OPINION: Breaking Down CBR’s Quickly Deleted Memorial Day Op-Ed Claiming Captain America “Wasn’t A Hero”
On Memorial Day, comic book news outlet CBR ran an article questioning the integrity and character of Captain America, asserting his actions as "selfish".
Captain America has not seen an assassination attempt this blatant since being shot in his stomach on the steps of a federal courthouse by a mind-controlled Sharon Carter at the end of Civil War.
On May 25th, the day of the American Memorial Day holiday meant to honor and recognize members of the military who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces, CBR ran the declarative headline “Steve Rogers Wasn’t a Hero for Becoming Captain America – He Was Selfish” atop an op-ed written by staff writer Caleb Clark.
Clark asserts that “the decision for Steve Rogers to become Captain America is inherently selfish.”
“Captain America is one of the most important characters in Marvel history, and without him, many of the great stories of the Marvel universe would not happen or wouldn’t be the same. He is central to the entire framework of Marvel’s storytelling, and Captain America is emblematic of justice, honesty and perseverance, making him the ultimate culmination of the American ideal; however, the decision for Steve Rogers to become Captain America is inherently selfish.”
However, what follows in Clark’s article is the use of contradictory argumentative tactics, analysis of two separate versions of the character as one-in-the-same, and bizarrely disingenuous interpretations of Captain America’s character, actions, and legacy, all in service of assassinating the character of Marvel’s First Avenger.
Claiming that if one removes “the context of what he would become […] Steve’s choice to become Captain America is rooted in a fetishization of the hyper-masculine rather than an innate desire to do good for his country,” Clark bafflingly puts forward the point that Rogers should never have attempted to better himself.
Flying in the face of not only the human trait of self-improvement, but also the ‘American Dream’ of bettering one’s position in life through hard work and determination, Clark argues that Rogers’ solely “wants to prove himself to his peers and country”:
“This is a bold claim against America’s golden boy, yet the context matters. Steve is initially someone unfit to serve on the frontlines. It is tough and hurtful, but it is the reality of the situation. If his concern was truly how he could best serve his country, he would accept his station in life and make the most of it.
He could have tried becoming a merchant marine, train as an officer or stay home and help with the production of war-time materials. All of these could contribute to the war like Steve supposedly wants to do, but that isn’t good enough. Steve, in his eyes, has to be on the front lines.
It’s understandable for a young man to want to prove himself to his peers and country, yet even if deep down his intentions are altruistic, the steps he takes to pursue those instincts are selfish. In Steve’s mind, there is only one way to contribute to the war, and that just happens to be the way he wants to contribute.”
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This version of Rogers is so detached from any source material that one would imagine Clark were talking about a completely separate character.
Not only has Rogers never shown any selfish motivation for joining the war effort against the Axis, but multiple versions of the character have regularly been seen putting aside his pride and offering his assistance wherever possible.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Rogers begins his career serving in the USO, entertaining troops rather than fighting on the ground.
In the 616, when sapped of his Super Soldier serum, Rogers passes the shield to Sam Wilson and accepts a new post as an Avengers tactician and Chief of Civilian Oversight for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Ultimate Captain America, in the face of a shattered United States on the brink of a civil war, Rogers begrudgingly accepts his election as President of the United States in order to help reunite the country.
Hardly the actions of a man who only considered “one way to contribute to the war”.
Hilariously, it should be noted that Clark could not make this point without both asking readers to consider “removing the context of what he would become” to see his actions as selfish, but then hypocritically asks the same audience to remember that “context matters” when providing evidence that Rogers is selfish. Either context matters, or it does not; it cannot be selectively accepted or dismissed.
In an attempt to further his point, Clark turns to two different versions of Rogers during the same event, comparing the 616 and MCU versions of his role in Civil War. Citing Rogers’ famous “No, YOU move” speech to Spider-Man during the crossover storyline, Clark states that it “highlights Cap’s tendency respond to things with violence.”
“This quote also highlights Cap’s tendency respond to things with violence. In fact, Cap is an impulsive person, and his first response to opposition is to beat it down. These aggressive impulses are hidden beneath a veneer of tough American grit and freedom fighting.”
One has to question whether Clark actually read the entire event or simply the summary on the Wikipedia page. Cap does not oppose Tony simply because of an ideological difference, such as political alignments or social beliefs, but rather because Tony is set to turn American superhumans into a paramilitary force under the command of the US government.
Nuance is a very foreign concept to contemporary public discourse, but there is clearly far more at stake with both the Super Human Registration Act and the Sokovia Accords than simple disagreements and hurt feelings.
In fact, after realizing that his militant opposition to the Super Human Registration Act has only caused harm to the civilians he sought to protect, Rogers accepts the selfish nature of his actions and surrenders willingly, bringing the Civil War to a conclusion.
Clark’s engagement with the material is further brought into question with a complaint about Rogers’ “tendency to respond to things with violence.” Strange, considering that the entire comic book genre and medium is built on thrilling scenes of action, combat, and adventure.
Contrary to what comic book journalists and Twitter activists may claim, audiences are not turning up in droves to read comics, much less one featuring Captain America, to see longform conversations scrawled across massive, page-long word bubbles set against uninteresting and less-than-dynamic artwork.
The 616 version of Rogers is then conflated with the MCU version, as Clark points to Rogers’ part in the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame as further support for the Star-Spangled Avengers’ “instinct for aggression and desire for revenge.”
He notes that Cap “leads the remaining Avengers to hunt down Thanos and ultimately kill him.” Again, it is questionable whether Clark actually viewed the media he is citing, as Cap was not the driving force for revenge against Thanos. Burning with shame and humiliation from his defeat in Infinity War, Thor leads the Avengers to hunt down Thanos in the opening minutes of Endgame, and it is the same Norse hero who decapitates the Mad Titan.
Rogers’ goal through the entire film was to restore what was lost, as seen in his time-travelling quest for the Infinity Stones, engaging only in combat when faced with no other course of action.
Though Clark portrays his article as an attempt to “humanize” Rogers, Marvel fans across the spectrum of fandom took massive issue with the glorified hit-piece, confused and angered that such a beloved icon could be interpreted in such an uncharacteristic way.
Facing an insurmountable wave of backlash, CBR ultimately deleted Clark’s article, and has not commented on the issue since. It would appear, that unlike Clark, fans who cared and understood the character, flaws and all, were able to take away the message of Cap’s heroic words:
“”When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, YOU move.’”