For as long as I can remember, I believed Captain America was my hero. When I was a kid my mother used to buy me Captain America Comics. I was mesmerized. Cap had started life as Steve Rogers, a literal 98lb weakling with a figurative giant heart. He risked everything to enter the Super Soldier program and, once he received his gifts, he represented what was best about America. Courage, justice fair play, those were his hallmarks. If he looked like a poster boy for the Aryan ideal while he was upholding those American truths, “Well then, screw you Red Skull.” It was a more naive time.
Back when I was a wee thing, reading comic books on my bedroom floor, my hero Cap had a partner, Sam Wilson, The Falcon. Sam was the son of civil rights activists. They did their best in difficult times to save their community from the ubiquitous blight that seemed to be swallowing America’s cities at the time. People who weren’t alive back then can’t really fathom what reeking, hopeless, dystopian shit holes our urban centers had become. But, I digress.
Young Sam had a rocky start. After his father’s senseless death Sam turned first, in desperation and anguish, to crime. But along came Cap to help him get back on the straight and narrow. Admittedly, this smelt a bit condescending, but it was the 70s and we were used to the clumsy attempts made by white authors writing black characters. I just remember seeing a super cool black guy kicking the shit out of racist fucksticks who so richly deserved it. My impressionable young brain hummed at the sight.
This (along with my mother’s ceaseless Liberalism and my father’s rabid pro-union activism) is, no doubt, responsible for making me the crazed Red that I grew up to be. Long live the glorious revolution. But, I digress.
Cap and Sam used to face down white supremacists, world-beaters, race-baiters and, oddly enough, white supremacists disguised as black radicals. The Red Skull, the Sons of the Serpent and The Hatemonger were always striving to make America’s cities explode with racial violence. Armageddon was only a fiery speech away. Again, this might not have been very enlightened storytelling but at least some writers were making an attempt to deal with the racial tensions that were so prevalent at the time. Don’t forget, we wore silk print shirts and striped bell bottom pants back then and we thought we looked good. Judge us gently, kind reader.
Now, back in the day, The Falcon didn’t actually fly. And, back then, he wore the colors of the Pan-African flag. Later, less politically minded writers and editors switched Sam into his classic red and white costume. He joined the Avengers for a while, got tired of being the “token black member” and quit, got some real wings from the Black Panther (not necessarily in that order) and really came into his own. Sam Wilson was, at last, his own hero. Not Captain America’s sidekick and not a demographic slot on a team. Like many of Marvel’s minority characters, he faded in and out of obscurity for years. But he was always there, ready to be plugged into a story hole when needed. And he was always Cap’s friend.
Then Cap, that is Steve Rogers, was dead. Then Bucky was Captain America. Then Cap, Steve Rogers, wasn’t dead and he was Cap again. For a while Sam was Captain America, then he wasn’t. It’s convoluted. It doesn’t matter. You know how Marvel’s continuity gets.
Anyway, not that awfully long ago, Captain America (Steve Rogers, this time) went up against a somewhat lackluster villain called Iron Nail. In the ensuing fracas S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly destroyed and Cap had his super soldier serum stripped from his system. Suddenly, Steve Rogers was a 94-year-old man with no super abilities at all. And that’s when I realized that Captain America wasn’t my hero. Steve Rogers was. Despite losing his powers and aging 75 years in a matter of seconds Steve didn’t pack it in and call it quits. He took his losses in stride and got back in the fight. He passed the shield to Sam and asked him to become the new Captain America. After that, Steve went back to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as the Avengers. Steve couldn’t go toe to toe with the world beaters anymore but he was still a natural leader. Even hobbled with a cane, he still commanded the respect of the other heroes. When the Marvel Universe fell apart around his ears, Steve commandeered a suit of power armor for one last battle. Armageddon be damned, there was just no quit in Steve Rogers.
