Philosopher Mark D. White thinks a fictional character can help Americans find common ground.
White, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at College of Staten Island/City University of New York, argues that the principles and judgment shown by Captain America in the Marvel comics and films can help each of us in our daily lives. He’s written about these subjects in “Virtues of Captain America.”
“I really wanted it to be for a wide range of people who are interested about ethics and what ethics in the modern day mean, and issues about the political divisiveness in our country, and the example that Captain America can show to start to overcome that,” White said in an interview with The Oklahoman.
Captain America first appeared in “Captain America Comics” No. 1 in 1941. Captain America became one of the most popular war-time heroes, but his popularity waned in the postwar era. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee revived Captain America in the pages of “Avengers” No. 4, where Captain America became a hit, eventually headlining his own comic-book series.
“Very rarely does he appear in a comic book where some comment is not made about his honor or his integrity or his honesty or his courage or his leadership,” White said.
For Independence Day, White recounted some of the key Captain America storylines.
“The stories I was most drawn to ... were the stories where he confronts the United States government over some manner of principle,” White said.
Steve Englehart was one of the most prominent writers to tackle Captain America in the 1970s. In his storylines “Secret Empire” and “Nomad,” Captain America discovers a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of the U.S. government. He’s disillusioned by what he’s discovered, and gives up the Captain America identity to become Nomad. “Secret Empire” ran in issues 169-176 of “Captain America.” “Nomad” ran in issues 177-186.
“I think the Englehart run was more tied into current politics, obviously that was during Watergate,” White said, noting that Englehart later stated the storyline was a comment on the end of the Nixon administration.
Roger Stern and John Byrne had a brief but memorable run on “Captain America” in the early 1980s, collected in the “War and Remembrance” hardcover edition. It features Captain America mulling a presidential run in issue No. 250.
“He makes that great speech where he says politicians play an important role, but they have to balance things and they have to make compromises,” White said. “And that’s important, and I understand that, but I can’t do that because I have to stand as a symbol of principles and ideals and the American Dream.”
Mark Gruenwald became the longest-serving writer of Captain America during his run in the 1980s and 1990s. In “Captain America” No. 332, a government commission demands that Captain America answer solely to it. Steve Rogers refuses and gives up the costume of Captain America. In the storyline, the government hires its own Captain America, and Rogers continues to fight for liberty while wearing a predominantly black costume and calling himself simply “The Captain.”
“There’s this perception ... that Captain America’s just a jingoistic flag-waving agent of the United States government,” White said. “And certainly Cap’s fought analogues of himself that did serve in that role, such as when John Walker took over for him during the ‘Captain’ storyline.”
Another time Captain America came in conflict with the government was in the 2006-2007 miniseries “Civil War,” by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven.
Marvel Comics’ “Civil War” featured Marvel's greatest heroes divided over a government initiative to register all superheroes.
“‘Civil War’ was a barely hidden analogy to the reaction to 9/11 and the Patriot Act,” White said.
White said he hopes even people who haven’t read a lot of “Captain America” comics can use the hero’s example to find common ground with fellow Americans.
“You don’t have to be a diehard Captain America fan to appreciate the book,” White said. “The end really gets into our current state of divisiveness and acrimony in our public debates, and how Captain America can provide an example of focusing on principle over politics and trying to get to what Americans share in terms of our basic values. I think if we keep those things that we share in mind, we can argue about our differences more productively and more civilly.”
Want to read more about Mark D. White’s recommended Captain America titles? Go online to newsok.com/blogs/nerdage.