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Fighting the Good Fight: Captain America, Guardian of Marvel Morality

(originally published in Comic Book Marketplace #54, December 1997)

From sea to shining sea, everyone knows of the Living Legend and his heroic exploits. But how did a simple soldier become an enduring symbol of courage, idealism, and morality? We offer a brief look at the star-spangled hero’s spiritual journey, and a glimpse of where Cap will be heading in the years ahead.

Night in the city. Somewhere in the cavernous depths of Manhattan, three figures in black slip quietly down an alleyway. They are young, barely out of their teens, and their intentions are undeniably criminal. Suddenly, the bright gleam of metal shatters the darkness, and a spinning disc—red and white concentric stripes, a white star emblazoned in a blue center—caroms off the nearby wall, sending two of the interlopers diving to the ground. Sparks fly as it rebounds off brick and concrete, rendering the fleeing third figure unconscious before he even hits the ground. As the disc bounces off the asphalt into a red-gauntleted hand, one of the hoods looks up with fearful eyes. He recognizes the proud shield and its owner, and he knows their plans have been foiled. A confident voice emerges from the shadows, calming and yet commanding at the same time. “Isn’t this a school night, son?” he quips as he steps into the light, and his brightly colored red, white, and blue garb signals the triumph of order and justice. He is the Living Legend of World War II, the Sentinel of Liberty, the real American hero—he is Captain America.


Captain America was born in 1941 amid a storm of patriotic fervor and righteous indignation. The United States, eventually forced to acknowledge the world at war around them, joined the fray by the end of that year determined to defeat the Axis powers. But even before that, characters throughout film, radio, and print were used to rally the American fighting spirit, and from that fictional crowd emerged a new hero, a soldier destined to become a legend in his own time. Captain America was actually Steve Rogers, an ordinary man who dreamed of serving his country. Too weak and scrawny to be a soldier, he was offered the chance to participate in a government project designed to create a new breed of “super-soldier.” Emerging from that experiment with enhanced strength and stamina, and still possessing the same purity of spirit, Rogers became America’s newest secret weapon. Co-creator Joe Simon credits Cap as being the first human Marvel hero. “He wasn’t a big gun-toter, but a common man, a soldier,” Simon says. “He was a perfect hero.”

Cap’s early adventures were dominated by “Ratzi/Jap-bashing,” as Cap and his sidekick, Bucky, laid into the soulless monsters who threatened democracy. It was a simpler time in many respects; a time when good and evil were clearly defined, and young Americans could innocently thrill to the exploits of their hero as he decimated the enemies of freedom around the globe. Against such foes as the deadly Red Skull, a Nazi agent who served as one of Hitler’s weapons in the war against the Allies, Cap and Bucky were shining examples of American guts and determination; the Axis never had a chance, and we knew it.

He was a perfect hero.

The fiercely patriotic slant that colored most of Captain America’s early stories continued when a ’50s revival pitted Cap and Bucky against the “Commies.” As before, some of the attitudes and posturing were politically incorrect by today’s standards, but this was just another rallying cry for young Americans, enlisting their support in the war against foreign invasion both physical and ideological. Captain America took the fight to the enemy, and the country’s sovereignty and stability were safe again.

Eventually, as the urgency of Nazi and Communist aggression receded, Captain America was left without a crusade, and his star faded into obscurity. In comic book terms, Cap was frozen in suspended animation at the close of World War II, and the 1950s-era Cap and Bucky would later be revealed as brainwashed impostors, but of course, that was mere editorial tap-dancing. The country had simply grown out of its need for a flag-waving hero, at least temporarily. Like the mythical King Arthur, Captain America slept, ready to awaken and take up his shield in the time of his country’s greatest need. That time was quickly approaching.


By the 1960s, the dawn of a new heroic age in comics had begun, and the time was right to reintroduce a legend. When Captain America was discovered in a block of ice by the Avengers and revived, he found himself in a world very different from the one he left; a world, not of black and white, but of shades of grey, where good and evil were not as clearly defined.

