Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Home of the brave

There was tonnes of media attention for the X-Men: First Class, Thor and Green Lantern movies in my part of the world in the weeks leading up to their releases here, but I haven’t seen one single advertisement, trailer or anything for the new Captain America movie yet.

There is a thoroughly wearisome and fairly hypocritical disdain for American culture in New Zealand, with people sneering at yanks while lining up for the latest slice of Transformers bullshit. It’s nothing that ever rises above the level of dull snark, but it can be found throughout the country.

It’s easy to see why, America is the biggest nation on the planet, and there have been inevitable abuses of that power – those who pushed American Imperialism in the latter half of the 20th Century have a lot to answer for.

But America also produces a lot of the best comics, movies, fiction, technology and radical thinking on the planet. Back in the eighties, Alan Moore once wrote a terrific pro-American essay that pointed out that yes, the CIA was up to dodgy stuff in the jungles of Central America, but this was also the country that produced people like Louis Armstrong and Stanley Kubrick and Jack Kirby, and to write off all American culture as crass and loud was extremely misguided. To blame all Americans for the actions of a powerful elite is ridiculous.

So yeah, Captain America might be a walking symbol of absolute nationalism that might seem crass to many peoples of the world, but I still think he kicks arse.

And, unexpectedly, many of the things I like about Cap have shown up in the latest trailer. It’s arguable that Captain America is just about the only super-hero who works in a World War II story without doing some kind of disservice to the people who fought in it, because he isn’t really incredibly powerful – he’s just slightly stronger and faster than everybody else – and because his main superpowers are an ability to lead men into combat and good ol’ guts.

Cap has got the guts to take down anybody. It was there on his very first cover, punching out Adolf, and it’s there in the new Captain America movie when creepy little Steve Rogers dives on a grenade or stands up to a bigger bully. Cap doesn’t hesitate to do the right thing, and he’s the true moral centre of the Marvel Universe. It all turned to shit for the Marvel superheroes in the past few years, when the Green goddamn Goblin took over anything, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it would not have happened on Steve Roger’s watch.

(It’s also a possible explanation for the wholesale slaughter of Skrull soldiers during Secret Invasion, which still bothers me. There was just something a bit wrong about super-heroes who had taken vows to never take a life forgetting all about them ‘cos these guys have green skin. Captain America knows there will be casualties in combat, but not if they can be avoided.)

The other terrific thing about Captain America comics – from Kirby to Gruenwald to Brubaker - is that they often confront the whole idea of Captain America head-on. Steve buckles under the pressure and wonders if he can carry the weight of that shield all the time, and then he goes and stops the uber-nazis from winning World War Three with a black market cosmic cube, and he’s back on track. The comic has also been riddled with metaphor and meaning since its very beginning, tackling all of America’s biggest issues with blunt analogies.

So lying politicians literally turn into snakes, the Falcon comes along to point out that, brother, racism ain’t cool, and the President is the leader of a vast and shadowy cabal of self interest and blows his own head off. (Political scandals always ended slightly more dramatically in the comics…..)

And at the heart of it all, there is Captain America, dealing with the changes and beating the crap out of evil. He’s good at that.

As a country, America still needs to sort out a lot of the shit it has messed up over the decades, but it’s getting there. And that doesn’t mean I can’t thrill to the idea of Captain America punching a nazi in the face, or leaping through the air, or charging down the top of a train travelling at full speed, or throwing that shield for all it’s worth, whether it’s in comics or movies. He's got the guts to do the right thing, and that transends all borders.

No comments: