Captain America is dead.
If, like me, you grew up loving comic books — and those published by Marvel Comics in particular — then you already know the name of Captain America. And even if you didn't, the image of the red, white, and blue clad superhero should be a familiar one. From the time of the first Captain America book — published in 1941, just nine months before Pearl Harbor was attacked — Captain America has been an unmistakable part of America's cultural landscape.
Like other comic book superheroes who emerged during the time of World War II — such as DC Comics' Superman — Captain America symbolized patriotism, virtue, and everything that was supposed to be good about America. His character was both a reminder and a reassurance to an America struggling with its own place in a world that was spinning out of control, and into war.
But it was the theme of patriotism that was most central to this character. From his red, white, and blue costume and matching shield to the enemies he faced down in issue after issue — they included everyone from the evil Red Skull to Adolf Hitler himself, who was sometimes under a hooded mask as the villainous Hate Monger — Captain America was the original go-to guy.
Whether battling for the causes of truth and justice as a solo act, or with the group of superheroes he sometimes led called The Avengers, Captain America was a guy who had the entire country's back. And he certainly never questioned the actions of his president or his government.
But that was then, and this is now.
In the current Captain America storyline titled "Civil War," the good Captain has taken up arms against both his government and even fellow superheroes like Iron Man, over the issue of something called the Superhero Registration Act. The issue becomes problematic for Captain America because it would require him to reveal his secret identity of Steve Rogers — but more importantly, because he strongly believes the Act to be a violation of civil rights.
Although Marvel Comics has always stood out from its comic competitors for often weaving current events into its stories, Captain America hasn't been involved in a plotline so relevant to its current time since way back in the World War II days. Dating back to the sixties, Captain America's once soaring popularity made way for newer, younger, and hipper heroes like Spider-Man who themselves were presented as more complex, multi-dimensional characters than their forties counterparts.
With the political theme of the current "Civil War" storyline, some have speculated that Marvel is itself making a political statement about the current administration. After all, here we have Mr. Mom And Apple Pie himself at odds with his own government.
Writer Jeph Loeb (who also works on the hit TV series Heroes) for the most part isn't talking — although he does admit that ''he wears the flag and he is assassinated — it's impossible not to have it at least be a metaphor for the complications of present day.''
That assassination took place in issue 25 of the current run on Captain America. In the story, Captain America was struck down by a rooftop sniper while finally surrendering himself to authorities at a federal courthouse in New York. But was the sniper a lone assassin, or part of a wider conspiracy?
In the issue which hits stands — when else? — the day after Independence Day, Captain America is laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery in a casket carried by pallbearers including Iron Man and the Fantastic Four's Ben "The Thing" Grimm.
While in the comic book version of the story it was an assassin's bullet which ends the life of the superhero icon, in real life Captain America is more likely the victim of both our changing times, and the changing political climate in America and the world.
Rest in peace, Captain America.