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SHIELD OF FREEDOM Part 1: The Mourning of Captain America

by  in Comic News Comment
SHIELD OF FREEDOM Part 1: The Mourning of Captain America
“Captain America” #34 on sale this week

It’s been nearly one year since Steve Rogers was gunned down on the courthouse steps in the pages of the top-selling “Captain America” #25. In that time, the Marvel Universe has become a darker place with alien conspiracies and ideological schisms tearing the bonds between heroes apart. But that all could change this week in “Captain America” #34, as James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes abandons the identity of the Winter Soldier and picks up the shield of his former partner Steve Rogers to become the new Sentinel of Liberty.

In anticipation of Captain America’s return, CBR News launches today SHIELD OF FREEDOM, a weeklong feature examining the Shield Slinger and his unique role in the Marvel U. In Part One, we speak with “Captain America” editor Tom Brevoort about the legacy of Captain America, how the Marvel Universe mourned the passing of the legendary hero, and how the world may welcome his new incarnation. 

While Steve Rogers’s death was especially painful and shocking to fans and fictional characters alike, the majority of the Marvel U has been able to accept it and is trying to move on. “I’m sure that there are some fringe elements who may believe that Cap is still alive, and who may have all sorts of Byzantine theories about his death, in the manner of JFK theorists or Area 51 theorists, but most people are pretty convinced that Cap is really and truly dead,” Tom Brevoort told CBR News. “They saw the shots fired on live television (and the footage of the shooting has probably rerun ad infinitum on the news channels and the internet ever since), and they saw the funeral.”

Page from “Captain America” #34

Captain America represented the best of the American spirit, and the entire country mourned his death. But the USA wasn’t the only nation to grieve for the hero. “I would think that there’d be a greater amount of mourning perhaps in those nations who were part of the Allies during World War II,” Brevoort said. “To France, Captain America was part of the liberation from the tyranny of Nazi control, so they have a special place for him in their hearts. And certain heads of state such as T’Challa and Namor who’ve had a close personal relationship with Cap would probably feel his passing more impactfully.”

Steve Rogers’s murder has indeed made a profound impact on Namor, and because of that the surface dwelling world might be in grave danger. “I think Cap’s death severs an important and long-lasting connection between Namor and the surface world,” Brevoort said. “Cap was one of the very few surface-dwellers that Namor trusted and respected, and his absence probably brings the Atlanteans and the surface world one more nuclear-clock tick closer to war.”

Even Wolverine respected the deceased Captain America (Page from “Wolverine: Origins” #20)

Atlantis’ Avenging Son wasn’t the only character experiencing feelings of deep sadness and anger; the Punisher and Wolverine, two of the Marvel U’s grimmest icons, showed a perhaps surprising degree of grief over Captain America’s untimely passing. “In different ways, Cap was an idea to which both of these other heroes aspired to, and failed to achieve,” explained Brevoort. “To the Punisher, Cap is a kindred spirit, a fellow soldier, but one who wasn’t tainted by his experiences during wartime. Cap represents the idea that it’s possible to put the war behind you and live an honorable life–Frank himself can’t put aside his personal crusade, but there’s a part of him that wishes he could.

“And Wolverine respects Cap as a fighter just as formidable as himself, but without the stain of his dark past and without the reckless killer instinct that causes him to go berserk from time to time. He may have occasionally been openly derisive of Cap as a boy scout or the like, but inwardly Logan knows that when the chips are down, Captain America will get the job done–and do so without compromising himself. And the fact that a person like that can exist is an appealing thought.”

John Cassaday art from “Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America – Iron Man”

Feelings towards the fallen Sentinel of Liberty were more complex among many of Marvel’s other remaining mutants. “Like in any other group, there were certainly mutants for whom Cap was a beloved figure,” Brevoort stated. “But there were probably others for whom he was a symbol of a nation in which they were treated as second class citizens because of a quirk of their biology.”

While Captain America’s murder sent the heroes of the Marvel U into mourning, it was a cause for celebration among many of its villains, particularly terrorists. “To groups such as A.I.M. or Hydra, Captain America was more of an obstacle than a deterrent,” said Brevoort. “So while they might have had to modify their plans, or proceed more slowly or more cautiously when he was around and active, they were still moving ahead with their particular activities. So Cap’s absence may have allowed them to proceed more rapidly and perhaps even a bit more recklessly. If he were to suddenly return, they might be caught with their pants down a little bit, having made no preparations for him in whatever scheming they may have done.”

John Cassaday art from “Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America – Iron Man”

To the American People, losing Captain America was like losing part of their national identity. In books like “Iron Man” and “Avengers: The Initiative,” readers have seen certain governmental factions launch morally murky schemes in a desperate bid to create a new symbol for the People. Explained Brevoort, “I do think there was a specific void created by the demise of Captain America, and that’s a void in the American psyche that people would like to fill. Cap is as much an idea and an ideal than just a superhero, and in the turmoil surrounding the close of the superhuman Civil War and the move into a world where superhuman registration is the law, there are some deep and ragged emotional scars that need healing, and the presence of a symbol like Captain America would be helpful in mending some of this psychological damage.”

It’s still unclear how Captain America’s passing affected the various interstellar cultures and empires of the MU. “His death would have been observed and duly recorded by the Watcher,” Brevoort said. “And the Skrulls who have been infiltrating Earth would be aware of it, and it would factor into their plans as well.”

John Cassaday art from “Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America – Iron Man”

In the wake of Captain America’s passing, heroes like Iron Man struggled over what to do with the Sentinel of Liberty’s legacy. After a disastrous attempt to turn Clint Barton into a new Captain America, Tony Stark came to agree with a number of his fellow heroes; Steve Rogers’s shoes were too big to fill and the legacy of Captain America appeared finished. But Steve Rogers wasn’t going to let his friends bury his alter ego along with him. A set of instructions were delivered to Tony Stark indicating Rogers’s belief that the world needed Captain America and someone new should assume the mantle upon his death. Tony Stark knew there was only one man who could wield his fallen friend’s shield, Steve Rogers’s former partner and sidekick Bucky Barnes.

Some of his fellow costumed heroes may be skeptical given the circumstances of Barnes’ return, and as readers have seen, Barnes has redesigned the Captain America costume and now uses more tools than just a shield to fight crime. A gun is holstered on the belt of the new Captain America, which is sure to impact the way some heroes and citizens look at the latest incarnation of the Sentinel of Liberty.

“Captain America” #34 variant by Alex Ross

“I think this would all depend on the individual member of the public, and who it was filling the uniform,” Brevoort stated. “I think each American has his or her own viewpoint on what the essential qualities of Captain America were–typically in line with what their own personal interpretation of America and what it stands for might be. Because Cap defined the role, he left big boots to fill. And no matter who might try to carry on with that mantle, there’d probably be people out there both in support or condemnation of them.”

As for Captain America’s new accoutrements, Brevoort said, “I think it all depends on what the New Cap uses the gun for. There are dozens of other heroes who use firearms of one sort or another, and the heroic community at large doesn’t really have any problem with it. On the other hand, some may find the symbology of Captain America tainted by somebody who’d take on the mantle and employ a firearm. Others might actively applaud the idea, since Cap is a soldier.”

Don’t “At Ease” yet, soldiers!  SHIELD OF FREEDOM continues tomorrow as CBR News talks with Brian Michael Bendis about Captain America and his place in the Avengers.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Avengers forum.

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