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Steven Attewell: Why Abraham Riesman Doesn’t Know Jack About Captain America


This is a guest post from Steven Attewell. You may have heard he has a new book out

So this filled me with an instant rage this morning; works better than coffee.  Apparently the problem with Captain America in Winter Soldier was that the protagonist in a superhero story was…heroic, or so says Abraham Riesman of Vulture.com:

One would be hard-pressed to name a single false move the title character makes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not only does he save the world and the American dream, he does so while remaining flawlessly kind, endlessly moral, and effortlessly charming at all times. Even Superman might find all that perfection to be a bit much.

But with perfection comes blandness …Cap remains a fundamentally dull character on screen and in the comics: He only grips us because of his place in a larger story, not because his character is inherently fascinating.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Captain America has the potential to be much more interesting — but only if he’s a jerk.

Instantly I felt plunged into nostalgia gone rotten, as if we’d learned nothing from those dark days in the 90s when everyone in the comics industry learned the wrong damn lessons from Watchmen and thought that the way to make comics “adult” wasn’t to have characters grappling with tough moral decisions, or to use comics to bring up important questions about our society, but to throw in a lot of murder, rape, and have all of the heroic protagonists act like assholes all the time, distinguished from the villains only by their lesser degree of sadism.

It was bad enough that we had to suffer through 20 years of “grimdark” masquerading as “maturity,” but why inflict that on the wonderful lightning-in-a-bottle success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially when they’re proven that one of the key elements of their success vis-à-vis the DC movies is their willingness to embrace a sense of lighthearted fun rather than be limited to painting in Christopher Nolan’s dark grey palette?

Because apparently according to Abraham Riesman, “Being a bit of a prick fits perfectly with the Captain America origin story.” Absorb that for a second, let it roll around on your tongue like antifreeze. The aesthetic core of Captain America, the secret ingredient that will make him an interesting character on the big screen, is that Captain America’s secretly a prick. And what kind of a prick? If you read my last piece on Captain America, you might have a sinking feeling you already know the answer:

Imagine someone frozen in the 1940s being dropped into the 2010s with no experience of the intervening decades. Someone still high on ’40s social norms, righteous wartime adrenaline, and super-serum. Would he be the gentle, sensitive man we see in Marvel’s films and comics? It’s certainly possible. But isn’t it more likely — and more interesting to imagine — that we would find him difficult and reactionary? That he’d be uncomfortably macho and out of touch with modern values? In other words: Wouldn’t he be more John McCain than Barack Obama?

This isn’t unchartered territory. Cap has been portrayed as a dick in comics in the past (although rarely), and it always yields compelling results.

Undoubtedly the best example of a Cap-as-jerk tale comes from the Marvel film franchise’s biggest single comics influence: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates,

So there you have it folks, the best way to represent Captain America is a comic book that failed completely to understand who Steve Rogers was and what he represents. And it’s a political best way – apparently jingoistic conservative assholes have “the moral conviction” that “more progressive characters” lack; apparently “weaponized homophobia” is the best way to fight invading aliens; and apparently “respect for authority” is “unique to Captain America and his specific origin story.”

Allow me to rebut: Abraham Riesman doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Steve Rogers isn’t a jingoistic conservative asshole and I have evidence to back that up. Unlike many other patriotic characters who derive their virtues from the American heartlands, Steve Rogers grew up in the cosmopolitan multi-cultural world of New York City. To quote myself for a second:

“he came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the “Double V” campaign.

Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the “Cultural Front.” We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and “The Cradle Will Rock,” Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the “New York Intellectuals” were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.

And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.”

Captain America didn’t “share 40’s values” – a reductive label assumes that everyone alive in 1940 was either a racial bigot, a misogynist, a homophobe, and an unthinking militarist, and handily ignores the people of color, women, gays, and left-wing activists who were hard at work to change American society for the better – he exemplified from the beginning the ideal that America could be. Thus Steve Rogers led the Invaders (a multispecies and multinational Allied superhero force) into Europe to fight fascism, he fought with Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, a racially integrated fighting force from the beginning, and  fought with the French Resistance rather than snidely repeating anachronistic cheese-eating surrender monkey jokes.


Thus when Captain America is unfrozen in the 1960s, he’s not freaked out by the changes in racial progress – instead, he forms an instant partnership with one of the first black superheroes, the Falcon, who movie audiences just met for the first time, and the two of them go toe to toe against an insane imposter Captain America who’s obsessed about communists under the bed. The analogy cannot be more pointed: the real Captain America stands for racial equality and civil liberties, the Captain America who believes that the government needs to “smash” reds by any means necessary is a fraud. In the 1980s, Steve Rogers runs into a childhood friend, Arnold Roth, who happens to be gay – and Steve Rogers defends his friend from bigoted violence, because Steve Rogers is a good man.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when Steve Rogers is unfrozen in the ice in 2011, he’s not here to be startled by our progressive values. He’s here to judge us for falling short of his – and that’s the entire crux of the plot of Winter Soldier. When Steve Rogers wakes up in post “New York” America and sees SHIELD preparing a giant fleet of sniper drones that’s going to be used to cull the human race based on meta-data that supposedly predicts the bad things people might do in the future, he immediately calls this out as inherently incompatible with the Constitution and the ideals that Steve Rogers fought and essentially died for. He puts his faith on ordinary soldiers and rank-and-file officers to do what’s right, not the corrupt or blinded authorities personified respectively by Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson. And his solution to SHIELD/HYDRA’s plan for world domination through mass murder is not only to sacrifice himself to save the world (again), but also to release all of SHIELD’s secrets to the world.

In Abraham Riesman’s world, Steve Rogers would feel a mighty swelling of American pride at our can-do technological genius and trust that the authorities knew what they were doing and the movie would be over roughly a half-hour in. In other words, Abraham Riesman thinks that the Nazi HYDRA agents who thought up the program to crush individual liberty in the name of perfect order are right – or at least that that makes for a better story. Thank god the people running Marvel aren’t listening to him.


Oh, and by the way, Riesman? “Respect for authority” runs counter to more than 50 years of Captain America continuity. In the 1970s comics, when Captain America uncovers the Watergate scandal, which involves secret aliens and Nixon committing suicide (because it’s Marvel Comics, after all), he resigns rather than be complicit in a cover-up. He’ll do it again in the 80s to protest the government cover-up of a new covert Super-Soldier program that led an insane Vietnam veteran named Nuke (complete with American flag tattoo over his face and Vietnam revisionism in his heart) to attack New York City. When Steve Rogers puts on the costume, both times after defeating a false, right-wing jingoistic Captain America,  he does so on the explicit premise that he’s here to uphold an ideal, not a government.

That’s what makes him a superhero.


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  • If this guy’s go-to for Cap representation is the crap published under the “Ultimate” label, that does explain a lot. Cap doesn’t work as an asshole, and that’s why Marvel’s got Iron Man, anyway. Two assholes as leads is never any fun, and explains why the ’90s were such a dull time for comics. Well, that and Rob Liefeld.

    • Duvall

      Cap doesn’t work as an asshole, and that’s why Marvel’s got Iron Man, anyway.

      Right. Even aside from the character history laid out here, the MCU already has two lead characters that are “arrogant jerks that are learning to grow up” in Iron Man and Thor – making Rogers *another* asshole would be redundant.

      • Hawkeye who spends all his time in the early Avengers comics calling Captain America a square and trying to undermine his leadership.

        • Ian

          One can be a square without being an asshole.

          • Hogan

            I think the suggestion is that Hawkeye is the asshole.

