Wednesday, January 2, 2008

We, the Gunmen

This is an article I wrote last year, soon after Marvel Comics published Captain America's death.

“We murdered Bruce Wayne. It was us. Whoever pulled the trigger, that doesn’t matter. Whoever that killer was, he was just working for us. We couldn’t live with a giant in our midst. So we murdered him. All the rest of the heroes spared us the trouble. They went away… we couldn’t stand the sight of them. They made us feel small.”

-Jim Gordon

The Funeral of Bruce Wayne

Three shots. Three shots heard around the world. But all it took was one. One bullet was all it took to kill a true Patriot. One bullet was enough to kill Captain America.

If you haven’t heard it on the news between pop stars and name calling, Captain America was murdered this month. He was gunned down on the steps of the courthouse in which he was to be tried for his opposition to the Superhuman Registration Act, a law which required all costumed adventurers to turn in their true names to the United States government. The star-spangled hero who had fought against Nazis, Communists, and a bevy of the vilest villains ever known to American literature, including Doctor Doom and the Red Skull, was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

And as the dust settles, the question remains: why was he killed? On the surface, he was killed solely for his stance against the Superhuman Registration Act. Or so it would seem. But I believe there is more to it than this easy explanation. I believe Captain America was killed because we Americans hate our heroes, and it must stop.

Now, let me clarify. I am a DC fan. Some would even go so far as to say, “elitist”. That said, Marvel comics are not my strong suit. Yet I write this essay in the spirit of bi-partisanship, meaning to bring some solidarity and clarity. This is not just a commentary on comic books. This is more than a reflection on a literary character. This is an analysis of our national identity.

And our national identity demands we kill our heroes. And ol’ Cap may just have been the most American of all those heroes.

Captain America was conceived way back in 1941 as the symbol of American strength and fighting spirit. He was created to stand for the troops who were fighting and dying on the fields of France and the waters of the Pacific. He went on the protect the American way of life against the threat of Communism. No matter what the circumstance, he was America’s greatest defender. That is, until his kid sidekick got blown up (still one of the great triumphs in American comics) and he himself fell into Arctic waters, entering a state of suspended animation. He was then thawed out in our modern age to continue the fight for freedom. It was at this time he became the leader of the Avengers and the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. He was the pillar of might, and the world rested on his Union-blue shoulders.

Such was Cap’s allure. Such was his downfall.

Understand, Captain America believed in the America of the 1940’s. He believed in an America that had not seen a President assassinated, had not suffered through the Iran-Contra Affair, had not been betrayed by Watergate. He believed in an America that would never back down, never give up, and never trade what was right for what was easy.

Which is why, when he was told to report to the U.S. government, he refused. He thought this country was better than bullying its way into getting what it wanted. He thought this country was above bargaining with freedom, ransoming security at the cost of liberty. He thought he could show everyone what justice was, make them believe in themselves as much as he did.

This is why he fought a civil war against his best friend and compatriot of years, Tony Stark, better known as The Invincible Iron Man. This is why he tried to gather as many heroes as would stand with him. This is why he went toe to toe with the most powerful warriors on Earth. This is why he struggled.

But he realized the fighting was in vain. He realized this battle could not be decided by men in costumes, but rather by the Americans he wanted so desperately to protect. So he turned himself in to be tried. He thought he could champion his rights and the rights of every American before a jury of his peers and redeem the America gone awry. He had thought wrong, and he paid for it with his life.

There is, however, more to it. There is more to this than a man being gunned down for standing up for an ideal. This is the gunning down of the ideal.

Still looming above is the great axe emblazoned with that most dangerous of syllables, “why?”. The answer is: we begrudge those who save us. The answer is: we are small. We are hateful. We are killers and the Captain’s blood is on our hands.

This is not so outlandish a claim. We were angry with Cap for wanting to save us when we were too scared to save ourselves. We were mad that he wanted to work for what was best when we were simply too lazy. We were upset that he was better than us. So we killed him. And we didn’t do it by fighting him, though God knows we tried. We didn’t do it through intimidation or legislation, though God knows we wanted to. We did it through cowardice. In our fear, with our fear, we murdered him.