One of the reasons that Steve was able to do all of this was because he was confident in Sam Wilson’s ability to bear the mantle of Captain America. Even when the two men disagreed on how things ought to get done Steve never doubted Sam’s ability to actually accomplish the mission. Sam always had Steve’s complete trust. The rest of the world…not so much.
As soon as Sam put on the red, white and blue, his social media accounts blew up with messages of disapproval. #Notmycaptain and #Givebacktheshield were common messages. The writers of Captain America: Sam Wilson didn’t pull that idea out of thin air. They got it from the real world. Those were actual hashtags from actual “fans” who actually needed to crawl out of their caves and smell the 21st century. Because today…in the 21st century…in America, racist idiots still roam the internet in drooling, ravening packs.
I imagine them, sitting in their underwear in their mother’s basement, dining on sandwiches of Wonder Bread, mayonnaise and processed cheese, furiously typing their little missives of hate. All irony is lost on these benighted peckerwoods as they complain that the star-spangled Avenger, the hero who punched Hitler in the face and bested the Red Skull, the champion of a nation of immigrants, isn’t sufficiently Aryan looking for them. These poor, knuckle-dragging troglodytes get absolutely apoplectic when they see pop culture figures who don’t look exactly like them. For them, if every major character isn’t white, male and heterosexual then the sky is indeed falling and The End Times are upon us. I pity them a little. A little. Mostly, they just make me want to take a shower.
Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be so frightened, so insecure in your own identity that you demand all of society blow rainbow flavored smoke rings up your ass all day long while simultaneously insisting the media keep upholding your vision of a homogeneous America that doesn’t exist, never existed and never will exist. It’s not just small-minded, it’s small hearted. It’s a parsimoniousness of spirit and imagination. It’s a cowardly unwillingness to acknowledge change and embrace the adventure that is America’s future. It’s un-American at its very core.
I don’t know why cowards and bigots would want to read Captain America in the first place. What do they expect to find there? Some jingoistic half-assed horse shit that mirrors their half-witted philosophy? Do they hope for some validation of their backward views? They won’t find it in Sam Wilson. They never found it in Steve Rogers. They’ll never find it in anyone worthy of picking up the shield.
Of course, these keyboard warriors have all got their hopes up, now. Steve Rogers has finally gotten his super soldier powers back, through a deus ex machina bit of storytelling that was, none the less, rather satisfying. Now the poor, put upon white males are howling for Steve to get the shield back as well. But Steve, and Marvel, have other plans (for now, anyway). Steve is leaving the shield with Sam. There will be two Captain America’s in two different books.
Just how long will Sam Wilson be able to hold onto his own title with so many lowbrows yelling for his head? That depends on sales. If people put their money where their mouth is then we can keep having a man of color out there defending the American ideal. But if people don’t buy it, it goes the way of the dodo. That’s the harsh math of the situation. ABC didn’t hesitate to cancel Agent Carter And Marvel won’t keep printing a slow selling title just so their more enlightened editors can sleep better at night.
I like to think that the readers will be there for Sam. I like to think I live in a new, slowly evolving era. I like to think that. I also like to think that it won’t be that long before the idea of an African-American man bearing Captain America’s shield won’t seem novel…or shocking…or outrageous. I like to think that. I like to think that some day a Latino boy from LA might put on the red, white and blue uniform. Or maybe a Sikh from Minnesota. Or how about a girl who started life as an orphan in China but now she has two adoptive mothers in Birmingham. There are a lot of little kids in this country that don’t have blue eyes and white skin. It’s their turn now. They deserve a hero that looks like them. They deserve their own Captain. They deserve to be as mesmerized as I was.
Steve Rogers was my hero…is my hero. I hope he is with us for decades to come. For me, he stands for what is best about America and what America could be. He has done his best to represent all of us for a long time. But he doesn’t represent all of us. Not entirely. He just can’t. It’s too much to ask of him and it’s too much to ask of all the readers out there who aren’t white, heterosexual males. It’s time to acknowledge that, ignore the trolls and, as Steve would say, “Move it or lose it.”
He also sings for the Supra-70s band, RIFLE.