All day, last week, I was kicking myself for my very important omission. Yes, I have disappointed my fan (Hi Mom!) by leaving out of my December preview-o-rama with the most important book to hit the shelves since Moses’s Ultimate Ten Commandments:
Kind of looks biblical, doesn’t it? Well, it is! Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield One-Shot #1 isn’t just a mouthful of an awkward rhyme to get your mouth around, it’s titanic in scope and importance. It means Captain America: Reborn will shock no one with its conclusion but will leave two men to wear our star-spangled tights and, unless they start switching off on Tuesdays, only one will be raising that shield come 2010.
And in a moment of horrific honesty, I will tell you I don’t want to see Steve Rogers back.
Wow, you clicked to read more! My terrible blasphemy of preferring Bucky Barnes as the new Captain America has either intrigued you enough to read on or repulsed you enough to want to leave me an angry comment right now. Either way, here me out: From Brubaker’s start, we have been groomed as a reader to accept Bucky’s new role. Like a frog in a frying pan, the heat’s been turned up so slowly that the big transition didn’t come as shocking or as jarring as it should have been for readers and we’ve been cooking slowly in the meaty juices of the comic’s constancy. Even calling him ‘Bucky’ feels so shallow; the man who originated as Cap’s plucky sidekick has grown into his own man with his own views and struggles and motivations. All three of those come from a conflict from a bygone era, a man not out of time but a man grown out of time like an anachronistic pair of short shorts.
We think back on WWII as America’s finest hour, our Greatest Generation. People write books about it that aren’t drawn by Steve Epting, vets wax rhapsodical over what they were there to see and the History Channel tunes you in nearly 24 hours a day. It was a defining moment for our country, declaring us a global superpower and bequeathing us some solid decades of prosperity and victory. This is why Steve Rogers has been the quintessential Cap for so many decades; he was birthed from our finest hour and was solid gold as a superhero and a man to represent our country in the truest form of patriotism. No rhetoric, no fast talk, just a man who fought hard against real world evils and won.
With the new century, America is different, WWII remembered from tales of grandparents and the threat of nuclear war closer to the forefront of our memories. Yes, the Greatest Generation did their part but what followed after from their children’s lives was Cold Wars, senseless wars and a lot fear and mistrust of our own government. This why Bucky has been a fantastic symbol of the new era; someone taken from a seedier element of that great heroic war, plucked from the time of prosperity and used against us in secret as the Winter Soldier. Now deprogrammed, gifted his old life back to him by his mentor, he fights in that mentor’s honor with the lingering baggage of what when wrong and is forced to do right for himself and for the symbol. He doesn’t become Captain America so much as represent him. Those big red bucket boots are hard to fill and James does Cap honor in his own way. We don’t hand off a lot of heroic handles to new and different people, especially ones with such a legacy behind them, but it’s as if James knows this and has chosen a new costume and a new way of portraying our country’s hero as no one could become Steve Rogers but Steve Rogers.
And so he will be reborn. Retreating back into our history isn’t exactly the Marvel Way, but why deny ourselves the best stories of our time? I know over at the Distinguished Competition, they are re-rolling a lot of character’s previously dead status by returning the Silver Age to the present day books. Marvel dares to retract a couple decades worth of history for ol’ Web-Head and it’s Mutiny in the streets! And here we have a shocking, world-wide event that regular Joes who enter an average comic shop (say, mine for instance) and they will point at a rack of Cap trades and ask, “Isn’t he dead?” Steve Rogers’ death is legendary and we accept this back with open arms.
Brass tacks say there’s going to be a Cap movie on the horizon. Sorry, James Buchanan Barnes does not fit on a lunch box. The widest burst of popular culture knows Steve Rogers’ story and it will cross generations to see that man rise to movie stature. While everybody knows that Cap is dead, no one really bothered with what came next because the Average Joe is kind of stupid and the comic reader is voracious for what comes next. I believe that, while James’ story can’t just end, not now, not when he could truly be as great as his predecessor, it has to end. Or at least change because Steve Rogers is a status quo the Marvel Universe really needs right now.
Everyone knows when Norman Osborn is in charge, it isn’t going to stay that way. If you believe Batman is really dead, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Culturally speaking, we don’t like our heroes to lose. The current villainy run rampant would not fly if Steve was under that cowl and by force of presence alone, a new ‘classic’ Avengers of Tony, Cap and Thor showing up to obliterate this Cabal nonsense would bring about not just a brand new day but a better day that the House of Ideas has needed for a long time.
Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall but one thing remains the same. Steve Rogers will return because he is the Stretch Armstrong of Marvel U’s national heroes. (And shut up, Britain, You have Captain Britain and Union Jack so get back to me when you sort that out.) Bucky is new and, just like this century he represents, isn’t as defined just yet. If Marvel is going to stand it’s flag on the new shores of film development, it’s going to be with the standard we all know and treasure. Steve Rogers will rise again.
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