5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
There are lots of things we can learn from this fictional character and apply to our real lives. This book is well written. It's clear and easy to read. It's intelligent, thoughtful and heavily annotated. Mr. White seems to be smart, knowledgable and pleasant. One thing that might improve it is a chapter on how the Great Depression influenced Steve Rogers. There's an excellent online essay about this by historian Steven Attewell.
The major flaw in this book is White's attempt to accept and justify the changes in Cap's morals over the past decade. White's ineffectual defense of the change in Cap's behavior (regarding torture, killing, war and letting others do his dirty work) indicates that there is no defense for Cap behaving this way.
Why do we think circumstances are so unique in today's world? This has probably been an excuse to behave amorally since humanity began. Cruelty has always been cruelty, deceit has always been deceit, war has always been war, torture has always been torture, killing has always been killing. If Cap could fight Nazi's without compromising his integrity why can't he do it now? Is there a more insidious evil than Nazis?
White says Cap is justified in condoning torture and killing because "one person now has the potential to do much more harm than entire armies could...with much less chance of being detected beforehand." How is this different from most of the super-villians Cap has fought for the past 70 years?
The reason Cap's new morals are wrong is found in White's own words- Cap is no longer "making sure every other possible option is considered, discovered or developed first". He's no longer thinking out of the box. It almost seems like White doesn't agree with Cap's behavior over the past ten years, but he makes a half-hearted defense anyways. If you want an example of how Cap can still behave as he always has in a more realistic, modern setting check out Reiber's Marvel Knight's stories (which White himself sights in his extensive and excellent notes).
When a hero's been around a long time and passed through the hands of many writers, the true version of the character has to be whatever general traits can be traced throughout all those years. Traits that have appeared rarely should be disregarded when discussing what a character is really like.
Some heroes teach you to do good in spite of your imperfections. Cap teaches you to do good in spite of humanities imperfections. I don't want Steve Rogers to be more like us. I want him to inspire us to be more like him. Cap was always about "not sinking to their level". As he said in issue #241: "No man can be denied their rights, or else none of us has any rights! If you fight on their terms you're no better than they are!"
Superhero stories are modern myths and morality plays. Their applicability - what they say about humanity and about right & wrong - is more important than whether they have complete reality. Especially since complete realism is impossible when your premise is a person with fantastical abilities running around in costume. If realism is really so important people would complain more when heroes outrun explosions, run through hails of bullets unscathed and survive impossible amounts of destruction.
Being in a situation where you might have to consider killing someone is not very realistic, or applicable, for 99.999% of us. Most police men and women spend entire careers preventing and solving crimes without having to kill anyone. A situation where a hero truly can't avoid killing a villain is not impossible but should, realistically, be extremely rare. It should also be written for a very good reason.
In a democracy, unlike a totalitarian state, we believe in a fair trial by jury. A hero shouldn't kill if the current threat is over- even if it means the bad guy might return to menace society in the future. If you want to prevent a villain from future actions then imprisonment will do that without having to kill them. Many of the ways heroes kill villains in stories now-a-days would make them murderers. Isn't that what the bad guys do, murder people? And don't even get me started on torture!
Contriving plots where the heroes take the same actions that bad guys do means that the only difference between the good guys and the bad guys is who wins. But this is totally incorrect; villains are villains because they do heinous things. If a hero does heinous things then he or she is not a hero. I can appreciate anti-heroes, but I still look for my heroes to instruct and inspire me.
Being a hero is about doing the right thing regardless of reward or punishment. Evil, at its most basic level, is a lack of empathy. So a hero must, above all else, have compassion for all life everywhere. This sort of hero is not unrealistic; they exist in real life. Normal, everyday people aren't getting into fist fights with the minions of the Red Skull, but they are doing what's right for the greater good instead of what's easy.
It saddened me greatly when they changed Steve Rogers into the "Super Soldier". Working for government intelligence? Carrying a gun? How do you take a character who spent 40 years spouting how he was against killing and turn him into a killer? I agree with Cap's creator Joe Simon who said Cap shouldn't be carrying a gun. Steve Rogers came from an America that had been against a large standing army for 160 years. They were willing to fight when absolutely necessary but they didn't worship the military like we do now. A militarized Cap no longer represents all of us as he was intended by Simon & Kirby.
Everyone always figured that, even in the fantasy world of comics, Cap might have killed during W.W. II. It was also equally possible that, being a fantasy, Cap didn't kill during W.W. II. It was obvious to everyone that killing during a war and killing during peacetime are considered two very different things. It was obvious that Cap was against killing accept when necessary during a just war. It was also obvious that he wasn't going to fight in any of our less-just wars like Vietnam (which is why he should never have been written as having fought in Iraq).
Why Marvel felt Cap needed to start carrying a gun during the W.W. II is beyond me. Think about it: you're writing stories about costumed characters who have fantastical abilities and you say "hey this unrealistic character needs to realistically carry a gun." Kind of like worrying that the woodsman in "Little Red Riding Hood" shouldn't be able to cut grandma (alive) out of the stomach of the talking wolf that had successfully impersonated her- because boy that would just be unrealistic!
You could certainly make a case, within the fantasy world of comics, that art-student Steve Rogers wasn't comfortable with guns and he found that his shield was as effective as a gun at stopping his enemies. Before he went off to fight in the war Cap shouldn't have been shooting the fascist spies he was bringing to justice anyways.
If you're going to change the basics of who a character is why not just write about a different character? Kids need a compassionate, selfless Cap who's top priority is the common good. They need to see that heroism is not about militarism, not about blindly following orders or about being the meanest or the sneakiest. Kids need the Cap who's against lying, killing and torture. The one who never gives up searching for the option that allows him to do what's right not what's selfish or expedient.