            • Yes, I just wanted to add Hawkeye to the list of jerks in the Avengers.

              • That’s okay, but say one word against the Wasp and it’s war!

                • rm

                  I want the Wasp and Ant-Man in my movies.

                • Brendan Eich

                  I want the Wasp and Ant-Man in my movies.

                  No bug-gery in kids films!

            • Barry Freed

              I think the being an asshole part comes with the name.

              • butcher pete

                Well, yeah. Alan Alda.

                • I don’t know. Natty Bumpo seemed a decent lad for his time, if a bit unnecessarily verbose. Or badly written, take your pick.

                • Barry Freed

                  True, and there’s Riza Hawkeye in Fullmetal Alchemist. I was mostly thinking about Alda in MASH.

                • Bill Murray

                  both Trapper Johns were bigger assholes than Alan Alda

      • Agreed – and I think that’s a major problem with this kind of thinking. If everyone is being a 90s brooding anti-hero, then rather than diversity of stories and diversity of personalities, everyone’s the same. And that’s bad storytelling.

  • Anonymous37

    There are 2 great moments in Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Born Again involving Captain America. In one scene, Captain America is talking to a squirrely general, who tells him that they’ve always appreciated Cap’s “loyalty”, which, for the general, is a code word for “obedience in the face of wrongdoing”. Captain America holds the nearby American flag by the edge and replies, “I am only loyal to the dream.”

    In another, Captain America catches up to Matt Murdock on the roof of a Hell’s Kitchen apartment building, and Matt gives him the rundown on “Nuke”, a disposable and manipulable mercenary that the Kingpin sent after him. Matt finishes by asking Cap “What’s it to you?” Captain America answers, “He wears the flag”(on his face, as facepaint). Matt replies, “I hadn’t noticed” (because he’s blind and uses echolocation). Cap, not knowing why Matt Murdock said this, thinks to himself that the flag means nothing to young people, which makes him feel old.

    Captain America is barely in that graphic novel, and Frank Miller — the old Frank Miller — still manages to capture his heroic essence and the pain of his anachronistic existence in a few lines of dialogue and a dozen-odd panels. Riesman should have read it, if he really wanted to get a handle on the character.

    • “A voice that makes a god obey.”

      • “A soldier with a voice that could command a god … And does.”

        And the command that he gives s for Thor to put out the fires that Nuke started. Millar’s Cap wouldn’t bother, because Millar’s Cap sucks.

        • Yep. Moral authority weaponized, as people have said.

          And for D&D fans, the clearest example of a 4e-style Warlord.

          • It wasn’t being weaponized in the scene I was quoting, though, but rather merely used. At that point Nuke has been subdued, so Cap is taking steps to bring the collateral damage to an end.

            Agreed that he’d be a Warlord in 4e, though.

    • The old Frank Miller did that a number of times. I dislike Superman as a character, but in Miller’s Supes cameos in The Dark Knight Returns show me why some people might like the character. As he’s trying to push a hydrogen-bomb missile away from a city before it explodes (an idea “reused” in the Avengers movie) he thinks to himself “Millions die by fire if I am weak.” Best short explanation of why Supes is something other than an insufferable prig I’ve seen.

    • Halloween Jack

      The old Frank Miller would probably wonder if the new Frank Miller would think that Nuke was a good idea.

  • jon

    I, for one, welcome our new, Puerto Rican overlord.

  • snarkout

    I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t feel qualified to comment on that, but I’ve been enjoying the hell out of some random (Aussie?) fan’s comic, American Captain, based on the MCU’s portrayal of Cap. (The conceit is that it’s a Pekar-style diary comic that Rogers is doing as therapy.) The author nails the characters, and I honestly would pay to see a film version of the lengthy set of strips in which Rogers and Pepper Potts arguing about modern art.

    • Thanks for that link. It’s hitting the right notes, I think, and would work for mainstream Cap, though I don’t know where the Medusa alien would fit in.

    • I love that comic series.

      • Murc

        I have been evangelizing American Captain to literally everyone I know who would be even moderately interested in it, after some kind soul put it in the recommended section over at TV Tropes a few weeks ago.

        It’s amazing. It manages to be both gut-wrenchingly sad and utterly heartwarming at the same time. Normally, something where Captain America is having full-color flashbacks he doesn’t understand and occasionally contemplating suicide would be almost grotesquely, comically grimdark… but not American Captain, where Steve keeps eating our awful modern hot dogs every day even though he hates them because eating hot dogs is just something that’s so normal to him and he’s afraid of what’ll happen if he stops.

        But sometimes he goes and buys a hot dog and helps a kid get their kite out of a tree, which is about the best use possible he can think of for having superpowers, and that’s the best day for him.

        And oh my god, the supporting cast. You can hear RDJ’s voice coming out of Tony with every line of dialogue, and he manages to be utterly in-character and still 1)a titanic asshole and 2)the smartest person in the room, and that is a tough line to walk. He’s the first person out of a group of very smart people to figure out that Steve has a raging case of PTSD, and that he’s drawing comics to help deal with it, but he deals with this information in the least mature way possible, because he’s Tony Stark.

        And it completely nails the way in which his relationship with Pepper will fall apart. I doubt the MCU is gonna go that route (much like I doubt they’re ever gonna deal with Tony’s alcoholism) but if the did the way it is gonna happen is the way it happens in American Captain, where he asks her to marry him and she has a breathtaking moment of absolute clarity that NO, Pepper, THIS IS THE WRONG THING TO DO, OH GOD ABORT.

        It’s so good.

        So, so good.

        • rm

          If the movies don’t ever bring up Tony’s alcoholism, they’ve missed an opportunity. Why else cast RDJ? The drunken scene in the first Iron Man movie kind of implied he has a drinking problem, too; now if they’d just follow up on that.

          • There was also a drunken Tony brawling with Rhodes in IM2.

          • Greg

            I think I read somewhere that RDJ doesn’t want to go there, for his own recovery.

            • Jeb

              I recall that Shane Black wanted to do an adaptation of ‘Demon in a Bottle’ for IM3 but Disney/Marvel said no, because it’s a “family film.”

    • Richard

      The creator of American Captain is Kiwi rather than Aussie, but the grasp of American cultural references is note-perfect. And more to the point, the Steve Rogers in that strip is absolutely the exact same Steve Rogers that Steven describes in the above post, i.e., the real Captain America.

  • snarkout

    Undoubtedly the best example of a Cap-as-jerk tale comes from the Marvel film franchise’s biggest single comics influence: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates.

    Oh, and this makes me Hulk-Smashy.

  • Gwen

    See, that’s why I love Captain America. Cap is an expression and manifestation of American idealism. He is not merely a man with superpowers (or an alien, as is the case of Kal-El/Superman). He is an ordinary guy who, through twist of fortune, is given the ability to do amazing good works.

    My view of statutory and constitutional interpretation/construction, btw, is that appellate judges should always strive to figure out what a law could reasonably mean (by looking at the universe of possible meanings derivable from the text and the circumstances of its enactment) and then pick whatever meaning that Captain America would prefer. If the Supreme Court did this consistently, I am sure that we would live in a much better country.

    • DocAmazing


      You could go a hell of lot worse…

      • Gwen

        I’m pretty sure that an in-depth analysis of Captain America would make more sense and be more intellectually-honest than any more of this Roberts court “equal dignity of the states”/”corruption only means bribery”/”corporations are people” nonsense.

        And just imagine the citations! Does the Blue Book even have a form for citing comic books?

