Superman and Captain America: Debating Politics

If you were to ask me to list my top five comic book/superhero characters it would go like this:

  1. Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier/Captain America
  2. Steve Rogers/Captain America/Super Soldier
  3. Superman
  4. Flash (Barry Allen or Wally West, I love them both!)
  5. Batman

You might notice that my two favorite characters are Captain America and Superman, even if Captain America is a role and title as opposed to a specific character. But what I like about all these characters is that allow for contemporary culture to use myth to speak to our own issues.

One of the best examples of this comes from the history of Captain America. In the 1970s, the White House was part of the Watergate Scandal. So Steve Englehart, who had been writing Captain America for a while, took this scandal and spoke to it with Captain America. He created a sin at the level of the office of the president, like Nixon in Watergate. When Captain America finds out the entire evil plot, he is shattered to the core. Steve Rogers quits his role as Cap and becomes the hero Nomad, a man with out a country. When someone gets killed trying to fill the role of Captain America, Rogers understands that he must be Captain America. But rather than assuming that the government is innocent and is part of the good guys, he understands that the enemies of America can be both foreign and domestic. The government can be the enemy of America as much as the Soviet Union was. So Rogers swears allegiance to the idea of America, the American ideal. Captain America was able to comment on the politics of the day.

In April (2014), Captain America: The Winter Soldier is going to take up that mantle of Captain America speaking to our political situation. SHIELD is a stand-in for the United States government. SHIELD is going to be doing things that are very questionable and Captain America is going to have to work through these issues for America. Are the NSA spy programs and the drone strikes moral and acceptable for the government to be doing? I am more excited for this film, in large part due to the themes the film seems to be trying to explore, more than any superhero film to date—including Marvel’s The Avengers and Man of Steel.

Now that Warner Bros. and DC have rebooted their film version of Superman, I hope that they take up a particular theme that is important to our own political situation and is at the heart of the character: immigration. Superman is the alien from another planet. His own people came to earth and tried to turn the planet into Krypton, killing all humans in the process. Superman defeating Zod was violent and abrasive.

The question left at the end of Man of Steel is can America trust this alien. This question is a question that Americans ask of immigrants that live among them. Can these immigrants be trusted? Can those who look like the people who perpetrated 9/11 be trusted? What about those who come to America illegally?

Batman vs Superman—the tentative title for the sequel—has the unique opportunity to discuss this issue. Superman wants to represent America at its best, like Captain America and yet differently. That’s part of what the motto “truth, justice and the American way” is all about with the Superman character.  Immigration is an important piece to the history of America and the heart of the Superman mythos.

Batman can be the voice of Americans mistrusting the legal and illegal immigrants who are just trying to live out the American dream. He can be the just opposition to Superman. And Superman has to show Bats that despite the sins of Krypton and Zod, he can be trusted and accepted to America.

In Man of Steel Superman tries to allay the military’s mistrust of him by saying he’s from Kansas, the heart of the nation (however much this Missouri Tiger disagrees). But there are many immigrants in Kansas.  Why should they be allowed to participate in this nation? Does he try to be acceptable by using his god-like powers? Does he become an agent of the US as in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns? Or does he become a champion of the common man as in Grant Morrison’s  Action Comics 1-18 (2011-2012)?

I hope the next film is brave enough to explore these questions. I hope the movie has an honest dialogue about immigration. These characters should be opportunities to explore complex issues our culture and society is facing. Let’s use them!

~ by hankimler on January 25, 2014.

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