Capital Thoughts:

Captain America #12

This issue has Cap taking stock of his life. He confesses to the Falcon that he feels lost. Meanwhile, Nuke is on a killing spree in Eastern Europe, fighting a war for hearts and minds to “win back their respect,” he says. It’s difficult to understand how corpses can respect anyone, but that’s Nuke for you.

The more interesting aspect of the issue is what the return of the Falcon entails. In Cap #11, it seemed pretty clear that Jet would become a sidekick of sorts, and that we were embarking on a tale similar to Dick Grayson’s recent teaming with Damian Wayne inBatman and Robin. In that series, Damian was a psychopath, and Dick taught him the difference between violence and heroics.  While she has yet to be named a sidekick, Jet is still around, in black panties and bra, but Cap doesn’t seem to notice her obvious allure. Sam Wilson/The Falcon notices it right away, and it may signal that romance is brewing. But then Sam and Steve take off for a bit and do their rooftop ballet. It’s gorgeous and long-overdue, the Falcon soaring through the skies, Cap poised athletically like a sail– grandly noble, yet somehow fragile and gentle, perfectly in keeping with Cap’s psyche. But then we’re back with Nuke, firing on civilians in the name of American imperialism. What are we to make of all of this?

Of course, from his origins, Cap has always been a jingoist hero -waving flags and kicking butts first and asking questions later. But this dichotomy of one super-solder to another, one looking for meaning, another savagely acting on meaning, strikes at the heart of Cap’s dual nature. On the one hand, he stands for human decency and on the other, he’s a weapon. You don’t build weapons unless you plan on using them and Cap has been used near-constantly over the years.

Nuke’s own uses and abuses are more complex. He’s always been as unstable as his moniker and he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Despite his super-soldier strength and enhanced cyber-implants, he’s an idiot fueled by rage in the standard Marvel Universe.

Meanwhile, in the Ultimate universe, Frank Simpson spends his days obsessing over the atrocities America has committed in the name of freedom. Still, it seems extreme when he attempts to sell his own blood (and thus, the secret of the super-soldier serum) on to the North Koreans. In the end, Cap ends up nursing Nuke by reading him passages from the Bible.

Is that what we have in store here? Will Steve begin a Bible camp for Jet and Nuke, with Sam the social worker coming by to chart their progress? Lord, I hope not! The more pressing issue, after all, is not Nuke’s soul but Steve’s. A man out of time is in danger of losing his way. We need only recall the fate of yet another super-soldier, William Burnside (the fifties Cap) who was revived into a world that had seemingly transcended racism. Burnside became the leader of a Neo-Nazi party. (It’s happened to a mentally-enslaved Steve as well. See Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty#8; Waid/ Hamner/Massengill).

Burnside later joined the terrorist group the Watchdogs and then tried to kill Bucky, who was standing-in for the then-presumed dead Steve. Last we heard, Burnside’s death was faked and he was being reprogramed by the government. Given that Bucky disappeared under near identical circumstances, it is possible that another Cap and Bucky pairing is in the offing.

In short, Steve will have to rebuild his life in part by interacting with his various former partners and doppelgangers, and there are still lots and lots of them out there. To begin with, we have various Buckys, including Rick Jones and Jack Monroe, various teams of super-soldiers from projects like Weapon Plus, Operation Rebirth, foreign and domestic knock-offs (Destroyer, Union Jack, Master Man, Grand Director, Sentry, Luke Cage, the Anti-Cap), and a prototype (the black Cap, Isaiah Bradley).  I’m likely missing a few, but I think that the point is clear: Cap seems to be on a salmon run of sorts, returning to his point of origin.

Steve has always been a man out of time. He’s never really fit anywhere, even back in the 1940s America considered him unfit for service and ill-fit for the times. He’s always been something of a luddite, more like the simple-minded and eternally good-natured hillbilly Li’l Abner than Buck Rogers.

Perhaps Cap just needs a Mission. Nuke still needs to be stopped.

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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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