I woke up this morning to find that Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, has died, shot by a snipers bullet.
These were the headlines I woke up to early this morning and it meant a lot more to me than just the death of some spandex wearing clown in the funny papers. Captain America has been a symbol for the American way since he went head-to-head with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi super-villain Red Skull in the '40s. And he always fought tirelessly for the ideals Americans held dear.
But in George Bush's America, things began to change. A few years ago I picked up a run of Captain America where he took a tour of the U.S. run prison facilities in Guantanamo Bay and was so disgusted by what he saw that one of the issues ended with him grabbing the commanding General and heaving him 300 yards into the ocean. In more recent issues leading up to his untimely death, Captain America had begun to fight against forces in the government, led by industrialist Tony Stark (read: Iron Man), who wanted to invade the privacy rights of superheroes and private citizens alike.
Comic book super-heroes like Captain America and his DC counterpart Superman have represented a time in American history where the government fought as tirelessly for the basic rights and freedoms that the American way espouses as hard as these pop-culture mirrors did. But in recent years America has lost its stomach for standing up for these things. From torturing prisoners and killing civilians to warrantless wiretaps and invasion of privacy rights, the real American government led by the Bush Administration, has abandoned the ideals America traditionally represents.
Conservative pundits made a big to-do over Perry White's omission from the phrase "Truth, Justice and the American Way" in last year's Superman Returns. "Superman's turned his back on the American way is what the filmmakers were saying," they all seemed to say, but in the case of of Superman (and now Captain America) the American way has turned it's back on them.
Over the years, comic-books have offered a glimpse of our world through a prism but in recent years analysts have deemed them irrelevant, no longer on the cusp of popular culture and on the wane. As the co-scripter of a comic-book myself (granted, it lacks the socially redeeming values politically charged books like Superman and Captain America can have) it's both refreshing and encouraging to see the media take notice when the comics industry manages to make a statement that might send a message that the America we're living in is a very different, scary place.