        • Patrick

          In the Marvel Universe (at least in the 2000s) Marvel Comic Books are cited in court cases. This is an important plot point in Dan Slott’s run on She-Hulk.

          • JMP

            The Slott She-Hulk run is awesome; for anyone who hasn’t read it, it’s basically about a law firm specializing in Superhuman Law, and how the Marvel Universe legal system is affected by all the superheroes and villains.

            • CJColucci

              I’ll have to check that out. Many years ago I put something together for a small audience about a lawyer with a superhero client base. (“My receptionist quit today. The third this month. I’ve been jammed up lately and when Bruce Banner comes in for his appointments, he has to wait. He hates waiting. It makes him angry…” You can see where it goes from there.

              • Barry Freed

                I’m reminded of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.

            • Halloween Jack

              I’d say that Slott’s first She-Hulk arc was awesome. The second one, not so much. (Some of that may have had to do with Slott spending a good chunk of it trying to set up the Reckoning War, a big crossover event involving the Watchers of his own devising that never took off.)

        • Anonymous

          I think it would be under Periodical Materials, Nonconsecutively Paginated.

    • DocAmazing


      You could go a hell of a lot worse…

    • David Hunt

      …and then pick whatever meaning that Captain America would prefer. If the Supreme Court did this consistently, I am sure that we would live in a much better country.

      The Conservatives on the Court would simply decide that Cap would obviously come down on the side of their preferred policy outcome. “Cap doesn’t believe in Moochers!”

      Cap is like Jesus, Thomas Jefferson, and the rest of the Founding Fathers in that respect.

    • Heh. I love it.

  • It’s not like the Punisher doesn’t exist. Clearly a movie about him would be more up Abraham Riesman’s alley.

    • Hell, there’s something like four of ’em. He can take his pick.

      • Tristan

        But those movies have all bom- waaaiit a minute…

    • nixnutz

      I think the movie he’s describing could work, if not for Captain America. The first thing that comes to mind is Austin Powers; if that had been about a racist, sexist, alcoholic asshole from the 50s transported into the 90s it would have been a more effective Bond parody.

      The unfrozen hero offers a lot of possibilities and I can’t blame dude for imagining some, the problem is his framing it as a more appropriate vision of Cap, which just seems wrong. Although I’m getting that from Steven’s argument, I’ve never particularly been a fan. I grew up on Neal Adams’ Batman from the age of three or four so I’ve always been inclined towards darker comics.

      • I love Neal Adams’ Batman, and I like the better darker comics – but we also have to recognize that dark needs to be a tool in the toolbox, part of the palette, but is not aesthetically superior to everything else.

        But I also recognize there’s a big difference between Neal Adams’ Batman, Christopher Nolan’s Batman, and the awful grimdark Batmans that didn’t get the most interesting thinkign going on in Nolan’s Batman, i.e Frank Miller’s GODDAMN BATMAN.

      • Bah. Adams’ Batman was a square. Meanwhile Cap was uncovering conspiracies that ran into the highest office in the land, discovering the American Dream had run sour.

    • Murc

      You know, you’d think it wouldn’t be that hard to fuck up a Punisher movie. Garth Ennis accidentally wrote like four separate Punisher storylines that would be excellent movies.

      And even the one time they decided to use one of those for the basis, they still fucked it up.

      I don’t even know.

      • Granted, I only jumped around during his run, caring for neither Ennis nor Dillon – or the Punisher, for that matter – but it seems he wrote basically one plot line: “Some really horrible people get in Frank Castle’s way, get turned to cheap taco meat, and occasionally a huge bald guy named Barracuda shows up.” That being said, he wrote the ever-lovin’ hell out of that line. That stuff was harsh.

      • The best Punisher movie would be one based on the first miniseries, where he’s locked up in prison.

  • Steve Rogers has “respect for authority”?? Is that why he obeyed the service boards in (I may miss one or two) Brooklyn, Manhattan, Hoboken, Fort Lee, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx when they told him he couldn’t join the Army and docilely stayed at home buying war bonds and laying the women left at home?

    • Gwen

      He’s not exactly an anarchist, he was the one fighting the Superhero Registration Act.

      In fact, despite being a frequently-drunk playboy, Iron Man might be more of an authoritarian than Captain America.

      After all, didn’t Iron Man fight in ‘Nam?

      • No, but his original origin has his heart injury occur while touring Vietnam, and the original main baddie was a VC general colored canary yellow ’cause Stan Lee’s something of an asshole, I’m guessing. Stark also sold weapons and munitions well into the ’80s, stopping sometime, actually, during the whole Iran-Contra thing. He sold to SHIELD solely for a while, but had stopped that about the time of his last alcoholic story arc. And, yes, Iron Man has been portrayed, at least in the past 20 years or so and especially since the ’90s, as if not out-and-out authoritarian, than at least a massive control freak, particularly when it comes to his tech or the Avengers.

        • NonyNony

          Stan Lee’s early comics are all about the commie bashing, red baiting, and China hating. I was re-reading a bunch of old Avengers, Tales of Suspense and FF comics and if you made a drinking game out of taking a shot every time communism is mentioned you’d get alcohol poisoning. Also he loved the phrase “Bamboo Curtain”.

          • Lee Rudolph

            What this country needs is more Terry and the Pirates! (Please, nobody tell me that it’s been done.)

      • Iron Man is Marvel’s Cold War pro-American hero, right from the very beginning, although as Matt T. points out they moved away from that.

        But the fascinating thing about Marvel Civil War is that the people running the show thought Iron Man was right, and the vast majority of the people reading didn’t. One of the biggest cases of audience revolt I’ve ever seen.

        • From what I’ve read, a number of the writers not on the core titles weren’t really on board with Millar and the company line, resulting in the mess that it was. Shame, too, ’cause it was a good idea, as what Secret Invasion, but both were horribly handled. Them and Final Crisis broke me for funny books for a while. Must be hell living in those universes, with shit going haywire once every three, four months.

          • Robert M.

            I’ve tried to pick up Millar twice. The first was after seeing the movie version of Wanted, because a friend had told me the comic was even worse and I wasn’t sure how that was possible. I managed to restrain myself from burning it, although it was a close thing: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Millar is objectively pro-rape, but he does strongly suggest that it’s something every guy would engage in if he could.

            The second attempt was Red Son, which was less directly offensive, but even more incoherent.

            So, in my opinion, agreeing with Millar about a story arc would be like trusting Bill Kristol on foreign policy or Megan McArdle on economics.

          • Yeah, I stopped reading Marvel after Civil War. I may restart, I’ve heard good things about a lot of runs since (I’ll still avoid events like the plague), but that waits on me getting a particular job.

            • xaaronx

              Check out Hawkeye. It’s almost certainly the best book the Big Two are putting out right now.

              • Hawkeye’s a favorite character, always has been. The very first trade I ever bought was a collection of his first limited series from way back in, I believe, ’84. Took a special trip to Memphis to pick it up because the comic shop, and I quote, “Uhh, we don’t ship out of state.” There was a couple of fairly nifty Hawkeye (limited?) series out in the early Aughts, showing the character being a obnoxious do-gooder outside the Avengers, but damned if I can remember who wrote it.

            • Jeb

              I’d highly recommend hopping back on the Marvel trade. I’m getting back into superhero books after probably a dozen years or so, and after giving a number of DC books a shot (and I was always more of a DC fan as a kid), but of the big two, it’s only Marvel books on my pull list any more. There’s a sort of creative renaissance going on over there right now, with more than just a handful of books worth reading regularly.

