Heroes Never Rust #59 by Sean Ironman
Captain America Vs. The Banality of Evil
There was a time, long before Captain America: The Winter Soldier or The Avengers films, when Captain America didn’t have much going on. The World War II veteran was revived from his iceberg in 1964. Even with the sliding timeframe of the Marvel Universe (where even though the Fantastic Four became superheroes in 1961, the Marvel Universe has only existed for about ten years in the comics), there isn’t much to do with a man from another time. If he walks around confused because of iPhones and all the other new gadgets, readers wouldn’t respect him. He’s supposed to be the greatest American hero; he can’t go about like an idiot. In a way, Captain America became boring and bland. He became the goodie two-shoes superhero. Following 9/11, the character got a renewed focus. Instead of the sci-fi, comic bookie elements, the character was placed in “the real world.” Some of the comics worked better than others. The problem many comics have, and sometimes films, with trying to make things “real world” is that the comics become uninteresting. Captain America is much more interesting going up against the Red Skull than some real-world terrorist.
There are exceptions to this, however. (When aren’t there exceptions?) In 2002, Captain America: Dead Men Running, a three-issue miniseries, was released. Written by Darko Macan (who wrote had a great run on Cable and Soldier X) and penciled and inked by Danijel Zezelj, the comic features five American soldiers making their way through the Colombian jungle with the cocaine mafia chasing them. The soldiers have a handful of children they say they rescued from the mafia. Captain America is relegated to a supporting role. Again, there’s not much to do with a man out of time when he’s been in the new time period for a little while. Honestly, most superhero comics should try placing the superhero in a supporting role. Superheroes typically don’t have much of a character arc beyond becoming superheroes. But one thing they do real well is effect the world around them.
The main character of Dead Men Running is Sergeant Roberto Solano Vicq. He narrates the miniseries, which begins in media res. “We are dead” is the first line. “We lost our way two days ago along with Corporal Jonesy and the radio. For all I know we might be running in circles. We have no food, but we have a hundred mad Colombians after us. In a word, we are dead.” That’s as much exposition as readers get and that’s all that’s needed. Captain America parachutes in, or at least parachutes halfway and then breaks free of the chute and drops the rest of the way. He’s been brought in to help get the soldiers out.
Macan and Zezelj show why Captain America is the greatest American soldier. First, he doesn’t require a parachute. He knows Spanish and helps carry the children after telling them it will be all right, and he knows that the enemy is nearby when he hears the call of a continga at night because contingas are daytime birds. He’s not just super strong; he’s smart. That’s what makes him dangerous.
Captain America’s downfall in the first issue isn’t that he’s a man out of time and is incapable of understanding our present. His downfall occurs because he trusts American soldiers quickly only because they are American. Looking back, I’m surprised a story depicting American soldiers as villains, or at least not great men, was released so soon after 9/11. There’s no patriotism here. The comic shows that anyone, no matter what side they are on, what country they are affiliated with, can do bad things. Sergeant Vicq and the other soldiers didn’t rescue the children. They kidnapped them from the mafia in an effort to get the mafia to pay out millions after a failed coke raid.
The heavy inks in the artwork represent the muddy morality of the characters and the situation. The jungle is thick and ugly. The characters are depicted always in the shadows. Captain America is there to help soldiers who have committed a crime. He realizes it too late, after the soldiers have drugged him and as he falls unconscious. This is the real world Captain America has been thrown in. Not a world made bland because of the lack of comic book tropes, but a world of moral uncertainty. Who does Captain America help? The cocaine mafia who are in the wrong here? Or the American soldiers who wanted to get rich?
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.