Mark D. White reflects on how different versions of Captain America have approached the presidency, and just what form of patriotism he embodies.
Originally posted at The Comics Professor
As you might have heard by now, in today’s Ultimate Comics: Ultimates #15, Captain America is elected president of the United States in a special election. (He takes the oath in #16, shown above.) America is the real world may be divided ideologically, but the Ultimate version is divided physically, with various grouping of states separated from the union and under various forms of government or rule.
One of these is the West Coast, which has begun protecting its borders from refugees from the warlike southwest region using drones developed by the late Hank Pym (and called, naturally, Wasps). After the drones go offline and starts killing indiscriminately, Cap defies orders to stay out of the West Coast and leads the Ultimates into California to battle the Wasps. Americans across the country are so impressed and inspired by the TV images of Cap that they vote for him as a write-in candidate in the special election, and at the end of the issue, Carol Danvers calls him on a payphone to tell him he won.
In a press release, Marvel Comics released three pages from Ultimate Comics: Ultimates #16, written by Sam Humphries and pencilled by Luke Ross, showing Cap’s acceptance speech (courtesy of Bleeding Cool):
Whatever the differences in character or politics between the Captain America in the Ultimate Universe and the more familiar one from the mainstream Marvel Universe, this is Captain America who we know, love, and admire. As he says, “America is deep in crisis–we’re divided, mistrustful, nervous, and scared.” Appropriately for such times, Cap strikes a inspiring tone: “This crisis calls us all to do our best. To rebuild our fragile unity. To find the strength equal to our challenges.” This is not a partisan message–it is a universal message, and one we hear all to seldom from our elected leaders or candidates for office.
Can Captain America heal the once United States of America in the Ultimate Universe–can he be Abraham Lincoln, as Humphries said to the Washington Post? I think it’s a fairly good bet he will, but since this is the Marvel Ultimate Universe, there’s no way to tell what the country will look like when it’s over. The Ultimate line gives Marvel creators leeway to stretch the realism the mainstream Marvel Universe is known for, so the usual fan assumption of “things will always go back to the status quo” doesn’t always hold.
What about America in the real world? As outlandish as it may seem, I think the character of Captain America, whether in the mainstream Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Universe, or the movies and animated series, can help bring the fractured interests in our country back together. As I’ve written before, he provides an example of principle over politics, exemplifying the founding virtues of justice and equality that all Americans can embrace in general, even if we disagree on how to understand or implement them. His ethics, so often caricatured as black-and-white, show us how we can and should act towards each other with both care and respect, so that each of us can pursue his or her own interests and dreams consistent with the rest of us doing the same.
It is interesting to note that Captain America dealt with presidential politics once before, as a candidate for a populist third party. This was also during an election year in the real world, in Captain America (vol. 1) #250 (October 1980), written by Roger Stern and co-plotted and pencilled by John Byrne. After an entire issue of deliberation and advice from half the Marvel Universe, in the end he declined:
In this case, he turned down the candidacy to maintain his idealism and avoid the compromises that come with any position of political leadership. He makes a terrific point: any leader must find a way to balance the myriad interests within society, and in order to do that, he or she always risks disappointing or alienating one group or another. Cap wanted to stay above that so he can remain a symbol of the American dream for all.
Why did the Captain America in the Ultimate Universe make a different choice? Perhaps he felt that if he didn’t accept the position of president of the United States of America out of a desire to avoid political compromise, all Americans would lose given their advanced state of national decay. Perhaps he felt that serving as president was the only way he could preserve the American dream in that reality, both through his actions and his example. The Cap in the mainstream Marvel Universe was not “ready to negotiate… to preserve the republic at all costs,” but the Ultimate Cap did not feel he had that option, and “decided to answer the call of the people” in a time of near-collapse of that republic.
But in both cases, Cap emphasized that it is up to the American people to take care of themselves however they can, whether through private or public cooperation. In 1980 he told the American people, “you need to look within yourselves to find the people you need to keep this nation strong… and God willing, to help make the dream come true!” and in 2012 he told them, “America has asked me to lead them. I ask America to look within themselves.”
In whatever form he takes, Captain America always stands ready to help, fight, and lead–but he demands that we all pitch in too. Ultimately (pun intended), perhaps that’s the message we can take from this latest comics development and apply to the real world, especially when each of us votes in November for the person we think can best lead us out of our current economic malaise and identity crisis. In other words, who will be our Captain America?