Capital Thoughts:

All-New Captain America #6 and some contemplations on Age of Ultron

Hydra’s new plan for world domination—safe sex!  Brilliant!  Here’s how it’s supposed to work:  Hydra has created a new virus that make couples impotent.  Only Hydra agents will get the antidote, which means that in a scant 50 years only Hydra agents and their offspring will walk the earth!  Cue the maniacal laughter.  Now seriously, as far as “end-of-world” scenarios go, this one is pretty anti-climactic.  Impotence might be a real downer, but sterility cannot be equated with murder. You can’t kill the unconceived.

That Hydra is thinking long-term is not unusual.  As we learned in the Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie, Hydra isn’t afraid to take its time to achieve its objectives.  But giving the world safe sex isn’t exactly the worse thing that can befall the planet. Given population and pollution, a generation of negative growth is probably the only way to stave off further ecological damage.  Heck, Hydra might be doing us a favor!

And this sterility isn’t even about any of that “master race” guff the Nazis are always going on about.  Baron Blood, who carries the virus, is anxious to infect everyone—white, black, German and Jew.  So far as he is concerned, humans are hamburgers, and he’s hungry.

The plotline not only lacks innate tension, it’s also irrational.  Baron Blood keeps saying that a sterile humanity will lead to an endless supply of human meat. Why?  If humans cannot propagate, then that should lead to a drop in the food supply, not an increase. And why would sterile humans be any more or less tasty than their potent counterparts?

Still more peculiar:  At the moment Blood spits the virus into Sam’s mouth, rendering him sterile, we are told that Sam is finally, fully, and truly Captain America.

We’ve been through much of this before.  If Sam had a family, he would likely put their needs before those of mere strangers.  That’s the standard Marvel model:  It’s why Peter can’t be with Mary Jane; why the Hulk can’t be with the Black Widow, etc. But the rule doesn’t apply to Steve. In the very same issue that Sam is made impotent, we learn that Steve’s son is alive and kicking.  Even when Ian is shish-kabobbed by Zemo, Steve remains convinced that his boy is alive.  Steve’s confidence here, while well-founded—after all, these heroes seem to die and be reborn on a monthly basis!—still smacks of a double standard.  Steve is allowed to propagate; Sam, even if he wants to be more like Steve, cannot.

What’s Hydra’s next scheme?  Stopping kids from drinking sugary sodas?  Lowering the fat content in French fries?  Increasing the funding to PBS?  Oh, the horror!

Maybe there is a serious point to be made here about curbing the birthrates of minorities or America’s grim history of sterilizing Indian families, etc., but as pure story this one is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  For the first time in a long time, Cap is boring me.

At least this Cap is.  Because Marvel no longer seems interested in continuity of any sort, there is still the other Cap to discuss.  So just how is Steve Rogers doing in the big-screen, billion-dollar-plus Age of Ultron?

In sum, I thought the film was ugly and loud, the characters clumsy and violently predictable, except for Cap, who remains the ethical center of the mighty Marvel U.  That is not to say that ethics is at the center of the movie.  It might be more accurate to say that ethics and, still more generally, ideals, are sidelined by Tony’s exploding toys.   Essentially the movie asks, “Is ideology dead?” And, as fleeing Eastern Europeans run past falling statues of Karl Marx, the answer seems to be, yes, dead as a door nail. Ultron here is Marx, promising to usher in utopia, but his new world order is just plain fascism. So what is the alternative? Cap acknowledges that Stark Enterprises is to blame for war atrocities, but that is soon forgotten as we retreat from the war zone in favor of Hawkeye’s charming farm house, peopled by his perfect wife and perfect kids. (Oddly, kids are here seen as a plus, while in Marvel comics, they are verboten.)

That few if any can afford Hawkeye’s bucolic life (much less his health insurance plan!) is forgotten amid all the talk of the heroes having to “do their jobs”—ie. work hard with the expectation of a comfortable retirement. Widow and Banner contemplate just such a sequestration, so does Cap, but in the end there is nowhere to go, nothing to do except more of the same: work, war, sacrifice, and for what? To keep things pretty much as they are.  Any first year poli-sci student knows that this is both unacceptable and a purely capitalist fantasy.

So what are we left with? A nostalgic view of the “American Dream” or the fantasy of killing everyone so that the tin men can rule? Not much of a choice, unless you prefer machines to men.  Then again, maybe the choice has already been made for us: factories without human workers. We are already there!

The pre-film promos of Avengers razors, Avengers cars and motorcycles underline the message: A good world is one filled with American goods. No wonder Cap distrusts everyone. He signed up to protect freedom but, older and wiser, he now suspects that American consumerism and the military industrial complex are far more dangerous than Hydra or space aliens.

See you in 30.

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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. Jeffrey:

    But giving the world safe sex isn’t exactly the worse thing that can befall the planet.

    I think you’re looking at this wrong. For one thing, it’s not the planet but humanity that is at stake.
    For another, Hydra’s attempts to impose their will over humanity, robbing the vast majority of people on the planet of their right to self-determination-even for this one case-should be viewed as abhorrent. And it is in my book. One of the most basic of rights guaranteed all humans by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to self-determination. That means the right to make decisions about when or if one chooses to have offspring.

  2. Hi Tony, You’re probably right here; certainly about the planet. As George Carlin used to say, the planet will be fine; it’s us who are in trouble. But, umm, won’t the planet be better off without us destroying forests, spilling oil and just generally ruining stuff? As for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc., , safe sex isn’t exactly the same as forced labour camps and human genocide. I have the feeling that if today’s teens and 20-somethings were told that they could have sex without the fear of insemination, most would rejoice!

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