It is still Memorial Day in my timezone as I write this article, and I’d like to start by respectfully extending my thanks to every American soldier who has laid down his or her life in the service of my country. They paid the ultimate price so that I can enjoy the security and freedom to enjoy my life as an American citizen, and I will always be grateful for their sacrifice and for those who have served and continue to serve.
It only seems fitting that today I shine the spotlight on probably the most popular American soldier in comic books, the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan. Known to his friends as Steve Rogers, the super soldier is known around the world as…
The Comic Book Origin
Steve Rogers was a scrawny, sickly kid from Brooklyn, New York, the son of Irish immigrants who wished to serve his country in World War II. After volunteering as a test subject for an experimental super soldier serum, Steve’s body was transformed to the absolute pinnacle of human ability. With his enhanced physical strength, agility and stamina, Steve was a weapon that the Nazis were ill-prepared to deal with. While these physical traits made Captain America a superhuman, it was the intangible traits of leadership, kindness and unflinching moral character that helped transform Steve Rogers into an inspirational figure. Fighting alongside the Howling Commandos and his sidekick and friend Bucky Barnes, Steve served his country until a fateful final battle that left him frozen in ice.
But Captain America’s story wasn’t done yet. When the Avengers discovered him frozen but still alive, they thawed him from the ice and Steve naturally found his place as the leader of the Avengers team. While he is a man from another era and often finds himself at odds with the America of today, Steve’s courage, charisma and compassion have made him one of the greatest superheroes of another era. He’s stood up in the face of certain death, as indomitable as his vibranium shield. He’s helped to save the world numerous times and become perhaps the most respected leader in the Marvel Universe.
The Real Life Origin
Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two American Jews who were angry and afraid of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Consciously choosing to make a politically minded hero, they created Steve Rogers as very deliberate war propaganda; the first issue debuted a full year before the United States entered World War II after the Pearl Harbor Bombings. While not without their (sometimes violent) detractors, Captain America proved to be an extremely popular character. The iconic first issue where Steve threw a right cross at the Fuhrer sold close to a million copies and Steve’s popularity remained close to this level throughout World War II. Though his stories originally had him going against Nazi spies infiltrating America, Steve would soon become a soldier battling in Europe when America entered the fray. And many of the most loyal buyers were American soldiers.
It is interesting to note that Captain America’s celebrated return (and intro into the Marvel universe proper) in the 1960’s occurred only a few months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The beloved president’s death weighed heavily upon the country, and it seems only fitting that a symbol of what is right and strong about the country was brought back to comics in response. Steve has been a steady presence ever since then, usually as a leading member of the Avengers cast but also in several of his own series. Though his popularity has waned at times as Americans have grown disenchanted with the nation, Steve is now enjoying a surge of public awareness thanks to his presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Symbol of (Changing) American Ideals
One of the more interesting aspects of Captain America is that he is, by his very nature, a symbol of the United States and he thus has to be presented in a way that almost any American can relate to him and aspire to be more like him. To this end, Steve is almost apolitical in a sense, neither too conservative nor too liberal. If anything, one of his defining traits is his willingness to listen to all sides and to try to make a decision that will best serve everybody. And while the original Captain America was a gung-ho super patriotic soldier because of the time he was featured in, Steve has proven to have a more worldly view and to not possess any of America’s prejudices against various “enemy” nations or cultures. He is just here to defend the country and the world from evil, whatever form that may take.
Indeed, during periods where America was not at war and public conscience was more introspective, looking at the controversies and corruption in our government, Steve has proven to be a discerning citizen and not somebody who blindly supports the nation when it is in the wrong. He is a true patriot in that he loves America, but wants the best for it. If the country is doing something right, it should be kept that way, and if the country is doing something wrong, that should be changed. When Steve returned to comics in the 1960’s he had the first African American superhero, The Falcon, as his crimefighting partner during a time when the civil rights of black Americans was at a boiling point. This is an example of how Steve manages to be progressive simply by being a good man who treats people with decency and respect.
What Steve Rogers Means To Me
Captain America has, over the course of the last year, become my second favorite superhero, behind only Wonder Woman. I initially had trouble connecting with the character because I’ve never considered myself to be especially pro-American, but came to enjoy Steve Rogers as a person. He is everything I want to be as a person; courageous, compassionate, discerning, and respectful of everyone regardless of their background. I think above all, it is his humility that really speaks to me; in a world where gods boast and inventors loudly proclaim their greatness, Steve is the quiet soldier who does what is right because it is the right thing to do. Whether he’s a super soldier or a ninety-pound frail kid, Steve’s inherent character makes him a hero.
But perhaps what Steve had done for me that is most meaningful is that through his adventures, I have found a way to be patriotic. Seeing a man who loves his country and is unafraid to loudly proclaim that he is American, but still possesses the moral fiber to question where America goes wrong and to hold it accountable is truly inspiring. Steve is what America’s values are; he stands for liberty and justice, not just for some, but for all. He is the ideals that we may never quite reach, but that we should always be striving for.