Thursday, August 19, 2010

Does 'Captain America: Two Americas' crash the Tea Party?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 11:35 AM

BUST A CAP: Two Americas
  • Marvel Comics
  • BUST A CAP: 'Two Americas'
The newly-published hardback Captain America: Two Americas harks back to earlier this year, when the nefarious forces of the cable and internet punditocracy trained their sights on the Marvel Comics superhero. Did the coverage focus on how former crime comic writer Ed Brubaker invigorated the easily spoofed symbol of patriotism ? How the nearly 70 year-old character now anchors arguably Marvel Comics' best title, and has a movie coming out in 2011? Nope, the brouhaha amounted to a tempest in a teabag, the fallout from which influences Two Americas.

To provide a little context, Captain America generally avoid the flamboyantly -ostumed criminals or Earth-threatening disasters of most superhero comics. It's more of an espionage title, and thus has more in common with "24" than its peers in spandex. "Cap," in his various incarnations, tends to be as self-tortured as Jack Bauer, frequently defies his government handlers and works with extremely capable partners, like Sharon "Agent 13" Carter and the Black Widow (as seen in Iron Man 2). He frequently contends with international or evil corporate threats, often from Nazi mastermind the Red Skull, but Two Americas reprints a storyline that focuses on home-grown terrorism. In issue #602, the title character and his African-American partner, the Falcon, investigate sinister goings-on in Idaho, where they encounter an anti-government protest that features such placards as "Stop the Socialists!', "No New Taxes" and "Tea-Bag the Libs Before They Tea-Bag You!" Subsequently they infiltrate an extremists group that resembles a Tim McVeigh-style militia, only armed with weaponized exoskeletons.

The conservative blogosophere got wind of the comic, particularly the "tea-bag" sign, and ginned up outrage that the (allegedly) grassroots political movement could be linked, if only by proximity on the page, to violent racist groups. Marvel editor Joe Quesada apologized and claimed that the "teabag" signage didn't appear in Brubaker's script and was an editorial error, used by an assistant to imitate an actual Tea Party sign. Quesada said that the epithet wouldn't appear in future reprints and sure enough, in the Two Americas collection, the sign now sports the generic, nonsensical message, "American not American't!"

Well, not necessarily.

Two Americas still hints that some anti-government protesters have more anger than sense: one demonstrator holds up the sign "No Govt in my Medicaire!" Subsequently, Falcon draws attention at a bar by imitating a government tax man, suffers through a "You people!" tirade until a trucker slugs him and tosses him out with the words, "And don't forget your briefcase, Obama!" Granted, the trucker is in fact Cap undercover, so it's not necessarily a "sincere insult." Two Americas might remove the teabag sign, but the changes amount to a distinction without a difference.

Two Americas qualifies as more than bashing right-wingers in a pop culture venue, however. For one thing, the villain of the piece is one of three Captain Americas. The original character, Steve Rogers, became a super-soldier and patriotic symbol in World War II. In Brubaker's best storyline to date, Steve was assassinated and replaced by James "Bucky" Buchanan, Steve's young WWII sidekick, who had been presumed dead for decades but recently returned. Captain America: Rebirth brought Steve Rogers back to life, but in Two Americas, he opts to let Bucky continue to wield the shield, and currently leads a covert team of heroes, the Secret Avengers, also written by Brubaker.

Steve and Bucky were in suspended animation during the 1950s, so a gung-ho guy named William Burnside claimed to be Captain America, going so far as to change his name and appearance to resemble Steve Rogers. He's super-strong but not super-sane, and in Two Americas, "Bad Cap" misdirects his rage at America's economic slump in destructive directions. In one scene, Burnside points out to Bucky that they both remember the Great Depression first-hand, and should feel equally anguished that Main Street seems to be dying. He's a deluded and at times sympathetic figure, except for his crazy scheme to blow up a national monument. Incidentally, the Falcon receives crucial assistance near the finale from a disgruntled citizen who nevertheless rejects Bad Cap's terroristic agenda, so small-government voters can be good guys, too.

Like several of Brubaker's extended storylines, Two Americas excels at building suspense and intrigue, although the final fight scenes feel like anticlimaxes, despite Luke Ross's moody, muscular artwork. And though Brubaker has written many interesting flashback stories set in World War II, the title tends to rely too much on memories of D-Day and other repetitive war-time cliches. Nevertheless, Two Americas presents an exciting potboiler with real-world resonance, and the Bucky's conflicts with the other Captain American demonstrate how nostalgia and righteous indignation can be misdirected, and how patriotic symbolism can be completely subverted.

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