IS CAPTAIN AMERICA SOME PARTISAN TOOL?

Speaking with WIRED, comics writer Ed Brubaker ruminates on the political identity of Captain America.

I think what makes Captain America work in the modern age isn't so much him reflecting where America's at, but in showing where it should be. In my series, I've had Cap quote Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine and Dwight Eisenhower, because Captain America isn't some partisan tool. His history as a character since the mid-'60s shows that. He can call a lie a lie, and he doesn't care which side the liar is on. I think the United States really needs an icon without those partisan blinders on right now, more than ever. But you know, with Cap what we've also done is make it feel more like a modern high-tech espionage comic, in many ways. Cap's military/government background is part of what keeps him relevant, too.

I think Brubaker's description of Captain America as "not having partisan blinders" is essentially a giveaway that Captain America is in fact an America-hating liberal, since that's the kind of thing you usually hear liberals say. Conservative comic book lovers would probably also not be comforted by Brubaker's later statement that he really wants Obama to win.

The original Captain America was famously assassinated last year on the steps of a courthouse after a titanic battle with Iron Man over the "Superhero Registration Act," essentially the Patriot Act of the comic book world, which held that superheroes should be registered as agents of the government and confined to specific rules of conduct. Captain America dissented, seeing the law as violating civil liberties and led a group of heroes against Iron Man (the storyline was called "Civil War").

So on the one hand, you could argue that Captain America was taking a traditionally conservative/libertarian position about government intervention. It's also easy to see liberals opposing superheroes in real life and demanding they be regulated; one of the most realistic things about Alan Moore's Watchmen is that masked crimefighters remain heroes essentially only to the right-wing fringe. But if you see Captain America as an avatar of American freedom and ideology, the fact that he takes what could be described as the liberal/left/Democratic position on one of the defining issues of our time suggests Captain America has actually been quite partisan of late. As Julian Sanchez wrote last year, the two major comic book publishers have engaged the current political climate with strident left-leaning critiques of the erosion of civil liberties led by the Republican Party.

If you see Captain America's death as a metaphor for the death of civil liberties in the wake of the Bush administration's support of torture and warrantless wiretapping, then his demise is infused with partisan meaning. At least from the point of view of people who support those kinds of things. It's hard to see Captain America wanting anything to do with the wholesale violations of individual rights we've seen recently, which is why someone like me enjoys reading his comics.

--A. Serwer

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