The Vietnam era was consumed by quite a different conflict than those plaguing the America of the ’40s and ’50s. With young and old locked in an ideological war of words, the United States was not a homogenous bastion of patriotism, spearheading the cause of freedom and democracy in far off lands. Vietnam pit generations of Americans against each other, and the war was waged on the home front as well as abroad. Into this new battle, Captain America walked alone, taken in by his Avengers compatriots and forced to adjust to an America that had forgotten the simpler values. His sidekick Bucky had been lost in World War II, laying down his life for his friend and his country, and that too was a loss that Cap had to bear. Despite these hurdles, Cap never swayed from his devotion to his native land, and within a few short years, Cap evolved from a war-time relic into the absolute moral center of the Marvel Universe.

Cap evolved from a war-time relic into the absolute moral center of the Marvel Universe.

Virtually every other hero looks up to Cap, not just as an ideal example of true heroism, but as a father figure. Perhaps because of Bucky’s tragic death, Cap has often seemed not only like a man out of time, but a teacher without a student. To fill the void, other heroes have learned from his experience or tried to take up the challenge of being the Living Legend’s partner. Temporary compatriots like Rick Jones, the Falcon, and Diamondback reinforced the idea that Cap was more than just another hero—he was a mentor and guide, with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to impart. Even mavericks like Spider-Man have sought Cap’s advice, which is always administered with the easy manner of a man who has seen it all and still believes. “What seems to be the problem, son?” he might ask Spidey, although he can’t be more than five years older (physically) or so than the web-slinger. The father-son roles are clear and silently understood.


Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Captain America was regularly faced with tests of his faith and courage, but through it all, his purity of spirit and strength of will remained constant. In clashes with his arch-enemy, the Red Skull, who tried to defeat Cap with weapons like the Cosmic Cube or accelerated aging, our hero was steadfast and won the day. Even after his brief sojourns as Nomad and the Captain, periods in which he was either inspired or forced to abandon the mantle of Captain America, he always returned to that identity with an even greater sense of purpose.

Perhaps the most important stabilizing role Cap played in Marvel history, and the one that cemented him as guardian of Marvel morality and heroism, is as chairman and leader of the Avengers. Having joined the group after its initial creation, Cap was left by the founders—Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp—to run a team comprised of largely untried misfit heroes, namely Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. Clearly, his suitability as a team leader was already in evidence, and in short order, he swiftly established himself as arguably the most accomplished and tactically skilled combat leader in comics.

Cap always returned to that identity with an even greater sense of purpose.

“When I saw him turn three of the most down-and-out rogues into Avengers…heroes who could meet any challenge…I knew Cap could achieve miracles,” Quicksilver himself commented in the pivotal Captain America #444, written by then series scribe Mark Waid. “Cap was our tactician. There’s always a way, and Cap could find it,” Black Widow noted, and indeed, even when he wasn’t holding the actual title in the Avengers line-up, Captain America has always been the de facto leader of the team whenever he is present, the man who symbolizes the Avengers spirit. All others defer to his judgment and tactical strategy. Even gods like Thor and Hercules, beings who supposedly possess millennia of combat experience, follow Cap’s orders and would fight by his side to the ends of the universe. His voice has been described as powerful enough to command the gods. “On Olympus, we measure wisdom against Athena, speed against Hermes, power against Zeus,” Hercules said. “But we measure courage against Captain America.”


“The ongoing struggle with writing Captain America,” observes Waid, “is to make such a morally upright character relevant to a generation of kids who have to go through a metal detector to get into school. For young readers, I see Cap as a line of defense in an otherwise hostile world. He is very literally a shield.” Cap has been repeatedly defined through his actions as a man of duty and honor. Waid in particular has not only reaffirmed Cap’s legendary status, but found new ways to reflect the ideals and values that lie at the heart of the American dream. Although another famous hero lays claim to the notion, Captain America is the only real crusader for truth, justice, and the American way. “Superman by nature of his own humility cannot understand his importance in the world,” Waid notes, “but Cap can’t be that naive about it. He is something that Superman never was; he is a teacher. He’s taken all these heroes under his wing over the years, and he can’t help but realize the impact he has on his peers.”

