records, in the difference of opinion between Cap and Nick Fury.

"I just don't know if that's the best place to put the pool table, Nick."- Steve Rogers.

Fury comes from a post 9/11 world. A world where the face of evil is hidden and it's hard to determine who really are the bad guys. Where terrorism comes hand in hand with paranoia and surveillance. Where there isn't a lack of information but an overabundance as more and more people put their info online. Where measures to insure security come with the cost of restrictions on freedom.

But to Rogers, as a man from a different, possibly simpler, era, the level of surveillance and type of preemptive measures taken by S.H.I.E.L.D are not acceptable, stating that, "This isn't freedom. This is fear."

But you were probably too busy being blown away by the awesomeness in this scene to notice the political overtones. 

While he is obviously limited by the structure of a superhero movie, and so must have an overtly bad guy as the antagonist, the world of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is more shades of grey than not. And like Superman flying overhead, Captain America offers a clear vision of right and wrong in world where those lines seem increasingly blurred. Which can't be a bad thing.


Cap's Wikipedia

History of Captain America

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