Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Striving Through Adversity

Today, as I join my fellow Americans in observing this anniversary of our independence and freedom, it seemed appropriate to look for a different kind of inspiration from our most recognized fictional bastion of national pride and liberty, Captain America--particularly this year, when many of us find the state of our union in a precarious condition and we navigate our way through such troubling domestic conflicts. Fortunately, throughout his long career, Steve Rogers has often shown us through example his own method of facing difficult challenges--while continuing to push on against injustice and the forces that seek to weaken our spirit, as well as rejecting the sinking feeling that we take two steps backward for every step forward. For Cap, his perseverance seems to all come down to a virtual code by which he lives: striving through adversity. To keep at bay those who would derail our progress and dampen our identity as a nation that treasures equality and the rule of law... to rise above the setbacks we encounter and stay true to our conscience.

Cap has certainly had his share of setbacks and tests of resolve--and to bring some of those together in this post is both a pleasure and an interesting trip through the decades of his career, as well as providing a look at the many interpretations by his writers and artists of how this character handles adversity, both personally and as a national symbol.

To start things off, there is, of course, no more memorable event in Cap's life than his startling decision to hang up his uniform and shield and renounce his identity as Captain America, a decision he's made more than once. In two of these instances, his decision was the result of his disillusionment with his government, though for different reasons. In the first, the corruption he discovered at the highest level of government led to a feeling of betrayal, and, from there, the decision that he couldn't in good conscience continue to represent that government.

During World War II, when the country was united not only domestically but with the free world in common cause, standing behind the U.S. government was a role that must have come easily to Rogers, one he fell into almost immediately after the experiment that made him Captain America; so it's understandable that seeing that government become something so insidious would have hit him hard, given his unswerving belief in his country's leaders up to that point. Yet after taking up another costumed identity for a time, it occurs to him that, in his role as Captain America, he's come to represent not so much the country's government but rather the dreams and spirit of his fellow Americans.

It's a realization that serves him well from that point on, giving him a clarity and purpose that went beyond unwavering duty and service. At a later point, when he's called on the carpet by a government commission to assume a more direct role as a government operative, his perspective has evolved to the point of making a distinction between the American government and those he feels he truly represents, though his decision is not an easy one.

The government's solution is to move on and select another man--John Walker--to fill the role of Captain America. But Walker proves to be unstable, and a subversive plot within the government leads the commission to request that Rogers step in and reclaim his uniform. Rogers, now in another costumed identity, at first refuses--but Walker takes him aside and urges him to reconsider.

It wouldn't be possible to show Captain America striving against adversity without including the work of writer/artist Jim Steranko, whose brief work on the title injected the character with boldness and vitality that made Cap practically leap off of every page. One of my favorites involved a plot of Rogers to regain his secret identity by faking his own death, in a story drawn by Steranko and scripted by Stan Lee; and while I didn't care much for the plot itself, Steranko's art has a way of reeling you into the action and holding your attention. As for Lee, who took quite well to bringing to life Cap's fighting spirit and his will to persevere, his narrative blends nicely with the dynamic action playing out before us. Throw in Madame Hydra, an army of Hydra goons, and the backdrop of a cemetery, and you've got yourself a party.

There were also times when Cap faced more personal obstacles, such as when his foes would devise ways to put him at a disadvantage by forcing him into a form that resulted in him becoming less than he was. Yet a person's will and spirit can never be underestimated--and what holds true for you an I is equally applicable to Captain America, who wrote the book on the indomitable fighting spirit. For instance, even when Cap reverted to the state he was before he underwent the super-soldier experiment, he sought to prove to himself that Captain America was more than a mask and a serum. The odds were against him prevailing--but what are odds to this man?

At a later time, Cap was severely aged, thanks to the Red Skull (whose own clock was quickly running out on him). In the Avengers' lab, the battle to restore him was waged in an isolated chamber with special equipment; yet his foes sought him out even there, and Cap, in his aged and weakened state, waged his own battle for his life.

Finally, we find Cap again at a point where he must decide whether to give up his role as Captain America--this time, not out of antipathy toward what that role had come to represent, but because he must consider whether he can better serve the greater good in another role. Suddenly engulfed in a public wave to draft him as a presidential candidate, he receives advice from a number of sources in many walks of life--yet what decides the issue for him is a memory from his childhood that provides guidance (and no small amount of inspiration) from his former civics teacher.

Over 240 years after our struggle for independence ended, one can only wonder what King George III, regarded as a tyrant by those in his country's colonies to the west, would have thought of America as it stands today: a fragmented nation with a divisive culture, its people at odds with its own government (and vice versa). We'd probably be able to hear his mocking laughter clear across the Atlantic.  As we've made the transition to the 21st century, we've learned how far we have yet to go in our dealings with each other; and in the coming years we're likely to encounter even more differences of opinion. Judging by just the last few months, the conclusions we come to may not be easy ones to live with. Until the storm passes, we're left to strive on as best we can. With no Captain America to look to as the embodiment of the American dream--the American ideal--our struggle will lie in setting a higher standard for each other while doing our best to see those elusive qualities realized in our lives, and in ourselves.

1 comment:

Colin Jones said...

Recently it was revealed that Captain America had been a Hydra agent all along !! But it turns out he wasn't - yay !

By the way, King George III was just a powerless figurehead - if anyone deserved the title of "tyrant" it was the Prime-Minister, Lord North.

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