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The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero (Wiley Brief Histories of the Ancient World) Paperback – 28 Mar 2014

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“If ever there was a need for a philosophical book on a super–hero then Captain America certainly deserves one and I think you’ll find this will fill you in on his motivations and his popularity and how it has been embraced in the recent films.”  ( SFCrowsnest , 1 May 2014)


“An illuminating, well–written volume that gives a whole new insight to Marvel Comics′s Star–Spangled Avenger and what he stands for in the 21 st century.” Mark Waid, Marvel Comics writer “An intriguing look at one of the most iconic and misunderstood characters in the history of comics. This book proves that ‘Cap’ is no one–dimensional flag–waver:  he’s a fascinating and complex character who has continually reflected the changes in the equally complex nation he represents.”   J.M. DeMatteis,   Writer— Captain America, Moonshadow, Brooklyn Dreams "Captain America matters more now than ever, and this book proves it. Digging deep, Mark White excavates ‘Cap′s’ complexity, highlighting lessons and virtues that can help heal America." William Irwin, General Editor of The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Good overview of Cap 14 Mar 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
CAP saves the day 10 May 2014
By Dr. Wilson Trivino - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have never actively followed comic book super heroes but no need to worry when I picked up this book The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero by Mark D. White.
Not only must Mark White be one of the most popular ethic professors but he has a canny ability to take complex concepts and boil them down to understandable language. The ethic courses I took in college were dry and full of boring philosophies but White makes them applicable to the lens in which we see the world.
After giving a good over view of the prevailing ethical framework, White breaks down the world of super heroes and centers his work on Captain America giving a good example. He notes in the book that we don’t really need to reinvent the wheel, just learn how to navigate it on new terrain.
This book on Cap prompt me to out and check out the new second big screen Captain American movie. In this work White also covers the gambit of the strength and weaknesses from other know superhero characters from Batman (which he wrote a book on), Ironman, and Spiderman.
Reading the book not only combines the intellectual rigor of the study of ethics but also is a fun way to think about these superheroes in a different light.
This book is great to use in a class, work setting, or anyone who wants to strengthen their ethical compass or simply enjoy reading about one of America’s great super heroes, Captain America.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Comprehensive Commentary On Captain America's Character 21 May 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed "The Virtues of Captain America" immensely. I always have multiple books on the go at any one time but once I started reading this book I steamed through it quickly. I was very impressed by the narrative arc the author maintained throughout and the extensive use of carefully chosen and illustrative examples from real-life philosophers and the fictional superheroes in the Marvel Universe and beyond.

I specifically enjoyed the idea of examining ethics and ethical perspectives from different historical periods and the concept of honor and "right action" that was explored in detail.

I didn't agree with everything I read, particularly the discussion around implications for patriotism and nationalism but I enjoy books that can both entertain and challenge my assumptions. Mark White's book exceeded my expectations on those two fronts.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Captain America stories and for everyone who has any interest in the broader impact of comicbooks and superheroes on our society.

E. Paul Zehr
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book shows why Cap's the greatest comic-book hero. 10 Oct 2014
By Mark Luster - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Terrific book. Unlike the "Popular Culture & Philosophy" (which I dearly love), this was pretty much devoted to a single theme, which gave it a through-line missing from the afore-mentioned series. Cap isn't a black & white, defend the American government stooge. Lots of nuance in the book, just like the Captain America series as a whole. Sent me back into my comic stacks to re-read the story-lines highlighted. Highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Virtues of Captain America 27 May 2014
By Dan Gonzalez - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is awesome! Not only is it great for any Captain America fan, but it goes a long way to describe the philosophy of the one of America's greatest heroes.
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