Captain America has certainly come a long way from the Ratzi-bashing soldier of WWII. As the country has changed with the times, maturing through conflicts that blurred the line between right and wrong, Cap has never wavered from his duty and beliefs. He may only be a creation of paper and ink, but this simple comic book character has become a powerful American icon embodying very real values. No matter what choices are made—whether Cap leads or follows, whether he works for his government or against it, whether he wears wings or the proud “A” on his cowl—Cap will always remain loyal to the ideals and morals we all cherish, symbolizing the American dream of liberty and justice for all.

This simple comic book character has become a powerful American icon embodying very real values.

“I don’t think Captain America is ever going to die,” Simon says. “He’s unblemished, pure of spirit. He represents the father figure, Jesus Christ among the superheroes.” Waid agrees. “He’s more of a legend than ever. He’s a humble guy who believes that anyone with the suit and the serum could do the job, but to the world, he’s like a god.”

Captain America has overcome many obstacles in his never-ending battle against evil; he has returned from oblivion itself to fight for his country and people. With the support of writers like Joe Simon, Mark Waid, their successors, and millions of dedicated fans, the Living Legend is ready to carry that fight well into this millennium. For as long as comic book readers young and old thrill to his exploits, Captain America will serve as a shining example of the best in all of us, and the kind of human being we all aspire to become.

(originally published in Comic Book Marketplace #54, December 1997)


(originally written for Comic Book Marketplace #67, March 1999)

Today, the world reeled from the sad news that we had lost a legend. In conversations online, we all shared our memories of “The Man,” and in doing so, I talked about one of my proudest professional moments. This is that moment, now represented here in tribute to the person that shaped so much of my childhood, my ethics, my morality, and my understanding of right and wrong, justice, and heroism. Thank you Stan, it was an honor to chat with you “in character…”

[A Brief Note of Explanation: This article was written back in 1999 during a time when legendary Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee was understandably tired of being asked the same questions over and over again about his work on the amazing arachnid adventurer. But he agreed to the interview on one condition; he wanted Spider-Man himself to interview him! I was drafted into service to play the role of the wall-crawler – a task I had been preparing for my entire life – and let me tell you, it was a thrill to interview Stan ‘as’ Spidey! But let me assure you of one thing; while the Spider-Man segments of this interview were generated by me, Stan’s replies were straight from “The Man” himself. And now, the article that was originally billed as “A Unique, Historic Event in the Annals of Comicdom!”]

Hey there, true believers! It’s me, your ever-lovin’, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and boy have I got a story to tell you! Y’know, I’ve been fighting the good fight and trying to make ends meet for over thirty years now, and I’ll tell ya, after some pretty rough times and a few tight spots I thought I’d never get out of, things are finally starting to look up for your favorite amazing arachnid! I’ve got a great new job doing what I love – science – and some snazzy New York digs for when it’s time to head home and rest the ol’ noggin. And how could I forget MJ? She’s the best wife a harried hero could hope for, and she’s a knock-out to boot!

But that’s not why we’re here today. I wanted to share with you an incredible experience I recently had, one I just couldn’t keep to my cuddly self any longer! After four decades of battling lunatic bad guys, taking care of Aunt May, and snapping the odd picture for the Daily Bugle and its resident curmudgeon, J. Jonah Jameson, I finally had the chance to sit down and chat with the man who made it all possible – the man who created me and allowed all of you loyal fans the chance to see into my world! That’s right, I’m talking about Stan “The Man” Lee himself, the guy who charted the course to new heights of fantasy and adventure with Marvel Comics, and the amazing writer who thought up yours truly!

You’ve probably heard more about Stan over the years than I could even think to tell you, but here for the first time, you can read what happened when I had the chance to put my creator on the spot and ask him the really tough questions. So what are ya waiting for, an engraved invitation? Read on, oh dedicated Spider-phile!

