Heroes Never Rust #60 by Sean Ironman
Captain America, and the Moral Dialectic of Straightforward Heroism
In issue two of Captain America: Dead Men Running, Sergeant Vicq and the other four American Soldiers continue to dig their graves. The comic opens on a close-up of Captain America’s shield. “We are dead. We start dying the moment we are born. And everything we do in life we do to forget that the Queen of Spades is waiting for us in the end.” This comic is all about the effect the world has on individuals and the effect an individual has on the world. The focus is on why we do the things that we do. The soldiers, who are still running from the cocaine mafia, come across a convent. One of the nuns won’t let the armed men inside. She tells a story about meeting Captain America when she was younger, how he helped pull a truck in the desert so orphans could be fed. She stands up to the soldiers. The soldiers gun her down.
One of the soldiers, Sore, beats on Captain America, who is awake but incapacitated due to being drugged last issue. While Sore cracks his knuckles and gets ready, Sergeant Vicq watches. “Why did I think my like was worth killing Captain America?” Vicq, while not the worst of the group, is far from an angel. He doesn’t stop anyone from killing a nun and he doesn’t stop Sore from beating on Captain America. Sore tells Vicq a story of his great grandfather meeting the super soldier during World War II. His great grandfather was in awe of the superhero, but instead of the typical story readers get in superhero comics, the effect the meeting had on Sore’s ancestor wasn’t a good one.
“Probably had wet dreams about him. So he made his son volunteer for Vietnam. Probably still blames him for getting killed there. That’s why my father ran away. Left behind a letter saying he preferred dying a civilian. Left me, too. Great-granddad swore he’d make a super soldier out of me. He beat me every time I failed to live up to Captain America’s example.”
Readers get a lot of comics about Captain America as a symbol of hope—same with Superman. He can give a lot of speeches. It’s interesting here to get the opposite effect of Captain America: his example is demoralizing. Sore, and the rest of the American soldiers, will never be as strong or as fast as a super soldier. Instead of striving to be great, these men get depressed and angry.
Sore takes off Captain America’s mask and asks, “What chance does a guy like me have against pretty boys like you? Tell me, what chance?” He responds that it’s not a question of chance, that it’s a question of choice. Sore can choose not to be scum. Sore takes a swing. Captain America, now recovering from the drugs, knocks him out in one punch.
Sergeant Vicq spends the issue ruminating on life and death. “Why di I do the things I did? Why do we do the things we do? We are dead. Whatever we achieve, ultimately means nothing.” He’s quite the pessimist. I have my moments too, so I think he’s right. Whatever Vicq does won’t matter. Dying as a bad man or a good one won’t make a difference—He’ll still be dead.
But Captain America is right, too. Don’t be scum.
In this issue, while we get Sore being all mad because his great grandfather beat him because Sore couldn’t live up to the image of Captain America, we also get the nun at the beginning. She met Captain America when she was young and she stood up to the soldiers now because of it. Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher and a writer, but the idea of having an impact on another person so that person will then be better or smarter or whatever you’d like to call it and then go on to affect other people makes sense.
Remember Pay it Forward? That’s why superheroes like Captain America and Superman are so great. Not just that they can beat the crap out of supervillains—they can inspire others.
One of the soldiers, Nystrom, refuses to kill Captain America and one of the nuns. His commanding officer threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t kill the nun and he still refuses. He’s taken into custody along with Captain America. If the other soldiers refused to kill the unarmed nun, if they realized just how bad they had become, maybe they’d make it out okay. But those missiles heading their way on the last page look to prove Sergeant Vicq right. They are dead.
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.