America has been going through a period of growth in the last couple weeks. And that means that there is no better time to talk about Captain America.
“Captain America: Man Out of Time” by Mark Waid and Jorge Molina is the definitive telling of Captain America’s origin. The standard version of the story is that, at some point during World War II, Captain America fell into freezing water and survived frozen until he wakes up today. From Cap’s point of view, this story could be told in two ways. You could write the story of a confused old man, scared by interracial marriage, LGBTQ and teenage sex. Or you could extend the metaphor of the American Dream and have a character lost and out of time but excited by the proposition of growth within the country he loves. Captain America is the spirit of the American Dream. And while in practice America can fall short, the dream is perfect — and so is Cap.
There’s a famous curse in Chinese history: “May all your dreams come true.” We might say, “Be careful what you wish for.” And Captain America is no exception. What would be the wish of a man who has outlived all his friends and loved ones? He would wish to return home. And in “Captain America: Man out of Time,” the Avengers’ arch-villain Kang, the time-traveling conqueror, decides to give him what he wants. Kang’s plan to defeat the Avengers is simply send Cap back to 1943. And he does.
When Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, gets back home, he is happy. He gets to see his friends and family again. And he decides to take in a Brooklyn Dodgers game. The only open seat is in the colored section. Steve is not bothered by this, and decides to enjoy the game from there. Cap meets a young black child named Jeff and asks him, “You want to grow up to be a Dodger?” and at this point Jeff’s dad interrupts, “Don’t fill his head with nonsense like that. We both know that there’s a white man’s club.” And with one sentence, the shine is off the apple.
Captain America is America. And we should not be happy as a people while others are kept down. And you can see it in Steve’s face — there are no “good old days.” And anyone reminiscing about those times is ignoring that we weren’t allowing an entire race of people the basic dignity that our government is supposed to deliver. He would not focus on how kids spend too much time on cellphones — he would be focusing on the world in which we now live and much more free we, as Americans, have become. Captain America is not the man who would think wistfully of a time where women could not work, black people couldn’t vote, and gay people couldn’t marry. He would try to push even further into the future.