Non-Profit Hero for Hire (Trademark!)
Sorry there was no RPG Friday last week. My mind is pretty focused on this Captain America thing and the potential implications of it. Comics have have had, currently have, and will have a massive impact on society. They have influenced history for well over 70 years. Look at Beetle Bailey, Bloom Country and Spiderman/Teen Titans (addressing drug issues in the 70s). Or, hell . . . Watchmen!
Saying that comics influence society kind of goes without saying, especially in our current Age of the Geek. Comics are now in the mainstream taking over movies, video games, television, novels and children's bedspreads. Alas, most comics with a wide reach don't really address real world issues, many for fear of losing readers and plummeting sales. But when done properly, comics can successfully confront the difficult past, the turbulent present and the unknown future.
An African American Captain America dealing with real world issues is pretty much blowing my mind. But at the same time, I guess I should stay calm to actually discuss what Sam is facing. Let me start by saying, I think Nick Spencer is doing a fantastic job from the one issue I have read but, I won't lie, my heart sank a bit to not see the book being written by an African American.
First, let me give brief bit comic history for context as to how far we've come. Marvel, and comics in general, have had a serious problem with diversity and stereotyping, and we can't shy away from that history (the whole those-that-ignore-history bit). Let's look at the origins of Sam Wilson, the man that would be Captain America. The first mainstream African American Superhero appeared in 1969 on an island, leading natives against the Red Skull and the Nazi's who enslaved them. Flash forward a couple of years when his history is revealed and he was (wait for it) . . . a pimp. And then there's Luke Cage (can't wait to see the Netflix TV series Jessica Jones and then Cage!); he was also (yes, you guessed it) . . . a criminal. I know, you're saying, Chris, it was just a Red Skull hoax with the cosmic cube, trying to break up Sam and Steve! The new 2014 series told us so! While Marvel may have retconned it, it is still part of the character's history and highlights who they were and possibly how far they have come. It also demonstrates how far Marvel has come in its depiction of heroes of color.
What issues are Cap dealing with, you ask? Being a black man in America. Even in the comic, it is noted that Roger's Captain America always tried to stay above it all, being a symbol for everyone and making the hard choices rarely. Like when he stood against the Superhuman Registration Act (very similar to the Mutant Registration act from a decade before), where heroes were forced to register their secret identity and powers with the US government or go to a superhero human prison in the Negative Zone (another dimension that is really hard to access unless you're Reed Richards). He stood against it because it went against the the freedom of the individual and the principles that America was built upon.
Wilson's Captain America is a man born in fire, a minority in modern day America, and constantly struggling with that. There is a common (true) saying that being a black man in America is having to be twice as good to be treated a third as well. Every decision is second guessed and the world continually thinks you are not smart enough, strong enough or worthy of a title you've received or a person you are with. That story is underwritten in the very bones of having Sam take over the mantel; it is the stigma of being black in America. While Nick, does not say that specifically, it is what I read into the story, as a black man living the experience.
But what Nick does discuss is the fact that being Captain America (fighting supervillians, being an Avenger, and enjoying the occasional parade to cheering crowds) is not enough anymore. Our world is in trouble, with constant conflict, and the people are suffering. Usually those that don't have a voice suffer the most and are powerless to change any of the social constructs. If they speak out, they are called terrorists, placed on watch lists and harassed (or worse) by the police . No matter how peaceful the Black Lives Matter movement is, their intentions and actions will always be questioned.
The rise of social media has changed how information is communicated, how quickly people have access to it and how easily it can be polluted to manipulate the masses (cough, cough . . . Fox News).
It was refreshing to see a mainstream comic refer (lightly to keep it accessible, but it is a start) to politics, police brutality, inequality, and the fact a hero, a true hero, can't stand to the side and watch, but has to choose a side. To make a true difference is to get into it, get your hands dirty and strike to make change. That spoke to me on every level. It is why I joined the army. I wanted to defend my country, to try to change things and make the world a better place. I may have gotten a bit misty because of this comic.
Predictably, the comic did not shy away from what would happen when someone tries to do that. Unlike in the polished movie versions, his actions are not met with cheers and a happy ending. He is met with criticism and division. And is only the start of the story.
The influence of comics is apparent when "news" media attacks it with no real knowledge, but with plenty of fear and saber rattling. As most people know, Cap has always stood with the people but perhaps not on such a dedicated basis. It was nice to see the comic explore that the only way to properly be able to act according to conscience is to be free of any ties (S.H.I.E.L.D., overlords, etc.). But by doing so, the hero loses the money that he's been accustomed to receiving. From a writer's stand point, that is excellent. It provides conflict for the story, a nod toward economic problems, and brings the focus to being street level and having to think outside of the box to accomplish the mission.
Cap goes back to the historical center of black life, the church, to ask for assistance so he can go to Arizona and deal with an armed white supremacist group aggressively dealing with immigrants crossing into America. How awesome to see a current hot topic in the states on the comics' page! Captain America is more than just a symbol. He is fighting for these people who only want to be part of our country, to try to live the American Dream of a better life.
This is all in a comic. All in a comic that my 10-year-old self would have picked up in Kroger or Target. Or in a comic shop. And now pre-teens of all colors get to see a black man as more than a sidekick in TV show, a background extra in movie with no lines, or my current least favorite--a prisoner in jail whose black mother placed them there for mysterious reasons. (Yeah. I'm looking at you, Broadchurch and Quantico.)
See him as the hero, fighting for his ideals and making America . . . nay . . . the world a better place.
Long. Live. Captain. America. (Non-Profit Hero for Hire, until crowd funding kicks in!)