              • Jeb

                Er, Marvel train, not trade. And yeah, Hawkeye is great, as is Daredevil, Captain Marvel, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, the new Magneto book …

              • I fully intend to, but it’s dependent on a specific employment situation coming through.

          • Tristan

            From what I’ve read, a number of the writers not on the core titles weren’t really on board with Millar and the company line, resulting in the mess that it was

            This lead to both some pretty hilarious stuff (there was a four month period or so in which Iron Man showed up in nearly everyone else’s titles solely to get his ass handed to him), and some pretty sharp just-under-the-radar-where-the-squares-won’t-catch-it satire in some titles (Ellis’ brief Thunderbolts run featured a ‘no way he’d get away with this if not for Transmet and the Authority’ scene of a toy commercial showing a child playing with licenced Thunderbolts toys, gleefully declaring he’d killed Captain America for not registering, published about a month after the actual ‘death of Captain America’ issue).

        • Murc

          I believe that my comment the last time this came up is still relevant:

          What always amused the hell out of me is the way that the editorial staff at the time thought they could put Captain America on one side of an issue, Tony Stark on the other, and somehow assume most people wouldn’t side with Captain Goddamn America.

          And to expand on that, it’s rather baffling that they thought their predominantly young, predominantly liberal readership would be okay with Tony Stark running extralegal gulags where he locks up superheros.

          And then he started using supervillains as enforcers! Christ.

          What still chaps me, a decade later, is that Civil War was a good idea. There’s a legitimate case to be made that superpowered vigilantism is a bad idea, and if these guys want to catch criminals, they can become properly trained officers of the law, analogous to police. Presented properly (and we never got to see the text of the Registration Act, another shocking editorial decision; how are your readers supposed to form a clear moral picture of the conflict you’re trying to sell?) there could have been excellent story there.

          • Well, there were a bunch of problems – firstly, the inciting event was laughably contrived.

            But more importantly, given established Marvel continuity on Registration Acts, there’s some serious baggage about anti-mutant bigotry, racist eugenics, parallels to both the Holocaust and AIDS panics, etc. Senator Kelly wasn’t fond of non-mutant superheroes either.

            The biggest problem was that they couldn’t decide what the damn bill did – was it just a registration system akin to gun control? Or did it include indentured servitude, indefinite detention, and risk to family and friends?

            • Murc

              But more importantly, given established Marvel continuity on Registration Acts,

              Oh yes, that. Because, of course, their readers would be totally ready to support the next iteration of the Mutant Registration Act if they just changed the word mutant!

              The biggest problem was that they couldn’t decide what the damn bill did – was it just a registration system akin to gun control? Or did it include indentured servitude, indefinite detention, and risk to family and friends?

              Like I said, it was baffling that Marvel expected people to get invested in a plot device they refused to explain. The Mutant Registration Act at least had well-understood consequences that were well-explained early on. People had to cobble together what the SRA did after the fact. It basically required disclosure of identity and powers. There was no draft, but whoever the head of SHIELD was at any given time could pull your secret identity and do whatever the fuck they wanted with it. But people had to figure that out afterwards.

              Noncompliance definitely included indefinite detention without trial. I remember vividly… I forget which title it took place in, but there was an issue where Tony took Peter on a tour of the gulag that he and Reed Richards had built in the Negative Zone. When Peter asks some questions about the legality of it, Tony basically says (brags, really) that the Supreme Court has been informed that if they know what’s good for them, they won’t even think about trying to render judgment on what’s going on here, so it’s all cool! They can just hold onto these people forever.

              There’s a reason why Matt Fraction had to kill Tony in order to get him out of the hole Civil War dug.

              • Seems like it did more than involve disclosure: “It enabled the government to monitor all powered individuals and was drafted to facilitate the government’s licensing and/or employment of individuals who were actively using their powers. The powered individual had to fulfill some requirements or meet some criteria before they were allowed to fully use their abilities and gain legal authorization to continue to use their abilities to fight crime.”

            • Halloween Jack

              The meta-problem with Civil War was, in the end, Mark Millar, who had already gotten so used to being able to skate by on exploitation tropes and cribbing from better works of fiction in just about everything he wrote that not only did he not do much in the way of world-building but he didn’t seem to realize that it was even necessary in the first place. (And yes, even though it took place within standard (Earth-616) Marvel continuity, “world-building” applies here because the whole process of constructing a rationale for the war and the bureaucratic apparatus that it spawned was, in effect, rewriting so many of the assumptions that the Marvel Universe was based on that it really required someone more on the order of a Mark Gruenwald than a Mark Millar; there was a hole at the center of the project that was never really filled.)

          • The problem with Civil War, even if it had been handled better, is that it would treat superheroes too realistic and suck out all the fun in the genre. In the real world, superheroes are a pain in the arse at best and nobody would want people with actual powers run around on just their own recognition, but that’s what’s needed to make superhero stories work for the most part.

            I think it was all part of the Bush era thumbsucking the US went through after 9/11, that idea that the military and secret agencies are cool, torture and gulags are cool and the good guys don’t hesitate to use either and worse methods because it’s a scary world out there.

            It went entirely against the fundaments of the Marvel Universe, which, from the start — the FF stole that spaceship after all — had its heroes in conflict with authority as much as supporting it. The quintessential Marvel hero is of course Spider-Man, doing the right thing in spite of mistrust, fear and opposition from everybody from his boss to the police. And then they made him an Avenger…

            • DocAmazing

              In the real world, superheroes are a pain in the arse at best and nobody would want people with actual powers run around on just their own recognition

              Garth Ennis has it covered…


              • I find Ennis to be just as bad as Millar.

                For a “realistic” view, I’d go with Bendis’ Powers.

              • Halloween Jack

                Ugh, no. Watchmen did more with the theme in 12 issues than The Boys did in several dozen. Hell, Ennis wasn’t as good on that theme as he himself was several years earlier in DC’s Hitman.

          • Greg

            It’s like they wanted there to be a real debate among the readers, but instead of making both sides kind of right, they made both sides kind of wrong.

        • Tristan

          But the fascinating thing about Marvel Civil War is that the people running the show thought Iron Man was right, and the vast majority of the people reading didn’t. One of the biggest cases of audience revolt I’ve ever seen.

          It was really weird. The only way to make sense of it as something planned would be to assume it was some sort of textual experiment where answers given at convention panels are part of the ‘canonical’ story telling. We were just repeatedly told that Stark actually represented a third way between two extremes, and the government would have been harsher without him as an intermediary. What was so messed up isn’t that the comics themselves didn’t show this, it’s how easily they could have. A few altered or added lines of dialogue to put responsibility for things we explicitly saw Stark do on someone else would have done it.

          It seems that a few years later they no longer bought it themselves, as Stark’s redemption ultimately came about through a complicated and hilariously on the nose plot line where he had his entire brain erased and reset to a pre-civil war state, and then expressed disgust when he learned what the ‘other him’ had done. It made the ‘teen Tony’ resolution to his earlier heel-turn in ‘The Crossing’ look positively restrained.

  • I’m sure he also prefers the mass murdering shithead pretending to be Superman in Man of Steel.

    • It was Zod who was the “mass murdering shithead”.

      Just saying.

  • Steven –

    I don’t know Jack about comics, but I’ll say this:

    You’re beautiful when you’re angry.


    • Thanks!

      • Rhino

        Agreed. I don’t read comics, I find them pointless, and when people talk about them I roll my eyes.

        This post has made me wonder if I have actually been wrong all this time. It is by FAR the best thing I have ever read on the subject, and one of the best posts I have read on this site.

