Capital Thoughts:

Captain America #20

Captain America #20 cover art

Steve Rogers wakes in a hospital bed.  He’s been dreaming of his mother, whether she made the right decision to stay with her worthless husband. Maybe it was a mistake; maybe she just should have walked away.  Maybe that family, held together with guilt and fear, should have fallen apart….

Steve wakes to another family, a family of friends and coworkers:  Bucky, Sam, Nick, Jet, and more good news:  Ian, his adopted son in Dimension Z, is alive and in this world.  And Sharon is alive too!  And, in the streets, they are throwing a Macy’s-style ticker tape parade for Cap.  It’s all too much, too good.  Cap knows he is dreaming.  So he commits suicide, jumps 10 stories to his death and….

Awakes to our world.

But is our world any more real?  Not according to Iron Nail and Dr. Mindbubble, who continue to jabber on about how America is an illusion ….

Of course, America is more than a land mass; it’s a dream, an American Dream, so wonderfully articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

In this dreamland, people have equal access to healthcare, to education, to opportunities of all sorts.  As Mindbubble says, it’s a dream.

But what strikes me here is not the political nature of Iron Nail and Mindbubble (explored in the last few Capitals Thoughts columns), but why Cap commits suicide.

Why can’t this guy just be happy?  Dream or not, he has it all.  Why not just rest a while; why not, like Odysseus, hang out with Circe, at least for a bit?

Instead, he jumps out of a window.

But having woken to this world, he does not live in Dr. King’s dream, instead, he wakes to the “truth”: The American Dream is consumerism by another name, a Macy’s Day Parade dressed up as faith in another, or better, life.  It is a dream sustained by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s weapons of mass destruction, including the monstrous “Gungnir,” a giant Sentinel-like robot; a device that bears a great deal of resemblance to the Red Skull’s old Sleeper robots.

Sure, America sells us a lot of crap, and it has some nasty weapons. Everyone, even arch capitalists and military profiteers, would agree with that.

That’s not to say that America, even with its military ambitions and seductive capitalism, isn’t indestructibly powerful and pleasurable. It is. But why, then, does Steve reject this well-earned comfort?  Why select suicide over happiness?

I suggest the answer might be found this Memorial Day (I’m writing this on May 24) in Tennyson’s poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. Published in 1846 during the Crimean War, the poem records the massacre of British soldiers by the Russians.  Amazingly, the Brits marched into battle knowing that they were going to die:

Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Steve doesn’t get the parade. He follows orders.  And if, in his heart of hearts, he has his doubts, if, in these doubts, he wonders whether he should just walk away, he won’t.  Not because he can’t.  He’s not a robot.  This is his choice. Iron Nail and Mindbubble see that choice as inconsequential.  Living in a dream, Mindbubble or American, is just a dream.  That’s why Mindbubble is so terrified when Jet comes plunging in, intent on what looks like a suicide mission:  “She’s headed straight for us.  Is she insane?”  Steve grins and replies: “That’s subjective.”


Jet and Steve are willing to die for their ideals, not because they are deluded, but because some ideals are worth dying for.  I’m not arguing that Jet’s bravado equals Steve’s idealism.  Jet knows nothing of America, nothing of a soldier’s credo.

Still, if Steve has doubts, watching Jet in action should bring some clarity.

In putting her own life at risk, she is learning what makes a hero.  In watching Mindbubble and Iron Nail dodge danger, she is learning what makes a coward and a villain.  Steve’s smile indicates that he gets it.  Mission Accomplished.

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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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