The Captain America Controversy And Marvel’s Civil War-An Opinion

In a recent article in Slate, writer Jamelle Bouie, comments on the news that Marvel’s future films will draw from the Marvel Civil War comic book storyline as source material for upcoming Marvel movies.  In his well-written opinion piece, Mr. Bouie does a fine job of summarizing the events of the Marvel Civil War, but he bases his opinion of the Civil War story, (which he sees as “completely, unfathomably bad.”) on several incorrect pieces of evidence.

In his article, Mr. Bouie states that the Marvel Civil War storyline was a “Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy… Mess,” and that he had trouble understanding how a “New Deal Democrat” like Captain America could represent what in Bouie’s mind is a politically right-wing libertarian agenda. In Jamelle Bouie’s view of this seminal Marvel storyline, the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America is most similar, and inspired by, the political tug of war over gun control.  Or, to put it another way, the government’s need to enforce public safety over the presumed rights of gun owners.  In Mr. Bouie’s view, in the Civil War comics, the superheroes represent the people with guns (i.e. their unregulated superpowers), and the conflict is over how those guns, oops, I mean their powers, will be regulated and used for the good of society.  In a limited sense, Mr. Bouie’s interpretation of the theme makes sense, as Iron Man and his cohorts attempt to form the heroes (and villains) into “a well regulated militia,” to use the words of the Second Amendment.

Captain America versus Iron Man in Marvel Civil War

First of all, Mr. Bouie is free to form and express his opinion, however wrong and limited it may be.  While his argument that the whole storyline was a right-wing fantasy and that Captain America took on the role of a far-right libertarian in opposition to the government may be applicable if this story was a true allegory of America’s gun-control issues, he is off track on this because his interpretation of Cap’s motives is grossly incorrect.

In Bouie’s words, “Captain America becomes a libertarian freedom fighter—a 180-degree turn from his traditional positioning as a New Deal Democrat.” While the astute student of Cap’s history would agree that politically Steve Rogers is most likely a believer of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (and thus would likely be a New Deal Democrat), Mr. Bouie is incorrect in his assumption that Cap’s stance in Marvel’s Civil War contradicts Captain America’s political development as a young man the 1930s and 1940s.

Steve Rogers, who assumed the title of Captain America in 1940, grew up in New York City, the son of Irish immigrants.  As Steven Attwell writes in his fine article on Cap’s politics, based on what we know of the upbringing of the young Steve Rogers, we know he was a fan of President Roosevelt (FDR), and his New Deal programs and political philosophy.  On this, I agree with Mr. Bouie.  However, I contend that Captain America’s philosophical differences with Tony “Iron Man” Stark, on the government’s Superhero Registration Act, stem not from some modern right-wing conservatism, but from the anti-fascist (i.e. New Deal Democrat) ideals of 1940s America and Cap’s war-time experiences fighting against dictatorial regimes.

Captain America and FDR

Remember, America’s entrance into World War Two was preceded by almost a decade of aggression by the dictatorships ruling Germany, Italy, Spain, the Soviet Union (Russia), and Japan, among others. The locus of control for many of these regimes was to make people register with the government.  Especially minorities or those considered disloyal to the regime had nearly every aspect of their lives, from where they lived, to who they associated with, to where they were employed, placed under the purview of the government.  To Steve Rogers, the Superhero Registration Act was an obvious step in the direction of fascism and a loss of freedom for a particular (super-powered) minority.  This is not about guns, but about the larger conflict over the proper balance of government control versus individual liberty.

When the Superhero Registration Act  (which clearly was modeled after aspects of the Patriot Act of 2001) took effect, Captain America’s response to this seemingly un-democratic attack on the personal freedoms of American citizens (see an excellent article on this allegory connecting the post-9/11 reaction with the Marvel Civil War) was to hearken back to his roots as a New Deal Democrat (not a modern right-wing Conservative).  This stance led to Captain America forming a group of heroes to actively oppose what he saw as the beginning of a slippery slope of government intrusion into the personal freedoms of his colleagues. The Negative Zone prison created by Stark and Reed Richards is a clear stand-in for Guantanamo,  and the spying and personal tracking by SHIELD is allegorical to the real-world spying on Americans by the NSA and other government agencies that continues to this day.  Mr. Bouie’s assertion that Captain America turned into a libertarian gun-rights advocate is very far off the mark.

Captain America and Spider-Man in Marvel’s Civil War

In the eternal conflict over government control (or Order) vs. the personal freedoms that naturally accrue to all human beings as stated in the Declaration of Independence (or Liberty), Captain America, who is also known as “The Sentinel of Liberty,” came down on the side of personal liberty.  If we look at some historical examples of Order vs. Liberty, I think we can assume which side Captain America would choose:

Bull Conner (Order and racism) vs. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Liberty and the right to vote)?

Hitler and Stalin (extreme Order and terror) vs. FDR and Winston Churchill (Liberty and Democracy)?

Confederate Slave-Owners (Order and laws upholding slavery) vs. enslaved people (Liberty and the right to not be someone else’s property)?

Joe McCarthy (Order and fear-mongering for political gain) vs. ordinary citizens (Liberty and the freedom to associate with political minorities without fear of the government)?

Warrantless searches by police. the FBI, or the NSA (Order and security) vs. the Fourth  Amendment (Liberty and the freedom from unconstitutional search and seizure)?

 

Marvel Civil War Controversy- Captain America vs Iron Man Captain America Stands Up For Liberty and Freedom

Remember, that among Captain America’s Rogues Gallery, we find many examples of fascistic (or non-democratic) foes, such as the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Hate-Monger, and  Baron Strucker and Hydra. They all espouse the exact opposite of the ideals of FDR and the America of the 1930s and 1940s. These villains represent the power of a government (in their case, Nazi Germany), to completely control the lives of a nation’s citizens, even to the point of taking away their property, their liberty, and even taking away their lives.  All without due process of law, or any constitutional or other legal protections. Captain America grew to manhood in a time when the struggle between our way of life and the fascist regimes that people like the Red Skull and Zemo embodied was very real, and very deadly.  For Steve Rogers to see the Superhero Registration Act (as a stand in for the Patriot Act) taking away due process, taking away Fourth Amendment rights, taking away a citizen’s right of who to associate with; all these and more, drove Captain America to oppose his government.

Just like other Sentinels of Liberty in history: Gandhi, King, Harriet Tubman, and the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord, Cap and his allies opposed the forces of extreme Order in the name of freedom even to the point of risking their lives, and their public reputations.

Captain America Comics 1-Cap Punching Hitler

Mr. Bouie’s belief that Marvel took  a narrow issue (gun control), and perverted the political posture and history of Captain America, is dead wrong.  When Steve Rogers stood against popular public opinion and against his friends and former allies like Iron Man, to stand for the evident truths he has always stood for, the Star-Spangled Avenger was completely in-character, and standing for the exact same principles he represented when he first burst onto the scene by punching Hitler in the face in 1940’s Captain America Comics #1.

 

 

Bamsmackpow writer Roger Lee, in addition to a life-long affection for Marvel Comics and Captain America, in real-life holds Bachelor Degrees in History and Political Science and a Masters Degree in Education. The opinions in this article are his own, and do not represent the opinions of Bamsmackpow.com or any other employer or entity. 

Roger Lee is also the author of an E-Book on the Avengers at Amazon.com’s Kindle Store.