Good Guy With a Gun: A Superhero For the Times

Captain America returns in January with a sparkly new costume. And a gun.
Captain America returns in January with a sparkly new costume. And a gun. (Marvel Comics)
By David Betancourt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When Captain America returns to the pages of his comic book in January, it won't be his star-spangled new duds getting all the attention. Instead it will be what he's wielding in his right hand, the one once reserved for pummeling the jaws of evil. Come next year, he'll be gripping cold, hard steel.

That's right, Captain America will be packing heat.

With a few mainstream comic book exceptions -- the Punisher, for instance -- it's usually the bad guys who have the guns. Bullets bounce off Superman's chest. Batman swears never to use a gun. The only thing Spider-Man keeps in his suit is a camera. And protecting himself from enemy fire is the whole reason Captain America has a shield, right?

"We definitely wanted a Captain America that still screamed, 'This is Captain America,' but this isn't the same Cap you've been reading about," says Ed Brubaker, the comic book's writer. "This isn't Steve Rogers."

For the novices out there, Rogers was Captain America's true identity. He was taken down in a hail of gunfire earlier this year, a casualty of the civil war raging within the Marvel universe. Marvel's superheroes were fighting over a law that required all those with superhuman abilities to register with the government, thus revealing their secret identities. Iron Man lead the way in support of the government. Even Spider-Man unmasked himself. Captain America, however, believed it was a violation of his civil liberties to be forced to reveal his civilian identity and led the rebellion against the law. Talk about a metaphor for the battles of our day. Can anyone out there say Patriot Act?

When he finally went to surrender -- fearing the war was taking too great a toll on innocent bystanders -- he was whacked, blown away on his way to the courthouse.

A bit of irony there, eh, Brubacker?

"The kind of writer I am, all the writing grows out of the characters," he says. "Everything about the Captain America redesign has to do with the characters in the story."

Brubaker, who has been writing the comic book for nearly three years, says he's had people from the left and the right tell him what Captain America should stand for. But Brubaker says he's always tried to emphasize Captain America's military background. And the truth is, he adds, this isn't the first time that the Captain has been armed.

"I've leaned on the 'soldier' part of super-soldier," Brubaker says. "If you look at Cap in the 1940s, they have him with a shield in one hand and a machine gun in the other, and Bucky [the Captain's World War II teen sidekick] has a flamethrower.

"In the '80s they started changing his history, saying he'd never killed anyone. A guy who fought in World War II isn't going to care if terrorists die. I've always approached the book as a superhero espionage comic."

Brubaker realizes that everyone in the country doesn't read the comic book, let alone know the character's history, and that for some the Captain is more a symbol of untainted righteousness.

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