Monday, January 21, 2013

The Right Man For The Right Job

In honor of inauguration festivities, it seems like a good time to revisit a story that explored the viability of a presidential candidate who was right under our noses:

(I know--I winced at those awful cross-title Toys "R" Us ads, too. They defaced many a cover, but must have brought in a pretty penny for Marvel.)

Roger Stern, writer of Captain America at the time, sums up for us here the intriguing premise for this issue, in a conversation with artist John Byrne, Ralph Macchio, and Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter:

"Don" and "Mac" in this case being Don Perlin and Roger MacKenzie, who once approached Stern (then Editor of Cap) with a similar idea--with the difference that in Perlin and MacKenzie's version, Cap would win the election, and the book would spend the next four years telling stories centered in and around Washington, D.C. An idea which Stern passed on, at the time.

But for Cap's 250th issue, which was just five issues before Cap's 40th anniversary issue, Stern and Byrne (good lord, that can't just be coincidence) decided to green-light the idea with the new angle mentioned above. To set the ball in motion, an independent political party approaches Cap and pitches the idea to him, with a predictable lack of enthusiasm on Cap's part. But when a surprised friend shows him the front-page story from the next day's newspaper, Cap gets a first-hand lesson in the nature of politics, and handlers:

(And look at the fun way this issue's writing and art credits are presented.)

It doesn't take long for Cap to get feedback on the idea. From his friends:

From the other political parties:

From his fellow Avengers:

And how about the man (and woman) on the street?

But Cap finds his most valuable opinion in the past, when jaunting over the rooftops brings him to a condemned building where he went to school in the 1930s. Entering the building, he remembers one classroom in particular--a room presided over by his former civics teacher, Mrs. Crosley:

And so the issue is settled for Cap. But settled which way? Like everybody else, we'll have to catch Cap's speech a few hours later at his party's convention gathering in order to find out:

I don't know why Cap doesn't feel he'll make a good politician--because if I come away from a speech like that, where the speaker has apparently said something profound and meaningful but I still have difficulty nailing down the point he's trying to make, then this guy's going to fit right in in Washington. The gist of Cap's message seems to be that he has an aversion to the way politics work, and that adapting his forthright style of problem-solving to deal-making would dilute his effectiveness as an advocate. Or--he's simply saying he feels he wouldn't get as much done for the country behind a desk. Either of which he could have said more directly, without the American flags waving in his eyeballs.

Given the more serious tone that writer Ed Brubaker set for his run on Captain America, it's interesting to hold Stern's/Byrne's Cap up to the light and see his contrast. You'll notice in this story that Cap seems to think in a much more idealistic fashion, where his optimism and easy-going manner lace almost his every page--and in combat, he's reasonably engaged in the circumstances he's involved in, yet not terribly efficient in dealing with them. It's a Captain America in slow motion--a state which Byrne's style for the character matches, reminding me somewhat of Gene Colan's Cap work.

This Captain America has less of an edge, and a more contemplative way of dealing with a crisis--and it's a character well-suited to the straight-up, awe-inspiring hero that Stern and Byrne wish to present, far less conflicted and more humble than the Englehart Cap. And while the public may think of Captain America as the perfect, most trustworthy candidate for the job of U.S. President, it seems a different type of battle that Cap himself feels uncomfortable about girding himself for. Perhaps another time we'll explore the What If? story that handled things differently, where Cap is indeed elected President.  Though you know the ballot box is rigged if the Watcher is involved.

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