I have never been a comic book fan. The art isn’t really my style (at least the art I saw way back when… I’ve seen some fantastic newer art that I’m more drawn to.*). The superhero genre didn’t appeal much to me, since I mostly saw it through the comic book lens. However, I love the recent adaptations of the Avengers. I especially love Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America. If you’ve been following this blog series on characters I love at all, or if you’ve read any of my books, you can probably guess that I love good guys. Specifically, I love good guys who turn their disappointment/frustration/pain/sadness/loneliness into kindness rather than bitterness.**
I read Why do good guy superheroes get a bad rap? before I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I agree with pretty much every word of it. I enjoyed the Dark Knight trilogy, but it was dark. Dark can be interesting… dark situations and dark characters can make us think. And, despite the darkness, Batman is a good guy. Sort of. Mostly.
If you haven’t seen The Winter Soldier, go watch it now. I’ll wait.
Ok, you’re back. You know near the end, when Steve refuses to fight the Winter Soldier anymore? THAT is the kind of good guy I love the most. The kind who chooses to act in love and friendship and generosity, rather than bitterness or selfishness or anger. The kind of good guy who would rather sacrifice himself than someone else. Not because he has to, but because he wants to.
Going back to the question of why good guy superheroes get a bad rap, I don’t think that trend is unique to superheroes. We’re noticing it about superheroes now because Marvel and DC are making lots of superhero movies, so there’s an obvious comparison between the dark reboots of the DC characters and the less dark reboots of the Marvel characters. But I think it’s been a trend in fiction for a long time, and I don’t like it.
Again, dark characters and dark situations can be interesting. I don’t object to their existence. I do object to the idea that a character must be dark to be interesting. Captain America is NOT dark… he’s been through dark things, he’s been through pain and frustration and trauma, but he remains a good and pure character.
That’s the POINT of Captain America. Check out this Wikipedia article. Captain America was created as an intentionally patriotic character by writers who were morally repulsed by Nazi ideology. From the beginning, he was a moral character; he wasn’t just a man with a personal beef but a character who stood for something more than himself. He’s not a Batman or a Tony Stark, running from the trauma of his past or trying to redeem his past misdeeds. He’s just a good guy, doing as much good as he can in a world that can sometimes be dark but isn’t hopeless.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers is chosen to receive the serum that makes him super because of his character… not his physical qualifications. That tells you almost everything you need to know – Captain America is a man of character, and that doesn’t change through all the physical events of the story. THAT is what makes him a hero. The serum enables him to act more effectively based on the character he already had…. it didn’t fundamentally change who he was.
The Winter Soldier was a fantastic movie for many reasons. One of the reasons I loved it was that the writers didn’t bow to the idea that a good, altruistic, unselfish character is by default boring or weak. There is NOTHING weak or boring about a good character making the deliberate choice to do good, to remain unselfish, in the face of temptation or danger. There is nothing weak in choosing not to bow to anger or fear.
There’s a really good scene near the beginning of the movie in which Captain America is cornered in an elevator with a bunch of Hydra bad guys. He doesn’t start the fight, and he tries to avoid it, but when necessary he defends himself and escapes. I liked how that scene was done… he’s shown as innocent, but not naive. Wise enough to realize that evil exists, and see it when it’s present, but not suspicious enough to manufacture bad guys in his mind.
True heroes don’t just act on basic selfish impulse. True heroes don’t put themselves and their own safety (physical or emotional) first. Heroism is more than just being fast or strong… it’s being willing to stand against the darkness. Darkness doesn’t brighten the darkness. Only light can beat back the dark.***
Also, kudos to Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America) and the other actors and actresses in the movie. The writing was great, and the production and direction were obviously fantastic. But it wouldn’t have worked without Evans being so convincing as Steve Rogers. He hit just the right note of innocent, squeaky-clean do-gooder without coming across as stupid or naive (well, foolishly naive… he’s trusting at first, but far from stupid, and he’s appropriately suspicious when warranted). He kept Captain America as the heroic character he was always meant to be.
**Yes, if you remember what Amy Pond told the Doctor about being really old and really kind and really alone… he’s another character who will be on the list of characters I love. For this and many other reasons.
***If you think this is a bit melodramatic, sorry. It’s late. Maybe I’ll reword this when I’m less tired.