Capital Thoughts:

Captain America #11

Consistency. It’s not much to ask for in a serial. In fact, without consistency, the serial form is moot. Last issue, Remender told us in the “letters” section that Cap “has spent more time in Dimension Z than in the current era on Earth.” Doing the math, we determined that Steve was roughly 85 years old. We noted the lines on his face, confirming some aging, though the effects of the super-soldier serum clearly preserved his chiseled physique.

One issue later, we learn that he had been in Dimension Z for only 12 years. The lines on his face are now gone. Steve is again 25 years old or so. In issue #9 we also saw Sharon shoot Ian. In issue #11’s letter page, Remender now tells us that Ian fell into a vat and will almost certainly be back.

Of course, revising storylines is part of the warp and woof of all serials. We might recall the cliffhanger black-and-white serials, wherein it seems that the hero is killed, only to discover on the next installment a slight warping that allows the hero to escape. But what we have here really suggests that Remender needs a reminder of the plotline.

Hey, it happens. Even Shakespeare nodded from time to time, so much so that he often created characters but then forgot to give them lines. These non-characters are often referred to as “ghosts.” Here’s a list of them (with compliments to Wikipedia for saving me the time of gathering them myself):

•Violenta, [from] All’s Well That Ends Well, a character who enters with the Widow in Act III, scene 5, possibly another daughter of the Widow and sister to Diana.

•Lamprius, Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene 2. Some editors assume this is the name of the Soothsayer, but the Soothsayer is implied to be Egyptian in Act II, Scene 3. Lampryas is named in Plutarch as his own grandfather, from whom he got an anecdote about Antony, which is the likely source.

• Rannius, [from] Antony and Cleopatra, also in Act I, scene 2

•Lucillius, [from] Antony and Cleopatra, an attendant of Enobarbus in Act I, Scene 2.

• Beaumont, [from] Henry V. He is one of the casualties in the Battle of Agincourt, noted in Act III, scene 5 and listed as a casualty in Act IV, scene 8. He is in the stage direction at the beginning of Act IV, scene 2, suggesting Shakespeare wanted to develop the character further, but never did.

•Innogen, [from] Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, scene 1 and Act II, the wife of Leonato.

•Petruchio, [from] Romeo and Juliet, companion of Tybalt at the fight in Act III, scene 1, also mentioned as attending the Capulet’s banquet in Act I, scene 5. Some editions, such as the Oxford/Norton, give him the line “Away, Tybalt”, which other editors render as a stage direction. He appears in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film, played by Carlos Martín Manzo Otálora.

• Mercer, [from] Timon of Athens, a guest at Timon’s banquet in Act I, scene 1, presumably seeking Timon’s patronage. The Norton/Oxford edition adds a stage direction for him to cross stage and exit.

So all this is to forgive Remender for what seems to be a variety of plot inconsistencies.

But forgetting takes on an added dimension in Cap #11 because in the course of that issue we visit Steve’s apartment, a surprisingly glitzy and cavernous space, filled with prizes from his storied past. (It looks a bit like Batman’s memorabilia collection in the Batcave, minus, of course, the T-Rex!) Steve’s treasures include faded Swastika and Rising Sun banners, his Nomad costume, Bucky’s costume, and even a copy of Captain America #1. (Never mind the meta-fiction.) This tribute to his past now sits oddly with Cap because in a dream Cap relives the last conversation he has with his dying mother, who tells him that the only way he will ever grow is to “let go” of the past. Jet, who has had to let go of her own painful history, helps our hero destroy the entire collection.

No!!! Save that copy of Cap #1! It’s worth a fortune! But no…. Steve burns it all.

It’s an odd moment because we have been lead to believe that it would be Cap teaching Jet how to live in our world, but it is Jet who instead instructs Steve. That he would listen and embrace the wisdom of this adolescent is weird enough, but he does.

All this begs yet another question: Where does this leave Cap?

If Cap is symbolically turning his back on his storied past, then what should we make of his decade of self-reflection and growth in Dimension Z? It’s like Cap engaged in Freudian therapy for a decade, had some clear breakthroughs, then fired his doctor and turned his back on the process. For a character that is supposed to grow by letting go, we have to question the methodology here. Cap isn’t letting go; he’s just living in denial.

There is a larger problem here because we are dealing with such a storied character. By literally cremating the artifacts of his life, Steve allows himself to rise Phoenix-like. But without connection to his history, we as readers have no fealty to him.

Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), argued that France had brought chaos upon itself by severing all connections with it monarchical past. As Burke saw it, the monarchy was a stabilizing force in moments of social upheaval because, no matter how much things changed, people could still feel that some institutions remained just as they were.Comic books operate in exactly this way: the world may change—heck, even comics may soon go to a purely digital format– but the heroes and their backstories remain consistent. Even if we miss an issue or two, or even a decade or two, our heroes remain essentially as they were, waiting for us. There is some comfort in their timelessness. In short, Steve lives in denial of his past, but we as comic book readers do not.

By burning his memorabilia collection, Steve is taking a dangerous road. We will see where it leads.

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Jeffrey Kahan is a is a well-established Shakespeare scholar with about two dozen books and editions to his name. He is also the co-author of Caped Crusaders 101 (MacFarland, 2nd ed., 2010), and is a co-editor of The Dark Man, a journal dedicated to the works of Robert E. Howard, and an associate editor of The New Ray Bradbury Review. He teaches a class on superhero comics and has twice appeared as a speaker at Comic-Con, as well as at New York’s Big Apple and other comic conventions. His newest book, Shakespeare and Superheroes, will be published in 2018 by ARC Press. He works in California but lives in his own world.

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  1. What you’re forgetting is that Marvel, from the 1960s onward, operates on a sliding time scale. Cap was in Dimension Z for longer than he’s been in the present day, because the whole history of the Marvel Universe is about 10-11 years long (the 1960s to present day bit anyway). This makes Remender’s comments about Steve being in Dimension Z longer than the present day true.

    • Love the Pheonix idea though. Haven’t read this issue yet (it’s not on Marvel Unlimited), but I’m following the series and the issues that are on Unlimited are quite enjoyable. I really like the Dimension Z idea, though I have a feeling this will develop in similar directions as Angel Series 3.

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