After Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting laying the groundwork in The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s Civil War event would signal The Death of Captain America and follow Bucky’s conflicted version of the Sentinel of Liberty.
‘They’re right. We’re not fighting for the people anymore, Falcon… Look at us. We’re just fighting.’ Civil War, Mark Millar
Inline with the new millennium, the adjustment from sixty years in suspended animation would now bear more weight and relevance for Captain America. Through the eyes of a born leader, we would begin to witness how one man catches up with the rest of the world and acknowledge the truth that some wars can never be fought – post 9/11having given birth to more complex and socially relevant stories.
Despite their acute mythology and fantastical origins, writers now sought an angle that would expose weakness and conflict in these characters in an effort to make them more human. With the introduction of the Superhuman Registration Act in Mark Millar’s Civil War crossover event signalling a major turning point for Captain America, his refusal to sign sets a major tide in motion. Branded a traitor, Rogers becomes a fugitive and with those few who follow him he comes in to direct conflict with Tony Stark.
In the aftermath of the conflict he hands himself over to the authorities when his battle with Iron Man destroys both his faith in society and himself. It is here, in Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s run on Captain America that the seeds are planted in their first arc, The Winter Soldier; leading towards one of the most finely crafted series of the past decade.
‘What I found is that all the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on and giving speeches on the street corner against the George W. Bush administration, and all the really right-wing fans all want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam Hussein’ Ed Brubaker
Pitched as an espionage thriller, Brubaker delivers what is primarily James ‘Bucky’ Barnes story in the wake of Steve Rogers’ assassination. What follows is the complex nature of how a man who has been used as a weapon against the United States, by the Soviet Union, is able to carry the Shield and become the patriotic symbol that Rogers’ unrivalled, untainted soul originally represented. Bucky’s Captain America is the antithesis of the United States at conflict with themselves; an individual who fits the ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ tag – a brainwashed individual who serves a faceless enemy. The difference here in Brubaker’s reinvention of Captain America’s sidekick is the exploration of the antihero in true, western fashion. After all, isn’t this also part of American mythology?
Having lost his arm during WWII, Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky Barnes, is presumed dead. Recovering his body the Russians craft a bionic arm and brainwash him in to becoming the Winter Soldier.
Inevitably, Rogers return in issue #600 signalled his own miniseries with Steve Rogers: Super Soldier before wielding his Shield, while Bucky’s alter ego, The Winter Soldier is recruited to hunt down other brainwashed assassins he trained during his days during the Cold War.
In 2014’s entry in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo’s sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers a finely crafted espionage thriller based on Brubaker and Epting’s original reinvention of the characters. Already considered, by many, the strongest Marvel film to date, Chris Evan’s stoic portrayal of Steve Rogers explores, in full detail, the problems he faces when the organisation he works for stop at nothing to protect their nation.
‘He is one of us, and he represents the best in all of us. Because he represents an ideal, his popularity has never faded out entirely, even when comic books have struggled to survive. With the world today — more dangerous even than it was back in World War II – people need that ideal more than ever. That’s why it’s the perfect time for him to be more popular than ever. We need him.’ Joe Simon
For me, as with the real heroes of WWII, Captain America represents the very best of his generation – a man who lives by a strict moral code who fought a common evil in order for us all to live in a better world. People are easy to dismiss such ‘boy scouts’ as dull and predictable, but for all his original propaganda and patriotic nature; for most, Steve Rogers is a fictional Grandfather and perhaps the only reminder of our greatest generation. Captain America is an honest hero – a man who knows right from wrong even if it questions his own identity and has been reborn at the right time to deliver a more universal message. Whether life has improved since WWII is debatable, but one thing is for sure – if any superhero can be the platform to explore the conflict and ramifications of a modern world, it’s Captain America.
The Conflict of Captain America – Part III
The Conflict of Captain America – Part II
The Conflict of Captain America – Part I
The Conflict of Captain America – Introduction