        To the masthead: this guy needs a regular byline.

  • mike in dc

    Cap’s idealism is what makes him super-heroic. If you invert this ridiculous argument, it would be equivalent to saying that showing The Red Skull as a strict vegetarian who loves dogs and dabbles as a painter makes him a more compelling villain.

    • Rhino

      ProgressiveLiberal is the Red Skull!!!!!1!!!

  • Sly

    The best way to understand Captain America is that he is “weaponized Norman Rockwell.” And not just the Norman Rockwell who painted Boy Scouts, Santa Claus, and baseball games, but the Norman Rockwell who painted Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, Rosie the Riveter, and little black girls being escorted to desegregated schools by Federal marshals.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Nicely put.

    • That’s an excellent quote – right up there with Dennis O’Neil’s comment that “Gotham is Manhattan below 14th Street at 3 a.m., November 28, in a cold year. Metropolis is Manhattan between 14th and 110th Street on the brightest, sunniest July day of the year.”

      • Murc

        Er… wha?

        Isn’t Manhattan below 14th street (Lower Manhattan) the nicest part of Manhattan? I’m trying to think of a part of it that is genuinely unsafe or legitimately run-down (as opposed to hipstery run-down) and drawing a blank.

        • T. Paine

          Circa 1980.

          • Murc

            … oh.

            See, the analogy makes way less sense to those of us in our early thirties who didn’t even exist back then.

        • As T. Paine points out, it’s a bit of an old-timey reference. Metropolis could easily be 5th Avenue in Bloomberg’s New York, but Gotham is still Ed Koch’s New York, definitely somewhere LES still ungentrified, and definitely February after midnight.

          • Tristan

            O’ Neil’s also just used ‘central park at night/day’ for that, sometimes with additional flourishes like ‘and you hear footsteps behind you’. He seems to be quite fond of the analogy and has reworked it, probably largely on-the-spot, several times.

        • Informant

          It apparently has to do with the style of buildings, not their specific condition. There are a couple variations on the quote cited here (both from William Safire and Paul Levitz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotham_City

    • I’m so going to steal this, because that is a brilliant summing up of both Cap and Rockwell.

  • I feel like the assumption that we’re always moving forward in terms of things like race relations, and openness is to blame for the assumption (which seems pretty common) that everyone from the 40’s was awful. Of course, progress is a stuttering thing, and humanity can move backwards, even after taking great strides towards equality (cf. Reconstruction, reaction to).

    As you point out, Winter Soldier does an excellent job of basing Cap’s virtue in traditional American values. I just wish they’d also taken the opportunity to include this conversation (http://i.imgur.com/1GIxR.jpg) about France in WW2. Though it does seem like Cap will be spending the next movie tracking down the Winter Soldier, so maybe it will make it’s way into that one?

    • Oh absolutely, and I hope it does. Although that Brubaker page doesn’t make full sense unless compared to Millar’s panel.

  • LeeEsq

    I think that the reason why mature is associated with gritty is the collapse of comic books into basically only the superhero genre because of the Seduction of the Innocent. As comic book audiences grew older during the 1970s and 1980s, there was a demand for more mature comic books. The easiest way to make superhero comics more adult-oritented is to add a bit of the gothic and noir. If comics covered a wider array of genres still, the maturity will manifest in myriad more ways. A mature comedy comic would probably involve more complicated wordplay and subtler visual jokes. Romance comics would deal with adult relationship issues, etc.

  • ice weasel

    Really nicely written piece. Thanks.

  • Carolyn

    For his next trick, maybe he can suggest Fox base the X-Men movies off Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum. That’s super gritty!

    Marvel’s ending the Ultimate imprint (Galactus ate it) because, while they brought in some emergency fix-it writers after the dog’s breakfast Millar and Loeb made of it and improved the series greatly, it never recovered in readers’ minds from the wife-beating, incest, and cannibalism (seriously, don’t ask) of the earlier stories. The one runaway success from Ultimate is Ultimate Spider-Man, an optimistic story about young heroes trying to do the right thing in a really nasty universe, and featuring a black Latino teenager, Miles Morales, who took up the Spider-Man identity after Peter Parker’s death.

    But obviously Ultimate Peter should just have started by killing his way through his rogues gallery and then he’d still be alive and manly and compelling and stuff.

    • NonyNony

      and cannibalism (seriously, don’t ask)

      Was that the worst take on the Hulk ever, or just only the worst one I can remember right now?

      • Carolyn

        It was Blob, but Ultimate Hulk was bad, too. He was homophobic IIRC, though I might be thinking of one of the other awful people on the Ultimates team, and you can’t make me re-read that crap to check.

        • David Hunt

          I don’t know about the Blob, but the Hulk in the Ultimates was a cannibal He ate several people in his rampage in Issue #6.

          • Carolyn

            Oh well isn’t that lovely. (Clearly not an Ultimates fan, me.)

            Mainstream comics seem to have to keep re-learning the lesson that “grim and graphically violent” is not synonymous with “mature.” It’s sure not limited to the Ultimate universe, though lately it seems to be manifesting as making everyone into a total asshole incapable of nuance or compromise. The MCU has been a lot truer to the best spirit of superhero comics than, say, the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover was.

            • JMP

              It’s all over DC now, especially since the New 52 reboot, which is too bad; they even brought back some of the (bad) writers responsible for much of the grim-and-gritty crap from 90s Marvel, like Scott Lobdell, Howard Mackie and even Rob Liefeld himself. Marvel’s doing much better right now.

              • I hate the Reboot so much. So very freakin’ goddamn much. I’ve been a DC fanboy all my life, and the Reboot is so awful, there’s not a single DC superhero book I’m reading right now.

                • Greg

                  Action Comics has been decent since Greg Pak took over.

                • Jeb

                  Yup. I was a DC fanboy, but stopped reading comics for a dozen years or so. Figured the New 52 would be a GREAT way to get back into things. Imagine my surprise that it was basically everything I hated about comics. Luckily around the same time, a friend suggested I check out Fraction’s Hawkeye and Waid’s Daredevil, and all of a sudden the vast majority of my pull list is Marvel. 15 year old me would never believe it.

              • Carolyn

                It’s a real shame DC abruptly closed shop in 2011 and hasn’t published a single thing since, isn’t it? Ahem.

                But seriously, their EIC is Bob Harras, aka “the guy who was EIC at Marvel when it went bankrupt in the 90s.” I’ve been disappointed by their downward trajectory, but I can’t say I’ve been surprised. I have the usual nitpick-y fan Comic Book Guy problems with Marvel right now, but at least they’re making fresh new mistakes rather than repeating the ones from 20 years ago, and doing some things very right, like the new Black Widow and Ms. Marvel solos.

                • JMP

                  To be fair to Harras, he wasn’t at fault for Marvel’s 90s bankruptcy; that went further up the food chain and was caused by then-CEO Ron Perelman’s use of junk bonds to have Marvel buy up a bunch of other companies that mostly failed.

                • JMP

                  But yeah, Bob Harras sucked as an EIC (and, before that, as chief Editor for the X-Men line). And he’s responsible for DC acting like it’s 1993. (And that was supposed to be on the other comment, but I hit ‘reply’ too soon and there’s the old lack of an edit button).

              • Tristan

                The weirdest thing about the reboot is when you look at both Marvel and DC’s current output and notice how much it feels like an alternate timeline of the ’90s with the roles reversed right now.

          • NonyNony

            He was a cannibal and, IIRC, it was at least hinted at (if not outright stated) that he was a rape-monster as well.