Hi, Stan! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
Hey there, Spidey! It sure is a thrill to finally meet you face to face!

Gosh, It’s kinda tough for me not to get a little tongue-tied, but I guess it’s not every day a guy gets the chance to quiz his own maker about the meaning behind it all. I’d hate to mess this up, so I suppose I should get right to the heart of it and ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask: Why me? I mean, look at all the crud I have to deal with every day! People who despise me, an aunt who suffers a near fatal heart attack every five minutes, a boss who barely acknowledges my talent while thoroughly trashing my alter ego in the papers, and weird, super-powered nutcases who only want to pound me into the pavement! I don’t get the glory like Torchie and his FF buddies, and I’m not exactly on a level with Thor and Doc Strange when it comes to the big stuff. How d’ya expect a regular guy like me to handle all this, proportional spider-strength notwithstanding?
Fact is, Spidey, I wanted you to be typical of every guy who reads comics and wishes he had super powers. I wanted to show that such powers can be as much of a curse as a blessing. And I’ve a hunch my titanically talented partner, Steve Ditko, felt the same way, ’cause he sure joined me in dreaming up the wildest sort of woes for you month after month. But, hey, things haven’t been all bad with you, have they? I mean, you’re married to a beautiful girl and live in one of the world’s most exciting cities – and you don’t have to pound the keys of a computer night and day, worrying about making deadlines, like certain superhero writers I could mention!

Well, OK, maybe that came off a bit too ungrateful. After all, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, Stan. Actually, that brings to mind something else – did you create me in your own image? Maybe that’s corny, but is there anything of you in little ol’ me?
Actually, you’re right. I did think of myself when I first dreamed you up. I figure I’m a pretty typical guy who has pretty typical problems, so why should you be different? Think about it – nothing ever turns out perfect for anyone, right? So join the crowd, Bunky.

I hear ya. Still, thinking back over the years, is there anything you’d change about me if you could go back and do it again? I know I’d probably ask to be a better seamstress, but that’s just me. After a few tattered costumes, you get to wishing you could thread a needle on the first try.
Nah. I like you just the way you are. After all, after more than 30 years I’ve sort of gotten used to you.

Thanks, I’ve grown attached to me too. Y’know, I mentioned Torchie before, and it occurs to me, I haven’t exactly been alone in this thing. There’ve been people who stuck with me, like ol’ Hornhead (Daredevil), Doc Connors, even Reed and the FF. But the matchstick and I have this weird friendship that even we don’t quite understand. We started out hating each other, but now I’d crawl into a burning building for the guy (not that he’d need help in that case). In a weird way, he’s like the brother I never had. Is any of this drawn from your life? Besides me and Storm, you’ve had similar sibling relationships in the FF and the early X-Men too. Childhood memories? I’m a biochemist, not a psychologist, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
Sure, there are people I started out disliking who eventually turned into good friends of mine. And I have a brother, Larry Lieber, who does a great job drawing your adventures in 500 newspapers every weekday – although I must admit I’ve always liked him. Friends and relationships are important to me, so I wanted them to be important to you, too.

Are they ever! And man, I must be the hardest working man in comics, appearing in several monthly titles, a cartoon, that newspaper strip, even occasional books and television. It gets pretty hard to keep track of where I am and who I’m fighting from one minute to the next! I’ve also been from the sewers of New York to the realm of Dormammu! I still feel like just a simple guy at heart, but I’ve seen some weird stuff. What made me the Marvel ambassador of good will throughout the universe? I could use a nap sometimes (or some R&R with MJ).
If you think it’s been confusing to you, imagine what it’s been like for me! I didn’t even write most of your stories after the first unforgettable years, so I can hardly remember all the places you’ve been or the nutcases you’ve met up with. Anyway, stop griping, willya? You don’t hear me complaining to you!

