The Case Against Steve Rogers or: How Marvel Keeps Missing the Point
By Jamie Cottle
Standing before you is the judge, a symbol of authority in his black robes, he solemnly turns toward you- the jury and begins his address:
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the question laid before you today is, ‘Can Captain America, and Steve Rogers in particular, maintain relevance in today’s world?’ You will be hearing from both the Prosecution and Defense. Arguments will be made and evidence presented, but in the end the burden of judgment rests with you. I am obligated to remind you to refrain from deciding until all the evidence is heard. The Prosecution may begin their arguments.”
A man dressed all in beige rises from the Prosecution’s table. It isn’t until he opens the manila folder in his hand that you realize he was holding it at all. It was too well camouflaged against his attire.
“Captain America- the name is loaded, it drips with jingoistic flare. It begs to be put aside along with the nationalistic fervor of the Second World War, and it is the opinion of the Prosecution he should be. Perhaps in the simpler times of 70 years ago the world did function according to such a simple moral code as the Captain endorses. Perhaps it was enough to, ‘sock the bad guy on the jaw,’ and resolve your issues. I am certain that today we live in a world where it’s not enough to oppose a force- you must understand it.
The man doesn’t even know what MySpace is, how can he make moral judgments for America? He still listens to vinyl records and eats his hamburger and fries at the same dinner every week. The man isn’t a legend he’s a cliché.
He’s proven incapable of evolving. Look at Bucky Barnes, he is from the same time period, and yet he’s adapted wonderfully to the modern era. He has the gritty, relativistic edge that modern America craves. He carries a gun, he uses it, he has secrets and lies- he’s us! He even refuses to wear that sad old uniform.
Now Steve Rogers has attempted in the past to change. He’ll change uniforms, he’ll switch to more muted tones in his costume. He’ll appear for a moment to relinquish the prideful bold colors and attitudes of the past, but always he returns to the cavalier boots and the bright garish colors.
It’s as if no one told him how rude such actions are. Likely no one has, how can you explain such things to a caveman? I can hardly explain to my father how his mobile phone works, how could I explain the subtleties of modern society to my grandfather, a man who grew up in a time when the car was something new and exciting? He died because there was no place for him in the world. He said as much to me.
He was right.
We’re on the cusp of a new person to bear the mantle of Captain America. Sam Wilson will finally emerge from the shadows and become a new Captain America. So now we must say goodbye to Steve Rogers. Let him go and stay away. Stop trying to make him something he’s not. I rest my case.”
The judge stirs at the conclusion and introduces the Defense. Rising from the table is a tall man in Charcoal suit. He stands before the jury and begins.
“Is Steve Rogers old? Absolutely. Did he punch Hitler? Yes and I hope we all would when given the chance. Does he know what Myspace is? No, but I might add neither does your average 13 year old at this point.
Is he irrelevant? No, no, a thousand times, no.
You might as well ask, ‘is there such a thing as a moral absolute?’ I believe there are. They might be rare but they do exist. Their scarcity makes them easy to forget if we’re not reminded of them. That is why Steve Rogers matters- he reminds us to be better, to refuse the easy path.
He is no mere tool of the government. No simple jingoistic symbol as the Prosecution would have you believe. He’s proven it many times. When the government demanded he serve their directives exclusively he left the mantle of Captain America.
He knew then, and now, that to chain himself in perpetual servitude to the government’s whims is wrong, and power untempered by morality only leads to tragedy- a lesson that no matter how often he teaches us we refuse to learn.
This stance has made him an example not only to his fellow heroes, but to everyone. Where Hercules may quibble or Wolverine may sulk they know Captain America- STEVE ROGERS always stands ready to do what’s right. Not what’s politically expedient, not what’s profitable or easy, but what’s RIGHT!
He’s not Captain America because he wears red, white and blue, he’s Captain America because he represents the eternal, universal truths that define us as Americans and binds us together.
Defending the truth and holding to your beliefs against a world of little people who degrade, belittle, or compromise takes true courage. Courage admired by all except those who know they’ve failed that standard.
In a world so full of grey it’s a strength of Steve Rogers’ he doesn’t succumb to our modern cynicism. If we resent him, it’s not because he’s wrong or outdated. It’s because he won’t let us forget there is someone who believes in us, who knows we can do and be better- we resent that.
In closing, if I may get personal, we’re here to answer whether or not Steve Rogers and Captain America are relevant. In reply my answer is, ‘only if I’m still relevant.’
You see, as a younger man I had a rough time. I contemplated ending it all. I likely would have, but for one thing. Every time the thought would enter my head right behind it would be this voice, ‘Suicide is the coward’s way out. Stand! Fight!’ It was from an earlier Captain America comic I read years ago.
Today, that line would likely have never been printed. It would’ve been edited out as a callous reply to human suffering. Steven Rogers saved my life. Now, members of the jury, look me in the eye and tell me I’m irrelevant.