            It was a really, really cynical take on the Avengers.

            • Jeb

              I am so, so glad that I missed all of that.

    • GAH! Don’t say things like that, you’ll give me nightmares.

      And yeah, it’s not an accident that the only good thing to come out of Ultimates is Bendis.

      • Carolyn

        Mister, if those two series didn’t already give you nightmares, you’re immune.

        • I meant nightmares they’d come back.

          Like in a slasher film when they down the bad guy for the first time, and you just know they’re going to get up again the moment the survivors turn their back?

          • Carolyn

            Look, it’s never just the cat and they should have known better.

            Anyway, I saw above that you were thinking about getting back into Marvel but holding off for money reasons? If you can swing $10 a month ($6 if you cough up the $70 for a year’s subscription) and don’t mind reading comics on a computer screen, I recommend Marvel Unlimited. It’s clunky and slow and the navigation is terrible, but the library is huge, and you can find things it’s impossible to get in print without scouring the dark recesses of eBay. There’s about a six-month lag for new issues getting added, but if you’re catching up from a decade ago, there’s plenty there to keep you busy. (I highly recommend Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run. It starts with their Dark Reign tie-in mini and picks up in the main title at #570. You probably don’t live close enough that I can lend you the trades…but I would totally lend you the trades.)

            Back on topic, thank you for writing this essay and the previous one. They got a lot of play in my little section of comics fandom, which is heavily progressive and feminist. We don’t make a lot of noise, but we buy a lot of books, and it seems like Marvel is finally starting to notice.

            • Thanks!

              It’s less a money thing but more about seeing if I can incorporate my interests into my work.

      • Bendis?

        Nothing good came out of Ultimates then.

        • Carolyn

          The amount of Bendis and Millar hate in this comment section is warming my blackened little heart.

        • Sorry, I was unclear. I meant the whole Ultimate line – I think Bendis’ Ultimate Spiderman is the sole redemptive element. I think Bendis is a fine writer…when writing his own worlds or on single characters. I dislike his events, but Ultimate Spiderman and Powers I think is proof that he’s a good writer with some limitations.

    • JMP

      And The Ultimates’ main influence on the films was in getting Marvel to want to hire Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Other than that, Hitch’s designed influenced some of the characters’ looks, and – that’s about it. It’s a far cry from “the Marvel film franchise’s biggest single comics influence”; there’s a lot more of Kirby and Lee in the films than Millar.

      • Carolyn

        They also use or imply the Ults origin stories for Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Hulk, and sort of for Thor, but let’s just say Riesman’s source for Ultimates as the principal inspiration for the MCU is…questionable.

        Riesman’s piece is your standard “I don’t like this character therefore said character is objectively bad, QED” nerd pontificating which is so common in comics discussions that it would barely register if he weren’t holding up the godawful Ultimate Cap as some kind of improvement.

        • “Riesman’s piece is your standard “I don’t like this character therefore said character is objectively bad, QED…”

          It’s more of a “I’m going to spout more useless crap and show that I haven’t really done my research, but so what, it’s the Internet, where everyone has time bitch and moan but no one has the time to run a goddamned search.”

          Just saying.

          • Carolyn

            They’re hardly mutually exclusive.

      • Murc

        And The Ultimates’ main influence on the films was in getting Marvel to want to hire Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

        Trivia: Sam Jackson really, really wanted to play Tony Stark. He lobbied heavily for the part.

        • Jeb

          Source? Because that’s awesome.

      • Tristan

        “the Marvel film franchise’s biggest single comics influence”

        It’s such a off-target line for this one in particular. It’s by far the closest to a direct adaptation of a storyline that they’ve done yet, and they advertise that right in the title. It’s just bizarre that anyone would choose to make that claim in this context.

    • Greg

      Marvel is relaunching the Ultimate imprint this month. All New Ultimates comes out later today, with a cast of Spider-Man, Kitty Pryde, Spider-Woman, and Cloak and Dagger. The new cast doesn’t include any white men, FYI. There’s going to be a new FF soon too, with Falcon, Invisible Woman, Machine Man, and Phil Coulson.

      • Hogan

        I read an interview with Kurt Busiek a few years back about the guy he calls to check up on the state of Marvel continuity: “So, what about the Fantastic Four? Oh, there are six of them? And they’re sinister? OK.”

  • bobbo

    Also, too, Chris Evans is hot.

    • Tristan

      I actually think that a big part of Marvel Studios success with the Avengers stuff is that they’ve really raised the bar on eye candy for the ladies (and a smaller subset of the men). I’m pretty sure all their male leads save Jackson’s Fury have had at least one shirtless scene.

  • NonyNony

    I’m utterly shocked that someone could walk away from Winter Soldier and think that Steve Rogers’s character isn’t interesting enough. He’s at least as compelling a character as movie-version Tony Stark – moreso in some respects because he’s trying to figure out how to square his idealism with the very scary brave new world he’s woken up into.

    I really can’t see how that movie could be improved by making him an intolerant asshole. Is this another example of cynical comic book fans wanting to trash everything fun in the name of getting people to take their hobby more seriously? I swear to Grod 99% of everything that is wrong with comic books today has at its root the insecurities of the adult comic book fans who are afraid of being laughed at for reading kiddie books. Grow up people! It’s okay to have some fun! It doesn’t all have to be grimdarkserious bullshit! People laugh at you more when you look like you’re taking yourself way too seriously.

    (But I suspect that Riesman will get his grimdarkserious Captain America when they kill off and replace Steve Rogers in the next movie. Because Chris Evans contract will be too expensive to re-up for another set of movies and “Death of Captain America” and its aftermath seems to be what they’re setting up for with this one. And Rhodey will take Tony Stark’s place in the Iron Man suit. I have no idea what they’ll do with Thor – I hope to Grod they don’t dredge up Eric Masterson and replace him with Thunderstrike…)

    • David Hunt

      They may all die fighting Thanos in Avengers 3.

      • NonyNony

        I strongly doubt it – it would be a weird way for that movie to go. I do suspect Tony Stark is going to get gacked by Ultron in the next movie though, since there’s no Iron Man 4 in the offing for Robert Downey Jr.

        (Mass killings of heroes are something I hope the movies avoid – but I suspect as the contracts on the franchises come to a close we’ll see a few “death of the hero” stories come along. Because it’s something that movie audiences may not be expecting at least the first time you do it and answers the questions of “hey, why isn’t Thor there to help out” or “why does Captain America look different” in easy ways for the franchise.)

    • Ian

      I have no idea what they’ll do with Thor

      Beta. Ray. Bill. He’s like Thor, but also a horse from outer space.

      • Carolyn

        He was in Thanos Imperative, which also prominently features the Guardians of the Galaxy. It could totally happen.

        • I wonder if the awesome that is Beta Ray Bill will cross over to the movie fandom. “Why’s that horse wearing Thor’s clothes? Is this a crossover with My Little Pony?”

          • Carolyn

            They’ve already green-lit a talking raccoon and an Ent. A guy with a head that looks like a horse’s skull who talks in Fauxlizabethan can’t possibly be a bridge too far.

            Also, Thor 3 should be that time Thor turned into a talking frog.

      • socraticsilence

        Thor you kill off– but keep, Do an Escape from Hel so you can get Skurge’s last stand (though to make it work you would have had to have him as easily overcome able henchman in the first two films).

      • NonyNony

        If I thought there was even a glimmer of a possibility that we could get a Beta Ray Bill movie out of Marvel I would … I dunno. Do something extreme. Because it would be kind of awesome.