Sorry, Stan. I have to admit, when it comes to Rogues’ Galleries, I think I’ve got that Dark Knight guy beat with megalomaniacs like Doc Doom, criminal masterminds like the Kingpin, mad scientists like Ock, and full-blown lunatics like the Green Goblin (all of them). I’ve fought some real losers too, like the Gibbon, the Kangaroo (sheesh!), and even just a Guy named Joe. Any of these jokers (oops) stick out in your mind as your favorites? Any of ’em you wish you could sweep under the rug?
Wouldja believe I love each and every one of our villains, the great ones and the icky ones. Without them, you’d be just another shutterbug that no one ever heard of. Hey, if you were really considerate, you ought to send those burgeoning baddies a bonus check every year to show your gratitude. But if I hadda pick a favorite, it would probably be Doc Ock. As for a Guy named Joe, you’ve gotta admit it took a lot of guts to inflict so offbeat a villain on our defenseless readers.

True, but then you’ve also given them some great gals to gaze at too. For a guy who always seems to be down on his luck, I’ve had my share of romance, from the early days of Betty Brant … to Gwen … and finally, MJ. Were any of these women based on people you knew in real life? I can tell you, some of the heartache certainly felt real.
I knew a lot of fabulous females in my wild youth, so I guess I probably based every one of your relationships on someone or some incident I dimly remembered. Chances are, every writer does that, either consciously or unconsciously. And as for the heartache, sorry, but it goes with the territory, kid.

Right before you left me (Stan stopped scripting Amazing Spider-Man with #100), I was getting in to some really tight scrapes, from riots on college campuses and in prisons to the effects of drug addiction on my best friend. You took some pretty strong stands, and you even went without the Comics Code to make a point. Not that I disagreed with you – I’ve always been kind of a morally conscious, opinionated guy – but why did you start to tell these politically-oriented stories? Was it because I was more ‘normal’ than say a Norse god or a Master of the Mystic Arts, or was it something else?
You hit the nail on the head, pal. It was because you were the most normal of the lot – that is, if you can call a web-swingin’, wall-crawlin’, masked do-gooder with the proportionate strength of a spider “normal!”

OK, here’s one I just have to ask. Why did you leave? We stuck through some pretty tough times before you decided to go, and to top it all off, within a couple years of you leaving me, some other guy came along and killed my best girl Gwendy! I mean, talk about the ol’ Parker luck running true to form! My life became a nightmare without you!
You’ll never know how it broke me up when I had to put you in the care of others, sonny boy. But there was no way out. My life just became too complicated for me to continue as a script writer. I had to go around the country lecturing and doing interviews and getting involved with our animated cartoons and movie and TV projects. Then, before I knew it, I was named publisher and I had to hang with the “suits.” You think you had problems in your life? Some day I’ll tell you what it’s like dealing with suits! As for what happened to Gwen (I always loved calling her Gwendy), I think I felt as broken up as you did about her tragic fate – after all, you just fell in love with her, but Jazzy Johnny Romita and I created the lady!

Stan Lee, Spider-Man, and Arnold T. Blumberg at a San Diego Comic-Con in the early 2000s.

I know our time is running short, so I have one more thing to say, creator o’ mine. As you well know, I never had a real father when I was growing up, but Uncle Ben was the best father I could ever hope for. In a way, you’re as much my dad as he ever was, so … aw shucks, what I’m trying to say is, are you proud of me? Have I done OK? I’ve tried to live up to the great power and great responsibility jazz, and I only hope it’s been enough.
Am I proud of you? Look, the only way I can put it is – I hope I can be half the man you are, Petey! You’ve taken the worst life has to offer and always come back undaunted and ready to face whatever new challenges may await you. You may not have been perfect, but who is? It’s even been rumored that I myself may have a fault or two, impossible as that may seem! But the most important thing is you always did your best, and nobody can do better than that. I’d say more, you wonderful ol’ webhead, but I know you hate to see a grown man cry! Excelsior! – Stan (Dad!)

Thanks for sharing this special event with me, and I’ll see ya all in the funny papers! – Spidey

©1999 Arnold T. Blumberg