Two Captain Americas and the Battle for Profit by Design

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Two Captain Americas and the Battle for Profit by Design

Last week, in conjunction with the ABC one-hour special “Marvel’s Captain America: 75 Heroic Years,” Marvel Comics announced that a new Captain America monthly comic book would premiere in April.

“Captain America: Steve Rogers” will show the new adventures of the original Captain, who has been in a form of character limbo within the Marvel Universe since he passed on the costume, name, and shield to his friend and ally Sam Wilson.

Sam Wilson has been Captain America for over a year now, through two monthly comic book series, “All-New Captain America” and the present title “Captain America: Sam Wilson.”

It’s no surprise to anyone watching Marvel Comics’ publishing strategy for the last seven years that a new series with Steve Rogers as Captain America would arrive this year, especially with the “Captain America: Civil War” film hitting theaters May 6. The film, anniversary, and new comic book are perfectly aligned to reestablish the Captain America with which many people identify.

RELATED: Spencer Explains Steve Rogers’ “Captain America” Return, Sam Wilson’s Status

The surprise may be the continuation of the “Captain America: Sam Wilson” series. Speculation about what would happen with Sam began as soon as he was made the new Captain America, because everyone was sure it wouldn’t last long. They were certain Sam would get kicked to the curb and thrown back into his Falcon identity without a boot to the butt and not even a kiss goodbye.

Marvel Comics, to their credit, dodged the bullet heading to their face at slo-mo speed by having their cake and eating it, too. A Caucasian Captain America and a Black Captain America serves to calm the audiences for both titles, and allows Marvel to be “the good guy.”

For how long, who knows?

This tactic of sharing a superhero name in the same publishing time frame between characters from different ethnic backgrounds worked successfully with the Spider-Man franchise. Marvel will be able to boast both “Amazing Spider-Man” with the original Spider-Man Peter Parker, and “Spider-Man” with the newest and beloved Spider-Man Miles Morales.

When I read the news about Marvel’s move, I had to chuckle. It’s a master stroke. It worked once before, and maybe it’ll work again. (I’m looking at you, Bruce Banner and Amadeus Cho.)

The news also reminded me about a cold December night in New York City’s Times Square. In front of the H&M with the blinding lights stood a Latina wearing a Captain America costume.

In seeing that image, the fusion of the gender flip, the ethnic background of the second largest community of people in America, and the iconography of one of the oldest heroes to wear the nation’s flag, I was compelled to get a picture.

That picture spoke the inescapable truth to me.

“Captain America” is bigger than any one character, and knowing that, two Captains won’t satisfy me.

There are certainly good intentions, but the idea of Captain America can encapsulate so much, in these times when any illusions of what America stands for are dispelled by local and national news, by the insights of authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates (who will write Marvel’s upcoming “Black Panther” series), by pundits and Presidential candidates promoting ideas which are in direct opposition to what America supposedly represents.

Imagine if “Captain America” was a national organization, a foundation using the intellectual property to empower a collection of people from different genders and backgrounds to wear the costume, carry the shield, and share the hero name. A group of Captain Americas, to be able to serve as the ideal for residents from different communities.

Basically, it would be similar to the former DC Comics title “Batman Incorporated” in which Bruce Wayne used his fortune to create a legion of Batmen all over the world.

The most significant difference is that “Captain America” would represent a nation and not an individual. It would not have the hubris of a Batman Incorporated. There would be different means of funding and a different kind of mission statement. Such an organization would look like The American Dream, existing to oppose the American Reality. Such a group of people would make for a more inclusive idea of what “Captain America” is.

No two men could be Captain America, separate or unified, and carry the burden our present times and conditions would place upon their shoulders. What Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson can do, though, is get more of your money.

With Marvel Comics frequently under fire for publishing and marketing strategies that test the limits of fan enjoyment and support, their initiatives to create a new spectrum of books for a wider audience must remain legitimate. It must remain authentic.

Putting Sam Wilson out to pasture and taking the American flag from him would not have served their needs or purposes at all. The mantle of Captain America has been worn by many men for decades, so the idea of two men serving as the hero at the same time is not a revolutionary idea.

It may be the idea that Marvel needs right now, to match our national state of affairs, to act as the marketable olive branch, to comfort, to pacify, to keep your faith, to hold onto your support. Good intentions backed by marketable strategy to combat criticism and sales attrition.

The inevitable day, when there will be only one Captain America, has been held at bay for another period of time, to be determined. Insert the sound of applause for a job well done.

Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by The New York Times, CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, The School of Visual Arts, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.

His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.