Capital Thoughts:

Captain America #16

Issue #16 of Captain America lacks a lot of things, including Captain America, who does not make an appearance except in a hallucination where he appears as the Red Skull’s domesticated pet—I kid you not. The hallucinator is Jet, the Bio-Fanatic’s daughter, a refugee from Dimension Z and a former baddie convinced by Steve Rogers’ compelling humanism to give up world domination.  Problem is, Jet doesn’t see a lot of that humanism as she wanders around New York City.  What she sees is a dreary mess of domestic violence and petty crime, none of it significant enough to warrant superhero intervention, but adequate to convince her that Cap and the capes are part of the problem.  As she sees it, superheroes perpetuate the status quo because they fight on behalf of the people; what they should do instead is empower the people to fight for themselves.  Seeing a shop owner beaten by street thugs, she asks, “Why didn’t you help yourself?” She offers some advice: “If you are not strong enough to defeat life… Life will defeat you.”

That grim assessment sounds right for a woman raised by a tyrant and who has been basically abandoned by her superhero mentor.  But then her tactical assessment leaps from the fictive page into our own world when she encounters the Red Skull–or is it an illusion created by Dr. Mindbubble?

I wrote in my last column that Mindbubble bears an uncanny resemblance to Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, from the old Adam West Batman TV show.  I also wrote that his powers seem pretty much identical to that of Scarecrow.  Not only is the character unoriginal, he is also, frankly, unnecessary, since Cap already has a villain who is both an expert in mind control AND is an ally of the Red Skull: Dr. Faustus, the rotund psychotherapist German fascist.

(And while we’re dealing with redundancy, Jet’s head gear and general look would get her a hall-pass in Aasgard.)

But we’re drifting away from reality here.  What I am getting at is the (real or hallucinated) Skull’s admiration for Zola, a man, who “stood his ground.”

Ya, he went there….

Of course, scripts can be written months in advance of their actual release, but this seems to be a discussion of Florida’s “stand your ground” law.  The law is not exclusive to Florida; some 46 states have similar laws, but recent events in the sunshine state have caught the public’s attention.  In essence, and this comes by way of Wikipedia, the law states that “a person has no duty or other requirement to abandon a place in which he has a right to be, or to give up ground to an assailant. Under such laws, there is no duty to retreat from anywhere the defender may legally be” (Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 776).

Jet would obviously agree, and so too, apparently, does the Skull.

The law is currently sparking all manner of arguments about equality and race.  The question is, what’s it doing in a Captain America comic book?

Of course, we recognize the right of artists to address anything, and the topicality of the comics has been well-established– especially in the pages of Captain America.  The titular character has fought the Nazis, the Viet Kong, played a key role in Marvel’s take on Watergate, fought a Civil War over the Patriot Act, etc.

And I think Florida figures here too.  I have discussed Captain America #156 before.  It is, in my view, the Dark Knight Returns of the Cap mythos.  The clash in that issue is between Steve and his hate-filled 1950s replacement.  The fight takes place in Florida, the ersatz-Cap crumbled at the plinth of a Holocaust Memorial.

Now the Red Skull, a Nazi officer, invokes “stand your ground” in order to convince Jet that humanity is worthless.  Her father, he reminds her, “would never settle for mediocrity, or bow before lesser men.”  But what of “greater” men (I use the term advisedly)?  Zola, after all, bowed to the Skull, just as the Skull bowed to Hitler.  In keeping with this philosophy of the strong, Jet refuses to bow to the Skull.  And yet to join as full partners is impossible because parity suggests equality, which suggests democratic values.

We have, then, a comic-book-style case of “stand your ground”: Two super-powered forces who believe that only one view of reality deserves respect, and that any encroachment on that fantasy must be addressed brutally and lethally.   Oddly, Jet ends up running away but the moral victory is hers.  Finding the bloodied man she once counseled, Jet now seems baffled.  It is now the seemingly weak who counsels the seemingly strong: “You were presented with a choice.  And you almost made the wrong one.”

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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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