To us, Captain America was America. He was strong, fearless, resolute, and, above all, just. We knew that and we hated that. So we tried to fight him. We put on our red and gold armor, leaving humanity, and we did battle against our own principles bundled in our own flag. This is when we ran into a problem. We found we could not beat him. We were too weak, and he refused to die. Yet still we tried. We would not accept our failure and continued trying to rescue our complacency.

Then came the coupe de grace. To our chagrin, it was not a red, white and blue shield crushing crimson armor. Nor was it a laser beam incinerating a white star. No, it was a simple man wearing the very weight of Glory offering his wrists for bondage. We watched as he saved us once again by offering himself as a sacrifice. Boy, did that ever piss us off. Who did he think he was, stopping our suicide mission against ourselves? Where did he get off, ending the war by letting us decide? We would show him. We would show him but good.

So before he could deliver us from the penalty of our gluttony, we put three rounds into his chest. We looked through the scope, leveled off the weapon, put the crosshairs right above those broad stripes and right on that bright star. We then proceeded to pull the trigger. Three times we pulled the trigger. Three times we murdered Captain America. Thrice did we murder America.

After that, we surveyed our handiwork. With smug glee, we looked at the trouble we saved ourselves, the trouble of responsibility. We then took out our pocket knife and carved another notch into the butt of our well-worn rifle.

That’s right. This isn’t the first time. We always kill our heroes. We kill anyone who asks more of us than follow. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself.

Abraham Lincoln had brought together a United States that was anything but. He reunified a country torn asunder. He bore the brunt of helming the souls of innumerable Americans. He had, whether he meant to or not, brought freedom to countless more. He

looked back across five long years of animosity crying for him to administer wrath and he said, “No, you move.” Knowing citizens of this nation north and south had already long endured wrath, he asked only one thing of us. He asked us to forgive one another. We shot him instead.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy had given us something to be proud of. He had given us Camelot. He had given us a mantra with which to tear down the Wall. He had turned away the wrath of the entire Red world. In fact, he had stared down and through the Iron Curtain and said, “No, you move.” He had rescued us from others and ourselves. So, with the ear-splitting lion’s roar of “…but what you can do for your country” echoing in our ears and souring our tongues, we took the shot.

And now, we’ve killed Captain America. We’ve murdered another Patriot. We did it. We did it because we told him to give up his freedom and ours and he responded, “No, you move.”

We did these things because we were afraid and they were not. We did these things because we chose the easy way out and they would not. We did these things because we could be apathetic and they could not. We could not stand that they understood the value of life, so we took theirs.

Now all we are left with is a smoking gun and a choice. Do we continue to be the faceless mass begging for surrender without even so much as the declaration of war? Do we continue to demand the brave obey us because it is “for the best,” and crucify them if they do not? We cannot. We cannot.

We can and must, however, climb down from our rooftop and approach those courthouse steps. We must take responsibility, not only for the blood on our hands, but for our nation. We must take the flag down from the mount, we must pull the clothes off the body. We must mend the tears in the Colors. We must fix the bullet holes in the costume. This battle-worn banner on this heavy oaken staff is our cross to bear. This battle-damaged suit is our uniform to wear. We must carry it ourselves, none other can. We must wear it ourselves, none other can. The whole world is watching us, breath bated, waiting for us to do what we must.

When Peter Parker, former soldier of Iron Man, asked Captain America how he dealt with being not only the country’s hero, but the country itself, Spider-Man’s idol looked him straight in the eye and told him, “Being a patriot is standing up for what’s right. Even when the mob and the press bear down on you, even when the whole world has decided something wrong is something right, it is your job to plant yourself like a tree next to the river of truth, and tell them, ‘No, you move.’”

I ask you, when next the whole world has decided something wrong is something right, and you know it deep down in your heart to be wrong, and they tell you to move, what will you say to them? I, for one, am done moving for the masses. I, for one, am done fighting for what is wrong. I, for one, will no longer sacrifice my heroes. I, for one, will be a Patriot, and I will tell them, “No. You move.”

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