Saturday, May 5, 2018

My Favorite Superheroes

As Marvel Week wraps, I thought I would close with my favorite superheroes.  The two that I most enjoy reading and the two that most inspire me.  They both have had great runs of stories and great creators working on them and have gone on to successful interpretations in other media.

Captain America
Steve Rogers...Born in the U.S.A., raised to cherish the ideals of democracy, endowed with a superhuman physique, and driven to be the most capable combatant in the world.  Now as both lone crusader and leader of the renowned Avengers, he fights an ongoing battle for liberty, justice and the American Dream!

Captain America is the closest thing Marvel has to Superman (and I'm a Superman person, so there is a natural affinity).  He is a DC character in the Marvel universe.  To understand what I mean by that, the heroes of the DC Universe are heroes first, people second.  Batman is Bruce Wayne, Superman is Clark Kent.  They are mythic creations that put the focus on super in superhuman.  In contrast, Marvel heroes are people first who become heroes.  Peter Parker is Spider-man, Bruce Banner is the Incredible Hulk.  These are heroes with feet of clay and problems like you or me.  A story focus on the human in superhuman.  Captain America embodies the best of both.  He is the moral center of the Marvel Universe.  The proverbial eternal soldier who always fights for what is right.  As one of the longest running Marvel characters, originally sold in December 1940, he represents the through line of the entire publication history of Marvel.

Because he was created as a national emblem, his writers are allowed to explore America and all it entails.  With Cap as the representative of our democracy, many of his villains promote other forms of government.  The anarchist Flag Smasher.  The Nazi Red Skull.  The Communist Red Guardian. They have even represented fringes within our own country.  The ultra-conservative/alt-right Watchdogs.  The eco-terrorist Green Skull.  His status allows Cap to be both political and apolitical.  He represents the ideals of our nation, not confined to one representative party.  Often his best stories involve him distancing himself from the government, as he reminds the readers that he stands for what is right and the people, not the whims of any administration.  (Though if pressed, Steve Rogers particular political leanings would be seen as very specifically New Deal Democrat.  He was raised in the 1930s/1940s, after all).

His position also allows writers to explore American history and events.  His status as the product of an army experiment was further explored in light of the Tuskegee experiments in Truth: Red, White, and Black.    The supposition there is if there was a Super Soldier Serum, it would have been tested on Black soldiers first and it makes for a gripping read.  Likewise, Cap's disillusionment with the government during the Watergate scandal and the rise of the original Secret Empire remains a classic reveal.

Ultimately, it is the moral compass of Steve Rogers that makes him the greatest hero in the Marvel Universe.  We have seen this in the films demonstrated wonderfully.  No matter whether he is the 90 pound weakling or the full-fledged super soldier, he looks to protect the little guy, cannot stand bullies, and fight for what is truly right.

"Doesn't matter what the press says.  Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say.  Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.
This nation was founded on one principle above all else:  The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.  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." Amazing Spider-man #537

That speech in the wrong hands could be used to justify all kinds of regression and fighting.  From Cap, it is a rallying cry to the best in us, to stand and keep persevering.

Chris Evans has done a masterful job embodying Cap on the screen and bringing to life the resolve the character needs.  He knows the impact his character has and has wielded it well.  He is Marvel's Christopher Reeve.

This is why the Captain America long sleeve shirt is a favorite.  Why I have the shield backpack.  Why there is a lithograph I'm dying to get framed and in an office.

Recommended Storylines:

  • Captain America: Winter Solider Ultimate Collection
  • Truth: Red, White, and Black
  • Captain America: Patriot
  • Captain America: White
  • Captain America Epic Collection (Vol. 22): Man Without A Country

Daredevil, The Man Without Fear!
He dwells in eternal night - but the blackness is filled with sounds and scents, tastes and textures other men cannot perceive.  For though attorney Matt Murdock is blind, his other four senses function with superhuman sharpness - his uncanny radar sense guides him over every obstacle!  He stalks the streets by night, a relentless red-garbed foe of evil!

To me Daredevil is a study in contradictions.  Blind by day; acrobat by night.  Attorney upholding the law by day; vigilante that is breaking it at night.  Good Catholic boy by day who dresses as the Devil at night.  It's the convergence of all these things that make for great explorations in the comics.  Plus, he's a superhero attorney - of course I'm going to appreciate it.

I would wager that Daredevil has been one of the most consistently well written superheroes in existence.  Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker all with significant runs on the character.  I'm one who also enjoys the Joe Kelly, Carl Kesel, and Mark Waid runs.  Charles Soule is doing very interesting things with the character is his current run.  Having an attorney write Daredevil has yielded new insights into the character.

His character has proven very adaptable, with tone ranging from swashbuckling Errol Flynn to hardened noir, the latter probably being the most recognizable.  Very at home in a gritty 1970s Hell's Kitchen New York.  And the city is such an important character in and of itself in his books.  Marvel has told stories with Daredevil in other places.  But there is nothing like him in his element in the city that never sleeps.

One thing I enjoy in particular, is the exploration of Murdock's faith.  Faith in comics is rarely addressed, and even when it is, it is usually as window dressing.  Daredevil's Irish Catholic upbringing is essential to his character.  He may be a lapsed Catholic, but scenes of Daredevil in confession are almost required for every story.  It adds something unique to the character and grounds him in an familiar role.

Ultimately, Daredevil is the ultimate fighter in the Marvel Universe.  Not the best martial artist, but the champion that never quits, never gives in.  Keeps getting back up of the mat and taking his licks, to ultimately prevail.  He may be knocked down a few times in a round, but he is going to win the match.  A lesson in perseverance.

My love for Daredevil may not be as apparent, but it definitely runs as deep.

Recommended storylines:

  • Daredevil: Yellow
  • Daredevil: The Man Without Fear
  • Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Volume 1
  • Daredevil: Born Again
  • Daredevil: Guardian Devil
  • Daredevil: Redemption

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