If you've been watching the news lately, in between stories about wars and presidential hopefuls, you might have seen a story about exactly how dumb comic books are.
Marvel Comics, the company that owns Spider-Man, the Hulk and the X-Men, has garnered some media attention recently by killing off Captain America, one of their most famous characters.
Captain America was created in the 1940s by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. His early comic appearances featured him fighting Nazis and punching Hitler in the face a lot. After World War II, he disappeared for a while, only to later be dug up in the '60s by comic book huckster extraordinaire, Stan Lee.
Captain America, and the rest of Marvel's characters, have been involved in a nearly yearlong storyline titled "Civil War." In this literary masterpiece, the United States government has grown fearful of all the superheroes running around like masked vigilantes and decides to enact a superhero registration act that would require anybody with superpowers to reveal their secret identity and go to work for the government.
It's OK. Go ahead and roll your eyes.
The creation of this act causes a rift between all the superheroes. Some are in favor and some aren't, so they decide to fight about it - hence the name, "Civil War." Captain America is portrayed as being strongly against the registration act and becomes the leader of the anti-registration forces. In the end, the anti-registration side loses and Captain America is arrested for acting in defiance of the act. As he's being transported to his arraignment by his government captors, he's shot by a sniper.
Just typing it all out makes me cringe.
This particular piece of comic book melodrama is getting news coverage for a couple of reasons. First off, a publishing company killing off one of their most famous trademarks is supposedly newsworthy. As any jaded, cynical comic fan can tell you, though, superhero deaths are never permanent. Especially when said super hero has recently been optioned for a major motion picture, as Cap has. Trust me, he'll be back.
The other reason why it's supposedly newsworthy is because of the possible metaphor being created here. Pundits everywhere are asking if the death of Captain America, a character created to represent the fighting spirit of our country, is some sort of commentary on the current state of United States itself.
Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada told CNN, "There is a lot to be read in there. But I'm not one who is going to tell people, this is what you should read into it, because I could look into it and read several different types of messages,"
Of course, a little earlier in the same article, Marvel president Dan Buckley said the recent storylines have been an intentional allegory to current events like the creation of the Patriot Act, 9/11, and the war on terror - so, you know, take that for what it's worth.
I, for one, could care less about Cap's death or what it's meant to represent. It's a publicity stunt designed to sell comics, disguised as pretty hackneyed metaphor.
What I hate is that this is what's become of Marvel Comics.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think there's any subject matter that shouldn't be dealt with in comics. Comic books are probably the most versatile medium that's ever been created (yeah, I know that's a bold statement, but comic are words and pictures, unlimited by budget constraints or special effects capabilities - if you can imagine it, you can get it on a comic book page).
The issue here isn't comics as a medium, it's the characters involved. If you wanna write an allegory for how screwed up our country is at the moment, don't use Captain America.
Sure, he and the rest of the Marvel characters seem ripe for the picking. In the real world, superheroes would probably be considered weapons of mass destruction and would probably have to be regulated by the government. But in the real world, Winnie the Pooh probably would have eaten Christopher Robin, and Charlie Brown would probably be on anti-depressants.
Captain America, Spider-Man and the Hulk are kids characters. They exist in a world where evil scientists create death rays and giant monsters live under the streets of major cities. That's the context they work in. Tying them into real world events may pique the interest of adults and the news media, creating a momentary sales boost, but it ignores the core of the characters and the audience they were created for.
I don't expect many people to join me in my nerd rage. It's hard for most people to care about what's going in the world of tights and capes. I grew up loving these characters, though, and I like the idea of them being around in their original form one day for my kids to love. I just can't get excited about the idea of little Patrick Jr. one day opening up a Marvel comic and thrilling to the adventures of Captain America testifying before a Senate committee hearing.
Maybe that's just me, though.
Patrick Drury can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com. Patrick recently published his first book, "PatchWorks Volume One," a collection of his columns. To purchase the book, visit http://www.cafepress.com/patchworks.54813581