In case you managed not to notice, and thusly I’d like to say hello out to whatever dimension you hail from, there is a bit of a Presidential contest going down in the USA.
Since we tend to know exactly when these things happen, it could be argued that someone at Marvel or Disney might have considered the political climate to come when they put together their publishing plans. Just recently I watched a really great Screen Junkies interview with the Russo brothers Anthony and Joe. One of the pair of Civil War directors indicated that as a kid he wasn’t a huge Captain America fan, he presented his feelings in a way that would suggest that it was the general consensus of comic book fans. Whether his analysis was fair or accurate is inconsequential. His position speaks to an issue that many comics creators have voiced over the years concerning Cap. It all boils down to one simple question: If you feel disillusioned by the American ideal or dream then how would you view a character designed to embody those things? The history of the character may shed a little light on the subject.
The American Dream and the American Ideal are not one in the same.
Captain America at no point represents the American Dream, he simply can’t. The idea of individual freedom makes it clear that the American Dream is primarily a singular pursuit. The Dream is success, and since our economy is permanently strapped to our chests, economic success is The American Dream. Captain America doesn’t represent economic success, therefore he isn’t a shining example of what you can achieve as an individual, but Tony Stark certainly fits that bill. Remember, Stan Lee created Iron Man in an attempt to see if he could get the kids of the day to root for a character they believe represented something negative, the military industrial complex. What do we call the MIC these days? Big business, and their heads are the captains of industry.
Captain America has always represented the American Ideal, the Kissinger phrased exceptionalism that made us feel like big hero’s when we fought against Hitler and later communism. The American Ideal is communal, it’s how we view ourselves in step with our countrymen, our community spirit personified. Captain America has always represented how we should treat each other and in essence the world. That’s why Cap remains a beacon despite what popular opinion on the American government might be. This is well represented in the comics, however filmmakers don’t have the luxury of time. Instead we are treated to a few exchanges where Steve Rogers shows varying degrees of displeasure in the actions of the US government. Voicing that displeasure, while at the same time serving ones country is the cornerstone of American citizenship. In other words, Cap is cool because he’s you, or at least the you that you’re supposed to be.
The Civil War comic was about editorial care taking.
When it comes to long running, intentionally convoluted storytelling, no one does it like Marvel or DC. Often times when there are that many people involved, in what can best be described as a logistical nightmare stewarded by a small army of sleep deprived evil genius’, things tend to spiral out of control. The first big time ‘Event Comic’ had everything to do with spring cleaning in an editorial sense, not a burning desire to have essentially two guys kill off half of the fictional characters that populated their story.
The fact that is was immensely popular is why such things still happen. It’s the best of both worlds, the house gets in order and a ton of books get sold. Civil War was exactly that, the introduction of a new narrative and direction for Marvel’s cast of characters. The story lazily used beats from previous event books, like the super human registration act amongst others. The entire story reeked of an excuse to give minor characters something to do so that the audience knew where they were. The Civil War film avoids all of that, drawing almost exclusively from the films to build its foundation, the title of the film is a step or two above lip service because it still fits.
The theme in the Civil War comics was one of Progress versus Conservatism, with Futurist Tony Stark representing progress and Cap representing the old fashioned Conservative point of view (Like the above image suggests). The problem with this, and what ticked reviewers like myself off is that there isn’t much to Cap that can be categorized as Conservative. Remember, while Cap is from WWII, he is re-introduced in the 60’s. The Vietnam War has been dubbed the end of American Exceptionalism, and Cap is a soldier, just like the kind that were getting spit on by anti-war protestors all over the country. The American military wasn’t terribly popular at that time, how on earth did the military poster boy succeed with all his pro America, pro- war rhetoric?
Simple, he didn’t.
Ever wonder why Cap doesn’t kill? He carried a gun in the war, heck Bucky carried a tommy gun and was routinely depicted getting his Inglorious Bastard on as often as possible.
Unless you read Captain America comics (which I did) you probably wouldn’t know that Steve Rogers might be the first comic book character to be depicted actively suffering from PTSD. The horrors of war changed everything for Cap, and the first two decades of his book dealt with this almost exclusively. The issue is never ‘put to bed’ because it’s not something Marvel would ever make light of, another thing they don’t get credit for and should. Cap is more than a soldier, he’s a veteran and as such has a for more sober view point on many things. The first Cap film perfectly captures that by giving us time with pre-serum Steve, something we don’t actually get in the comics. Essentially the entire first act of the film is roughly five, maybe six comic book pages.
Captain America’s world view isn’t that of a Hawkish war horse who just wants to storm one more beach, in fact he came back from the war and sided exclusively with the hippies, peaceniks and civil rights activists. He even quit being Captain America for a while out of disgust with his government’s actions. Cap’s beef with the government has always been about preserving the rights of private citizens, he fights for the little guy.
The Civil War Film is about you.
As we watch a bunch of embarrassments vie for the chance to embarrass us all with intent, there are a number of themes that the candidates ignore so they can deliver stirring sermons on abortion and mythical walls that split continents. One of the issues we really need to look at is class-warfare, because it’s a thing. We know that as a nation we have ample resources, but somehow most of us have limited or no access to them. That’s an issue!
We foolishly believe that only two political parties can exist at once, subscribing to an endless list of false dichotomies in place of actual policy making, and we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that differing political beliefs is some kind of battle between good and evil. Who is good or evil completely depends on what side you’re on which is endlessly troubling. You know, that kind of sounds familiar.
Doesn’t Tony Stark represent the establishment? Money, resources and a responsibility to steer the ship for the rest of the country. Self-made men whose families sacrificed so much to build this great nation. Finally getting fed up with these upstarts who are given a gift only to turn around with their hands out. Remember when Tony tells Steve the only thing special about him came out of a bottle? In all fairness, the film failed to drive home the idea that Loki’s staff was the reason for all the bickering, but still when you’re drunk you tell the truth as you see it.
Isn’t Cap a man of the people? Champion to the unfortunate, always fighting to the bitter end for the little guy. Wearing his not-so-specialness as a badge of honor. He’s spoken out in favor of civil rights, peace, and economic equality. Wouldn’t he Occupy Wall Street if he could? You think he’d be against gun control? I’d bet good money that Captain America would be right out in front, leading the way for the Black Lives Matter movement (you bet your ass I believe that with all my heart and you can’t convince me otherwise). Cap is never on the wrong side of history, making him progressive by definition. Which is why Civil War the comic made no damn sense.
When I look at the members of Team Cap and Team Iron Man it becomes telling to me what Civil War actually refers to, and it’s not a barely not-completely crappy comic book series. The Civil War film can be seen as a parallel on film to the current state of events in reality. Team Iron Man is the rich versus Team Cap as the poor. The fact that we’re probably going to see various characters change sides in the film will further cement my conclusion.
Early reviews have Civil War promising to be the best Marvel film we’ve seen to date. I’m beginning to wonder if the films transcendence isn’t because it hits closer to home than any of us are ready to admit.