Captain America is dead. Again. This time, for a change, his death signals something other than the poverty of his writers’ imaginations. This time, the death of Captain America represents the death of American values and, hence, of America itself. With that, Marvel Comics has taken a defiant political stand. And it’s about time someone did. Captain America’s death is a fitting ending to Marvel’s Civil War, an philosophical dispute in which superheroes chose up sides on the question of whether to register and reveal their secret identities or not. Captain America regarded the government’s new requirement as an erosion of his civil liberties and refused to register. But, as I understand it (yup: I’m commenting on this without having actually read the series; I have, however, read what various observers have said about it), Captain America eventually capitulated to Iron Man and the rest of the gang who supported the government’s dictate. In surrendering, Captain America gave up the American values he has always stood for. Without those values, America isn’t America anymore. And so the death of Captain America isn’t just the death of an individual: because he is an icon, when he died it meant that America is dead, too.
The comic book character won’t be dead for long, of course. His comic book is still on Marvel’s publishing schedule; and that movie is still lurking somewhere in the future. So Captain America will be back. As Marvel Entertainment’s president Dan Buckley said: “This is the end of Steve Rogers, the meat and potatoes guy from 1941. But Captain America is a costume [I’d say ‘uniform’], and there are other people who could take it over.” But if the thematic import of his death is to be sustained, no one should don the uniform until traditional American values have been restored -- until we no longer have a national policy of torturing helpless prisoners, eavesdropping on citizens, denying habeas corpus, and the rest. Then the old uniform can come out of mothballs. Incidentally, the episode -- death by a sniper’s bullet -- was an eerie echo of that November day in Dallas in 1963; coupling the two murders together in this fashion gave the death of Captain America an extra layer of emotional meaning. Neatly done, Marvel -- all around. Although the impending demise was a well-kept secret, we should have seen it coming: given all the parallels to the real world assault on American values, we should have guessed that someone had to die, and who better than the American icon?
The MSM, reporting this event, mostly missed the import of the story -- that is, they didn’t understand, or even know, the issues being explored in the Civil War series, and so they couldn’t interpret Captain America’s demise as a thematic, political, statement. Stephen Colbert, on the other hand, knew exactly what was at stake. Naturally, he favored Iron Man’s side in the dispute because, as he explained on the “Colbert Report,” Iron Man is really Tony Stark and Stark is a defense contractor, and all patriotic Americans support defense contractors. Captain America, Colbert explained, refused to give up “a few minor freedoms” so Americans could be safe. The lesson, he went on, is clear: those who fight to protect American freedoms are dangerous. Colbert realizes, of course, that Captain America will go on -- the uniform will be taken up and worn by some other patriot. And he nominated Alberto Gonzales, recommending that the red-white-and-blue color scheme of the time-honored threads be discarded in favor of the colors of the Emergency Alert System.