Recently Vulture writer Abraham Riesman wrote a piece outlining why Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, would be more interesting if he was, excuse the language, a prick. He later goes on to wax poetically about how Ultimate Captain America is a much more interesting version of the star spangled hero, compared to the dry good guy of Marvel’s main 616 comic universe.
As if we don’t have enough angst ridden anti-heroes on the loose in our media.
Apparently the only way for a character to be interesting is if they are as masculine and grouchy as possible. A character who’s core is goodness and morality? What kind of world is this?
This response however, isn’t anything new, nor is it surprising. There has been a long time backlash from certain sectors of critics and fans when it comes to morally good characters. As has there frequently been a troubling belief that characters such as Steve Rogers, or Superman, simply aren’t interesting because they’re perfect.
Somehow goodness and morality are now signs of perfection. Who knew?
What has become the norm is the belief that heroes like Batman—who’s a reclusive, isolated, rich man who’s greatest villains are mainly people with an array of mental health issues—are what heroes should be.
It begs the question, if being a jerk is what makes a character interesting then what of Marvel’s other recent heroes? Are they also not good people? Are they also not interesting? Are they also not successful?
Tony Stark’s story is about a privileged man who learns that through his own willful ignorance people have been getting hurt, killed even. The point of Tony’s story isn’t that he’s a big man with a lot of guns, who can build an armored kill suit in a cave, but about a man who saw what his power was being used for, and decided to become a better person because of it. Tony takes responsibility for his mistakes, and works to use his power for the benefit of the people. Is Tony still a bit of a jerk by the end of Iron Man 3? Yeah, but the point is that he tries to not only be a good person, but a better one.
Thor’s story begins with him as an arrogant, war hungry brute who was ill fit for the throne of Asgard. He is banished from his home precisely because he is a, for lack of a better word, prick. An arrogant, violent child who had a kill first ask questions later attitude. Through his journey he learns how to be humble, and realize power is something you must be worthy of. Does Thor know everything about being a great king by the end of Thor: The Dark World? He knew enough, but instead of taking the throne he chooses to seek out a path as a good man, rather than a great king.
Marvel’s entire tagline for their main universe is, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Even if Marvel doesn’t own Spider-man, those ideals still clearly exist in their movie universe.
So is it any wonder they choose a Captain America that embodies those ideals? Over Ultimate Captain America who is a flat out jerk?
Captain America has often been praised by other Marvel characters as the best of the Avengers. Captain America is one of the few who is deemed worthy enough to lift Mjolnir, Thor’s fabled hammer. Captain America is one of the with access to Iron Man’s armory, and one of the very few of which Black Panther entrusts Wakanda’s technology too. One thing has always been a constant in Marvel comics when it comes to Captain America and that is that the other heroes trust and respect him. Captain America is a figure that inspires other heroes, to be better. Captain America creates a standard for heroes to live up to. He portrays an ideal of what heroes could and should be.
Captain America has never been a push-over, he’s always been the guy to say, “no, you move” when faced with corruption. Whether that corruption is in the form of a former mad Nazi scientist, or from one of his closest friends. Captain America has always been the guy who never backs down when fighting for what’s right.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some people find Captain America either boring, unrealistic, to perfect, or some combination of all of the above. How can such a person with such strong moral fiber exist?
It’s much easier to believe in the vengeance of Batman, or the revenge of Frank Castle (aka the Punisher), than it is to believe in the goodness that is Captain America.
Captain America appears perfect in comparison to what we see everyday, and how we view ourselves. There’s no way a guy from the 40’s wouldn’t at least be a little bigoted when we’re still battling bigotry in today’s much more modern world right? There’s no way Captain America, who was a little guy for so long, wouldn’t seek a little schadenfreude on his bullies now that he could knock them down right? After all, isn’t that what most of us would do?
The difference between characters like Captain America and Batman is their main motivation, and what they are designed to do for their targeted audiences.
Batman’s main motivation for becoming a superhero was vengeance. Without the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne would have lived a very normal, privileged life.
Captain America’s main motivation for becoming a superhero was that he wanted to help people. Even without a world war to fight, even without the title of Captain America, Steve Rogers would have found some other way to continue helping and fighting for people. Even if he was still just a poor art student.
Batman and Captain America are on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to superheroes. They mean very different things when it comes to their target audiences.
Batman is the ultimate power fantasy. He’s one of the richest men in DC comics by day, owner of the biggest corporation in Gotham City, and all around ladies man. By night he’s a ruthless vigilante with a band of sidekicks willing to die for him, an intelligence network that would make the FBI jealous, and the respect of the most powerful beings on Earth, and a head spot on the Justice League. Did we mention that he’s also just a normal, no superpowered guy to boot?
Captain America on the other hand, is an inspirational fantasy. Born as a scrawny, poor kid in Brooklyn New York, with an alcoholic father, and with more medical conditions than you could shake a stick at. Steve Rogers was low on the totem pole in comparison to one Bruce Wayne.
Becoming Captain America doesn’t really change anything about Steve Rogers. There’s no Clark Kent vs Superman or Bruce Wayne vs Batman debate when it comes to Captain America. One is just an official title, the other is just his real name, but they are one in the same. Always have been even before Steve Rogers was given the serum that made him into Captain America.
Captain America is suppose to inspire, he’s suppose to showcase an ideal of what people can be, and what heroes should be. Everyone wants to be Batman, but everyone should be Captain America.
Perhaps Riesman and other like minded folk just enjoy a little darkness and grit with their brand of superheroes. That’s more than fine, but lets not pretend that adding the unwholesome spice of being a dick makes a character automatically compelling. While we may wish we could do the things Wolverine does, or live the life of Bruce Wayne, they aren’t the end all be all of superheroes.
There’s more to being a superhero than simply killing people, looking cool, and being dark. Sometimes superheroes can be more and still manage to be realistic. Captain America works as that more ideal image. He’s not suppose to be a jerk, that isn’t what his character is suppose to be about, nor his purpose. Captain America doesn’t need to be a prick to be interesting. He’s already interesting because he’s a man constantly at battle with the world around him. While Tony Stark, and Thor have to work to become better men, Captain America, Steve Rogers, is already that better man. Captain America’s journey is about fighting what the world wants him to be. Which is the type of person Riesman and company are asking him to become.