Superhero Americana | The Digital Americana Wall

Superhero Americana


Marvel has released the first official trailer for their latest feature-film comic book adapted franchise: Captain America.

A summer blockbuster that will introduce the world to the sacrifice, struggle, and the symbol of justice that is the first Avenger; or sometimes known as the Sentinel of Liberty, who against unbearable odds, fights to make freedom free. And fans of “Cap”, one of Marvel’s oldest and defining characters, are not disappointed. More importantly though to DAM, this series raises issues and reminds us about what it means to be a superhero in America. In fact, with the reboot of Captain America for the big screen, Marvel could help redefine/reignite inspired American patriotism not just for us over here, but on the world stage. As it will bring us back to once upon a time, when the world had such easily distinguishable bad-guys, that we were equally able to be distinguished as the good guys. And with Marvel having successfully cut their teeth with the many modern franchise adaptions they’ve launched over the last ten years (I cant believe it’s been that long since Tobey first heard “with great power comes great responsibility“) and from the reception of the trailer they’ve released, there will be continued success with ol’ red, white, and blue Cap’n Americanahere. (And also, this being an origin story – it’s got broad appeal built into it from its story structure alone, not to mention the whole American dream marketing/appeal backing it up nationwide.)

Really though this post has been inspired by our April 2010 issue, when we published an article called “To be a Superhero in America” in the magazine. And. Well. In honor of Captain America and his awesome shield we’re republishing the article in its entirety.

Batman, Superman, and the Fantastic Four continued this legacy into the late sixties. However, it was no one other than Captain America that was the face of the USA in the world. Throughout World War II and a few years beyond, Captain America (AKA Steve Rogers), and his sidekick Bucky could be seen happily pounding Nazi’s, the Japanese, and other political baddies with a proud smile on his face. Steve Rogers, like American hyper-patriotism, was put on ice until the cold war began to heat up in earnest when he was thawed out of his glacial prison and joined the modern Avengers team.

Today, super heroes are bigger business on the silver screen than they are in print. Moviegoers expect their superhero flicks to be just like, or sometimes even more over-the-top than other big-action franchises, such as Transformers or Die Hard. It should come as no surprise that one of the most violently lucrative superheroes turned out to be Wolverine.

Even the most famous American heroes differ between their comic and movie counterparts. The hugely popular Iron Man series was one of the top grossing movies of all time and has a sequel destined to do even better. This can mostly be attributed to its cool factor being turned up to 11 all the while managing to interweave some clever rumination on what it means to be involved in the business of war in a post 9/11 world. However, movie fans would hardly recognize the Tony Stark seen in comics.

Unlike the suave, independent Iron Man as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., the comics’ Tony Stark was involved in a controversial plot to bring all superheroes under the government control. In this character translation from comic to film we can take away how an American superhero has started to become more globally conscious even, but unwilling to give government too much control, while still keeping that sense of patriotism close to his heart.

Comics saw a dark revolution in the 1980s, beginning in part with Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil, which was a more twisted take on classic comics. This came alongside Miller’s other moody classic The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. During the 80s, superheroes began to kill and maim and storylines began to grow up. All the way to the extreme that the American Dream was something long gone and if anything filled with nothing but corruption.

Despite all the supposed maturity that crept into comics over the past twenty to thirty years, a few touchstones have remained. Superman, Batman, Spider-man, and the rest of the mainstream heroes have something about them that they will likely never see the butt of the proverbial eraser. They love America, they fight for what is right, and they would gladly die before willingly letting an innocent member of society fall from grace. The stories permeate culture and are to American children as the Gods of Olympus were once to the ancient Greeks.

Where then, does our 44th president fit into the picture? Barack Obama was famously photographed posing heroically in front of a Superman statue. Later, comic book artist extraordinaire Alex Ross would paint him ripping off his suit and tie to reveal a super hero costume underneath. Barack Obama, in this instance, is not so far from how Americans prefer their fictional superheroes to be. He’s cautious, only bringing the fight to enemies who have already shown their aggression. He’s turned himself into a symbol of something bigger than himself, like Superman and Captain America. And more importantly he professes to have a code of ideals that are easy to identify with: Hope. Change. Honesty. These might as well be a superhero’s motto, plastered on comic book covers and throughout big budget movie campaigns.

Only recently in an issue of Captain America there was an incident in which he drew the ire of other supposed patriots. During a protest rally he made disparaging comments towards “Teabagger” supporters. Critics claim that American superheroes aren’t about politics but about engendering good will towards our country in their readers. One only has to look as far as the X-Men to know that political themes are not uncommon in these stories.

However patriotic and star spangled the majority of American superheroes might be, their beliefs have always leaned at least moderately towards the progressive side of the fence. Captain America himself has always been the living embodiment of FDR’s liberal New Deal. As long as everyone is willing to put in the effort, the Government (and Captain America) will be there to bail you out when times get tough.

In fact, Captain America has traditionally suffered under Republican leadership and thrived under Democrats. During the Bush administration, Steve Rogers was cut down by an assassin’s bullet. It wasn’t until a Democrat returned to the White House that he would be gloriously resurrected. Not only does the return of a liberal to the presidency signal a return of Captain America, it meant that he would be rooting out the aforementioned Normon Osbourn’s military villainy that was put in place during George W. Bush’s term.

This wasn’t the first time Captain America took a vacation due to a conservative president, either. During the Reagan/Bush era, Captain America was replaced by the US Government for not being appropriately supportive of the president’s policies.

Although the style has slightly changed over the years, the core values of superheroes have often stayed true. American superheroes: value life, they value caution, they value big ideas. Things like hope, love of country, love of others, and hard work are all part of what makes our superheroes a distinctly American institution.

The one thing we can take away as a culture from this though, is that deep down we have it in us to do the right thing, and although we may get off track, we should look to work together to bring out the best of what this country can do. And while many of us may look ridiculous in capes, real life heroes can rise from anywhere. Actually they’re probably all around you. They are the people you trust, the people in your community, and the people who just get their jobs done. And these real life heroes are the people who change the world everyday.


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