        I suspect it’s more likely we get Thunderstrike as a replacement Thor. And that makes me kinda sad.

    • jon

      Say what you will. I stand with Franklin Roosevelt, and his support of the Thor Freedoms.

    • They probably are going with the death of Steve Rogers, but that’s less because of the expense and more because Chris Evans really really wants to be a director instead of an actor.

      What I’m hoping is that James Barnes is not GRIMDARK Captain America with tons of guns. At this point, the MCU has built enough credit with me that I feel confident that won’t happen.

      • Murc

        They probably are going with the death of Steve Rogers, but that’s less because of the expense and more because Chris Evans really really wants to be a director instead of an actor.

        That’s kind of a shame, because the man has unexplored depths as an actor. For one thing, he needs to do more comedy, because he is fucking hilarious. I don’t know how anyone could see his performances as Lucas Lee or Loki and not think “this is a man who should be a huge comedy star.”

        • Jeb

          Also he’s dreamy

    • JMP

      I’m guessing they will follow the comics storyline where Rhodey took over as Iron Man when Tony went into rehab; not only would it be a decent way to deal with Robert Downey Jr.’s departure, but it seems pretty clear that the movie Stark is, like his comic counterpart, a hardcore alcoholic and the films have never really dealt with that yet, it seems like they must at some point.

      • Murc

        Movie Tony is so far a lot more of a functional alcoholic than Comics Tony was at his nadir. Movie Tony I think got drunk and put the suit on like… once?

        Comics Tony was showing up shitfaced to Avengers missions briefings and downing six-martini lunches before scheduled patrols in the suit. He was pretty fucked up.

  • Captain America could be a boring character– the quintessential square, a sort of reflexive patriot who never questions the policies of his country, or thinks about what the idea of America actually means. In fact, he is really never that guy. He wrestles with those issues, and somehow manages to be interesting doing it. Because he is a man out of time he has the advantage of a greater historical perspective than many of his present-day contemporaries, and he has a record of heroism against America’s ideological enemies that is unsurpassed and indisputable. He’s not a cornball– he is, as you point out, a product of the country’s greatest city at one of the peaks of its intellectual ferment. He’d have read, probably, three newspapers a day, and we already know that he was invested in American idealism.

    Maybe the most amazing thing about Captain America is that in all these years nobody has found a way to screw the character up.

    • NonyNony

      Mark Millar’s Ultimate Captain America is such a fundamental misread on the character that it’s the closest anyone comes to screwing it up.

      • Mark Millar licks goats.

        • JMP
        • heckblazer

          My understanding is that there’s an implicit an “F” in front of the “LICKS” that’s blocked by an arm. And Mark Millar is rather fond of the visual pun in which “LI” tends to look like a “U”…

    • Justin Cognito

      I’ve seen occasional moments where someone gets Cap WILDLY wrong – there was a bit in Warren Ellis’s Secret Avengers run where Cap effectively says, “I find torture to be morally disgusting, but my friends don’t, so I’m just going to turn around…” – but they manage to course correct fairly swiftly. There haven’t really been many, oh, Teen Tony periods for him.

    • Eirene

      I take it you haven’t been reading Rick Remender’s Cap run. It’s an absolute trainwreck. Just awful – it’s turned Steve’s father from a decent but weak man with a drinking problem into an outright alcoholic wifebeater and his mother into a cringing doormat, and then it has Steve sympathizing with his father later on. Not to mention the 14 year-old character in bondage gear whose boobs seem to get bigger with every issue, Sharon Carter shooting a child through the throat, and then Sharon Carter herself being killed off solely to cause pain to Steve. There’s even more that’s wrong with the comic, but those are the…highlights, I guess you’d call them. I dropped it and won’t pick it up again until Brevoort gets his head out of his ass and puts a new writer on the comic.

      • That’s awful. I’m glad I haven’t read that.

      • Jeb

        Ugh Remender

      • Halloween Jack

        There’s kind of an ongoing problem at the Big Two–more Marvel, but also DC–in which they get a writer who makes a big impression on one title, and they get rotated around to a bunch of different ones, in the process of which their limits as a writer quickly become apparent. (Jonathan Hickman on Avengers is the best, but far from the only, recent example of this.)

  • Tristan

    Captain America has the potential to be much more interesting — but only if he’s a jerk.

    Well, someone’s an Ultimates fan.

    • Tristan

      Incidentally, I think this is a good antidote for Riesman’s column, for anyone who needs it.

      • And this old “What If” issue is pretty good, too.

        • I second the second recommendation especially.

          • Tristan

            Marvel’s done like what, at least four ‘dark mirror’ Captain America-twisted-into-explicit-parody of Riesman’s hyper-masculine/false nostalgia/”respect for authority” take by now. How does someone not get the message?

            This is a weird argument about the character that gets made every few years, and I think it’s because it really chaps certain people’s asses that the superhero best known for literally wrapping himself in Old Glory just does have a characterization center of gravity that tends to pull to the left. Like Batman’s anti-gun stance, even nominally right-leaning writers can’t really pull away from the fact that he’s a depression-era immigrant family kid who joined the military explicitly because fascism offended him.

            Incidentally, my personal hope for Cap 3 is an adaptation of the Mark Gruenwald ‘John Walker Captain America’ story, so maybe Riesman and I will both get what we want (sort of).

  • Mark

    Well, I love Ultimates 1 and 2, though I don’t love them nearly as much as I love The Authority. But I find your argument that Cap has generally not been portrayed as a right-wing dick convincing. Of course, one might be conservative in one’s manner or style without being a right-wing dick. In any case, when I read comics A LOT during the 80s, Cap was always idealistic and liberal minded, and that’s right in the middle of the Reagan era.

  • Barry Freed

    So is the movie worth seeing?

    • Oh, absolutely. It’s honestly the second-best single hero Marvel movie, right up there with the first Iron Man movie.

      • Rhino

        So what’s the best superhero movie ever made?

        For me it’s The Incredibles, hands down.

        • There is no “best superhero movie ever made” for me–but there are the best superhero films: THE INCREDIBLES, the 1978 SUPERMAN, MAN OF STEEL (yes, I said it!), IRON MAN, the 1989 BATMAN, BLADE II, both HELLBOY films, Nolan’s Batman trilogy, THE AVENGERS, WATCHMEN, and I’m adding THE WINTER SOLDIER to that list.

          • Rhino

            Blade 2 really was amazing, but I don’t call it a superhero film (though I can understand why some would). All superman movies suck. Both Hellboy movies were great, but while I enjoyed the Watchmen movie, I’ve never heard anyone who enjoyed the comics praise it.

        • I deeply dislike The Incredibles.

          For me, it’s the Avengers, with The Dark Knight as a close second.

          • Jeb

            Why the Incredibles dislike?

            • The Randism.

              • Halloween Jack

                The problem that he’s addressing is that it’s easier to get several decades’ worth of stories out of a character who’s chronically broken (Batman, Spider-Man) than one who isn’t (Superman, Captain America). This is a function of the comics companies’ having to put out material on a regular basis, and isn’t such a problem with the movies, although eventually and with enough of them, it is (*cough*startrek*cough*). In fact, with the comic Spider-Man, they wanted to re-break him so badly that you had the execrable One More Day storyline. (For non-comics fans, Spider-Man used to be married to Mary Jane, only he made a deal with the Marvel Comics version of Satan to have the marriage erased from existence in order to save the life of Aunt May, who probably doesn’t have that many years left anyway. No, really.)

                • Halloween Jack

                  Sorry, meant this as a stand-alone comment.

