Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Steve Rogers No More!

When I first saw the cover of Captain America #114, I had the issue pegged as yet another telling of Cap's origin--because at that point, we didn't know that much about "the man behind the mask," a.k.a. Steve Rogers. Other solo heroes like Daredevil and Spider-Man generally shared equal time with their respective civilian identities, so they were far from blank slates; but with Cap (and notice how I instinctively call him "Cap" rather than "Rogers"), his appearances so far in his own title as well as in Tales of Suspense had been focused on his battles as Captain America, not whatever life he lives as a civilian. We saw plenty of panels of him unmasked, both here and in The Avengers--but while that's indeed Steve Rogers, is his life lived mostly in costume? That's how it certainly seemed.

So if this was going to be an origin issue, it would have to bring something new to the table other than the Steve Rogers we saw in the Army, or the earlier Steve Rogers who made one attempt after another to join the service. And indeed, the cover by John Romita is so dramatic in appearance--with Steve Rogers sharing equal space with Captain America (though his expression would indicate his despondency at being hopelessly overshadowed by his alter-ego)--that it seemed that Steve Rogers would at last begin to assert himself, and become as central to the book as Peter Parker and Matt Murdock were in their own.

The difference here is that Steve Rogers is a bit of a stuffed shirt--and a depressed one at that, a man out of his time and with the death of his partner still heavy on his conscience. Would we want to see Rogers ascend? Was there anything about him of interest to contemporary readers? He seemed more like a lost soul, far from the confident fighter who could always meet a foe head-on and knew exactly what he was to do.

We can at least put one question to rest--this issue wasn't going to go over his origin, even with some kind of fresh twist. Just five issues earlier, we already got a fresh take on his origin, as Rogers bends the ear of Nick Fury:

So in this issue by Stan Lee and Romita, Lee at last pushes Cap into taking active steps toward establishing a life for Steve Rogers, from the ground up. And, with the help of events at a recent battle with the forces of Hydra, Cap decides that the best way to go about it is to dispose of "Steve Rogers" entirely:

Cap gets an added benefit from this plan--keeping those he loves safe from those who would track them through Rogers. Though as he walks the streets, even he seems to acknowledge that there wasn't much to Steve Rogers to begin with:

Yet, look how quickly the story ducks out of its own new beginning for the character, shoving Rogers aside in favor of shifting the focus back to Cap in action--as he discovers his girlfriend, SHIELD agent Sharon Carter, is attempting to capture a cell of A.I.M. leaders:

And you want to know the funny part? I'll bet we could care less about seeing Steve Rogers again, at this point. Not unless he's kicking back at Avengers Mansion while in costume.

I also have to wonder why Cap is so obsessed with saving Sharon from danger. Lee's writing weighs her down a bit with Sue Storm qualities, but at least he acknowledges that she's trained to work in one of the top spy/intelligence organizations in the world:

But as the story nears its end, it becomes clear that Cap is hinging his hopes for a life for Steve Rogers on his love for Sharon. It's not the direction I was hoping for--though as old-fashioned as Steve Rogers is, perhaps it's true to his character. Yet Cap makes such a point of the need to establish an identity for himself that it feels disappointing to see him grope so quickly for Sharon as a lifeline. Because it's not just a matter of giving his civilian identity more growth--due to his deception of "killing" Steve Rogers, he now has to virtually bury that person and begin a new identity from scratch. It's a lot different from sewing a cape and begin calling himself "Nomad."

Thus, he's understandably crushed when Sharon makes a different choice than he'd hoped for:

So Cap is forced to do basically what he set out to do in the first place--forge a life for his non-costumed persona (whoever that may turn out to be). It has to be an odd feeling to disguise yourself and not even know where you're headed:

And with nothing in his pockets that gives him any sort of identity to present to anyone, we see a different side of the "living legend" of Captain America altogether:

I have to admit to being surprised at Lee's willingness to explore this angle with Cap. He could have easily had Cap continue to bunk at Avengers Mansion--and the Avengers or Nick Fury could have set Cap up with a new documented identity easily enough. But Lee has a nice segment in the story that has Cap and the Avengers parting ways from a distance; and apparently the resolution of Cap's situation with Sharon has him keeping Fury and SHIELD at arm's length. So that leaves this man literally out on the street. We know in hindsight it's not meant to last--Steve Rogers would live again, soon enough. But Lee was smart enough to realize that Cap couldn't keep living in his uniform as if he were still in his Tales of Suspense period--he now had a full-length comic to prop up, and that meant seeing not only Captain America but also "the man behind the mask," someone who wasn't just responding to the next call to action.

Though leave it to Stan Lee to give even a man with no identity a visit by a deadly foe from his past.  And his most deadly foe, at that:

Maybe the Skull is just there to give him a driver's license and some cash.

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