Saturday, March 30, 2013

United We Fall


Name This Marvel Villain??

"Patriotism" is one of those words which can be either positive or negative, depending on the person laying claim to the word. But in the case of Flag-Smasher, it's patriotism itself that he seeks to crush--for patriotism springs from nationalism, and Flag-Smasher finds nationalism abhorrent. Which makes Captain America, the ultimate patriot, a living symbol of everything this villain fights against. And when Cap schedules a local public appearance, Flag-Smasher sees an opportunity to make his case on a broader platform:

And so Flag-Smasher literally crashes Cap's address, flying into the hall on a gunship and wreaking havoc with the crowd. Cap disables the ship and brings him down to Earth, but loses his shield in the process--and Flag-Smasher threatens to fire on the audience unless he receives a mic and television coverage to make a statement. Talk about a captive audience:

The crowd is definitely with Cap, which infuriates Flag-Smasher and gives the police time to arrive in force and surround the hall. When the police order Flag-Smasher to stand down, Cap makes his move. You can guess how things turn out for Flag-Smasher, who really has no powers to speak of and only minimal fighting skills in addition to his weaponry:

Though it's too bad he missed Cap's closing argument, because Flag-Smasher goes from bad to worse when he returns a few issues later as the head of his own well-armed terrorist group. And again he makes use of hostages to specifically target Cap:

I know what you're thinking. Flag-Smasher's group, "ULTIMATUM," probably takes the prize for the words of its acronym being words you're least likely to recall, with "SHIELD" a close second. (Come on, does anyone doubt that even Marvel's writers have to look up "SHIELD" when it has to list its wording, each and every time?)

Anyway, Cap doesn't just walk into ULTIMATUM's hands. Infiltrating the group at their base in the Swiss Alps using one of their uniforms, Cap takes out the guards one by one, until he's located the hostages--but when the jig is up, even Cap can't be everywhere at once, and Cap finds that guards willing to take hostages aren't necessarily going to play by his moral code:

And so Cap has no choice but to mow down the guard by gunfire, killing him. Never having taken a life before, the incident haunts and angers Cap, treating the death as a stain on his honor. Which is a weird way of looking at it--not only because he didn't have a problem with fighting side-by-side with men using weapons to spray bullets into Nazis, but his own teenage partner was trained to take lives as a matter of course. Birds of a feather, Captain.

Once ULTIMATUM is taken care of and gift-wrapped for the authorities, Cap goes after Flag-Smasher, and the two have a mid-air battle in the villain's getaway helicopter which crashes into the Alps and strands them in the freezing snow. Flag-Smasher, injured, isn't exactly filled with gratitude:

But even Flag-Smasher knows when to throw in the towel, knowing all too well Cap's ability to overcome the odds:

There really isn't much chance of a meeting of the minds here, judging by the failure of the only tools Cap has at his disposal to reach Flag-Smasher--words and compassion.  Nor is Flag-Smasher liable to put a dent in Cap's fierce nationalistic pride with the only tool at his disposal--words advocating the abolishment of national boundaries.  On some level, Cap may feel that Flag-Smasher's goals are laudable--but his methods of using terrorism to force compliance are unacceptable.  Given his temperament, it's a distinction that Flag-Smasher isn't likely to see anytime soon.


Doc Savage said...

Flag Smasher and ULTIMATUM I remember well because it's a comic I clearly recall buying due to he awesome covers and the story where Cap was forces to kill in order to save lives.

Doc Savage said...

P.S. "never having taken a life before" is not correct as Cap killed many Axis soldiers and agents during WWII. And rightly so.

Comicsfan said...

I tend to agree that it would have to be practically impossible for Cap to have avoided taking any lives during the war, given the high-stakes battles that he fought--not to mention the odds he often fought against and the lives of other soldiers or civilians he was trying to protect. At any rate, we'd have to take this up with writer Mark Gruenwald, who's no slouch when it comes to knowing Marvel history and no doubt did his homework prior to writing the Flag-Smasher story. He may have simply been referring to Cap acting in other than a self-defense posture, as the terrorist was attacking the hostages directly and not Cap himself. It's a slippery slope--and, frankly, one that I didn't expect to find Cap trying to navigate, given the look-the-other-way attitude he took with his own partner.

Doc Savage said...

Cover of Cap #25 has him throwing a grenade, #37 he's dropping a bomb...and I'm sure there are more. Also bucky is frequently shooting his little submachinegun on numerous covers. They definitely did their share of killing and would've been fools not to. Gruenwald maybe retconned or else meant outside of wartime.