      • Barry Freed

        Great, I’ll see it tomorrow. I have a choice, do you think it would be worth seeing in IMAX 3D?

        • Barry Freed

          To answer my own question: it wasn’t shot in 3D so no, I don’t think it would be worth it.

        • Hmmm…I saw it in 2D, and it still looked great. Better to see it in 2D, but I haven’t read any complaints about the 3D. Yet.

        • Better in 2D. Unless the film was shot in 3D and meant to be seen that way – and that’s a narrow list, basically Avatar and Gravity – the loss of color and light isn’t worth it.

          But if you can see it in IMAX 2D that would be cool.

          • Barry Freed

            I just saw it earlier today (in 2D). Glad I did, it was a lot of fun.

            • I felt the same way. Easily the best single-character Marvel movie since IM1.

    • Yes.

  • James V

    I don’t care for Millar’s writing, which probably makes me unique. Without Grant Morrison’s influence, he really is lost. That said…

    Everyone always forgets that Captain America is a New Deal Democrat. By today’s standards, he’s practically a socialist. And as for how he treats those different than himself, remember that he was told that he couldn’t aid in World War Two because of his health and condition. After receiving a chance to prove himself, why shouldn’t he offer that same open mindedness to everyone he meets?

    • JMP

      Nah, a lot of us don’t like Millar’s writing. He’s even worse with his creator-owned works, where he’s unchained by any editors or content guidelines, which seem they’ve been written by a thirteen-year-old who gets off on saying “fuck” or the c-word as often as possible. Hell, I’m surprised that Kick-Ass actually managed to be a pretty good watchable movie, even though the title character and alleged protagonist is completely unlikeable, because the comic was just horrible; though it’s mostly because of Chloë Grace Moretz and (surprisingly) Nicholas Cage giving really great performances.

    • Agreed overall, but Millar is…controversial at best, with many detractors (such as yours truly).

    • Consumer Unit 5012

      Quoting some smarter fan, I used to say “Millar writes like Rob Liefeld draws”, but that’s unfair to Rob Liefeld – his art’s ugly and overblown, but it doesn’t leave me feeling unclean the way Millar’s pervasive mean-spiritedness has.

  • mojrim

    Thank you SEK. Just, really, thank fucking you. Cap has always been my other favorite superhero (vis Batman, because I like contrast) and I have always detested attempts to fit him into the brutal 80’s/90’s anti-hero schema. What he represents, which Superman attempts to be but fails, is moral invulnerability. While a man from the 1940’s might have a trouble adjusting to the openness of modern society, and idealistic pre-mature anti-fascist from NYC would be happy to work his way past it. Marvel has generally gotten him right – never forget which side he took in the Supers War.

    And Tony Stark has always been a tool.

  • Rhino

    That was a fantastic post.

  • heckblazer

    For more on DC’s story problems I’d refer people to Chris Sims, professional Batman-ologist.

    • heckblazer

      Dammit, that second link was supposed to go here.

    • xaaronx

      Always good to see people link to Chris, whose writing I’ve been a fan of since his Blogspot days. I would pay money to see Chris and SEK hash out their thoughts on Batman.

  • Matt

    Shorter Riesman: “Captain America needs to be moar of a dick, because otherwise people like me might start realizing that between rah-rahing torture and stroking it to wars of choice WE’RE looking awful villain-ish…”

  • njorl

    Twunng indeed.

  • Well said. Thanks Steven.

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  • Atheist

    Riseman fell into the trap so many other people do concerning Captain America.

    He’s a hero for the American people, not the American government. He fights for the IDEA of America, not FOR America.

    • That it, right there. Of course, the problem is that they usually stop only at seeing the name “Captain America” and not the man in the suit.

  • Alan G. Kaufman

    Insightful piece. Well done. In light of your comments about Cap growing up in Brooklyn:

    Maybe this real hero — a real Captain America — was a model:

    The real Captain America was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn:

    “Libman and Kravitz grew up on President Street off Franklin Avenue in the Crown Heights neighborhood. Libman remembers that they would hang out by Rae’s candy store and write their names in chalk in the schoolyard to be in the next softball game, and play stickball and basketball while they waited. They often went to Coney Island, where their usual hangout was Bay 4.”

    “He was not the hero type, he was not the great athlete, but he was a good guy, and I made sure he was always involved in everything that I did,” Libman said of Kravitz. “We grew up together. We all hung out in the candy store in Brooklyn.”

    “Libman added, “He’s the type of guy who would have done the same thing for me.”

    He summed it all up in Brooklyn terms: “He was a good friend,” Libman said. “I am a good friend.””

    “Kravitz, an assistant machine-gunner attached to Company L, was in a defensive position on strategic key terrain.

    “After the friendly elements had repulsed two earlier probing attacks, the enemy launched a fanatical banzai charge with heavy supporting fire and, despite staggering losses, pressed the assault with ruthless determination. When the machine-gunner was wounded in the initial phase of action, Kravitz immediately seized the weapon and poured devastating fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants. The enemy effected and exploited a breach on the left flank, rendering the friendly positions untenable. Upon order to withdraw, Kravitz voluntarily remained to provide protective fire for the retiring elements. Traversing the gun to the left to cover the infiltrating enemy and ignoring the pleadings of his comrades to fall back, he fearlessly maintained his position. Detecting a column of Communist troops moving toward friendly positions, he swept the hostile soldiers with deadly, accurate fire, killing the entire group. His destructive retaliation caused the enemy to concentrate vicious fire on his position and enabled the friendly elements to effect a withdrawal.

    “After the strong point was re-secured, Kravitz’ body was found lying beside the gun he had so heroically manned, and numerous enemy dead lay in and around his emplacement. Kravitz’ incredible display of valor set an inspiring example for his comrades. His unflinching courage and consummate devotion to duty reflect the highest credit on himself and uphold the finest traditions of the military service.”

    Libman also learned that as the enemy attacked, his pal had called out to his vastly outnumbered comrades, “Get the hell out of here while you can!” Kravitz had stayed and the men he saved returned later to find him slumped over the machine gun with only six bullets left, surrounded by dead enemy soldiers, including two in his foxhole.

    “Afterwards, I always wondered what made him do something like that,” Libman later told a reporter.”


  • Sam

    Thank you for writing this post. So many things I wanted to express but wouldn’t have been able to argue as clearly as you have. Keep writing about comic books, please!

    • You’re welcome.

      I intend to keep writing, about comic books and other stuff.

  • Apologies for being so late but, the Cap’n America that Abe Riesman wants goes by the name John Galt.

  • The quote from Born Again is one of my favorite lines ever about Cap, but one of my favorite lines from Cap is when he faces down Kang near the end of the Kang Dynasty storyline and says “Now you miserable jacked-up little tin Hitler. Let’s end this.”

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  • Amanda

    You also forgot to mention that Cap was the leader of the anti-registration movement during the Marvel Civil War. This would have been the most poignant argument to bring up, IMHO.

  • tsam

    Don’t care much for comics, and I enjoy recent comic book movie adaptations for the pure entertainment of it–though I am so inside The Dark Knight’s moral ambiguity and lack of certainty about what his role is and should be.

    That being said, why do conservatives constantly look to make believe movies and TV shows for validation and cry when they don’t get it? Seriously, people…if you aren’t having your ego stroked by popular culture, you’re just out of touch and stupid.

    I know you want your superheroes to be like the George Reeves Superman. Maybe that phony bullshit was entertaining to you, but not to people who aren’t creepazoid conservatives.

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