A week or so ago, the pop culture website Vulture published an article in which the writer, Abraham Riesman, posits Captain America is, in essence, a boring character and can only be made interesting if he’s portrayed as, for lack of a better word, a jerk.
If you want to Google “Vulture, Captain America, interesting” I’ll wait here while you do it, but that’s the gist of what he said.
This, to me, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes Steve Rogers, that’s Captain America’s real name for the uninitiated, so special.
It also may be a misunderstanding of something else. We’ll talk about that in a bit.
Just so we’re all on the same page, Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and made his comic book debut in 1941’s Captain America Comics No. 1 from Timely Comics, an ancestor of Marvel, placing him contemporary with World War II in both story origin and real world genesis.
In that first story, Steve Rogers, a 98-pound weakling, is a young artist who’s lost both his parents at a young age. When he sees what’s developing with the Nazis in Europe, Steve is determined to join the war effort, but the army rejects him due to his physical frailty. Steve’s resolve catches the attention of the leaders of Project: Rebirth, a government program to create a super soldier. Steve joins the program and becomes that super soldier, but the serum used to enhance him to the absolute limits of human physicality is lost when its creator is killed by a Nazi spy.
The only one of his kind, Steve and the government create the costumed identity Captain America and Steve becomes a soldier, and a symbol, alongside U.S. forces in Europe.
Captain America is a man out of time and perhaps you can see where the Vulture writer might think casting him as a blunt anachronism would be interesting, dare I say dark, edgy and cool.
That’s what we’re supposed to like these days, right? I guess that’s because we’re all so dark and edgy and cool ourselves.
That must be why.
Anyway, this assertion, wh-ich Vulture does make, is wholly off-base for two reasons. The first is, before he was Captain America, Captain America was Steve Rogers and it’s from Steve Rogers that Captain America draws his inner strength, his sense of justice, his morality and his belief in doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
That’s what Steve wanted before the Super Soldier Serum, when he almost certainly would have died trying to stop the biggest bully the modern world has ever known from advancing one step further.
That’s something Vulture, and I’d say most of the rest of us, forget. Steve Rogers is Captain America for one reason; he wanted to do it before he even knew such a thing was possible.
Think about that. While you do, you’re likely to realize the other reason the Vulture article is the opposite of correct.
Though there was never an actual costume or a Super Soldier Serum, there were real Steve Rogerses. Lots of them.
Most of the staff of your newspaper is just back from the New York Press Association conference. I mentioned it here a few weeks ago. What I didn’t mention then was the keynote speaker at that event was Morley Piper who, before he worked for the Boston Globe, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and watched so many of his fellow soldiers destroyed as he fought his way onto shore with no air support, most of the boats that delivered him gone and constant pounding from the German gun emplacements. Piper made his way inland after D-Day and helped liberate and secure devastated French villages along the way.
Piper volunteered for his service, hoping to gain a better position in the army than if he waited to be drafted.
Rye resident John Carey has worked at the United Nations. He’s also been a Democratic Rye City councilman and mayor, and a New York State Supreme Court judge. He is currently a columnist for the Rye City Review, still influencing policy in his community and sharing the lessons of the history he’s lived.
John Carey has lived, and is living, what I would call a singular, quintessentially American life; the kind of life Theodore Roosevelt described as strenuous in the best sense of that world.
But he wouldn’t have lived any of it if he, like his older brother, was killed in World War II. Carey joined the Navy Reserve soon after high school in 1942 and saw action, and typhoons, in the Pacific.
Fifty years later, in 1992, I was deathly afraid of what might happen when I was made to register with Selective Service.
Above, I said Carey would not have lived the life he has had he been killed in World War II. I think that’s wrong, actually. Rather, it was his willingness to volunteer for that war—the last, and perhaps only, one in which the forces of good had to rise to meet the dark advance of the forces of evil—that falls right in line with what it takes to do the things John Carey has done and be the things John Carey has been.
I asked Carey what drove him to join the war effort as a high school grad in 1942.
“I wanted to do my part in defeating our enemies,” he said.
No costume. No Super Soldier Serum. No shield.
And that’s why, at the end of the day, I know that Vulture piece was wrong. I might like to think otherwise, and now I’ll never know, but I don’t think I would have been Steve Rogers—or Morley Piper, or John Carey—lining up to be stacked against Hitler’s surging tide.
The things that make men like that men like that is, to me, one of the most interesting things in the world.
Reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas