Opinion: Americans should believe in Captain America
(Spoiler alert for those who have yet to see "Avengers: Endgame")
I recently took my 10-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son to see the final Avengers film almost a month after the initial release. It was my second time viewing it. (I had to make sure it was appropriate for my kid, or so I told myself.)
Despite several bathroom breaks during the 3-hour-plus outing, my kids thoroughly enjoyed it. On the car ride home, I asked them about their favorite Avengers and learned that they were Iron Man and Thor.
"What about Captain America?" I asked. "What about the scene where he picks up Thor’s hammer? Wasn’t that amazing?"
They were unimpressed, and I was slightly devastated.
I am a Captain America fan and a self-avowed comic book enthusiast. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I avidly collected and read many Marvel comics, including The Avengers. As a skinny, shy, South Asian immigrant growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, comics provided an escape, but also a path to assimilating into American culture.
I was lost when it came to understanding the intricacies of American football rules, but I could recite the origin story of each Avenger with ease. Many of my friends were drawn to the outsiders in the X-Men with their marginalization because of their mutant status serving as an allegory to the persecution of minorities. While I appreciated all the stories, I was always drawn to Captain America’s leadership of the world’s mightiest heroes.
Beginning with his inception by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, both Jewish artists and the children of immigrants, Captain America has always been an inherently political figure. In his first appearance, Cap is depicted punching out Adolf Hitler a full year before the Pearl Harbor attack. He would go on to fight alongside the Allies against the Axis powers, and soon would be depicted with his iconic shield. It was not until 1964 when the Captain was reintroduced with his modern storyline: having crashed a plane into the Arctic near the close of WWII, Steve Rogers is discovered in a state of suspended animation. He thaws and becomes a member of The Avengers.
Moving beyond Nazis and Communists, the Avengers fought against supervillains and alien invaders. Not the strongest (The Hulk), not the smartest (Tony Stark’s Iron Man), Captain America still claimed the mantle as the group’s leader. His leadership was based on both his unwavering moral code, his stoicism, and his sense of protecting the vulnerable.
In the latest film’s climax, Captain America is able to wield Thor’s magical hammer and use it to fight the main antagonist. In previous films, it has been made clear that only those considered “worthy” may raise the hammer. That moment validates what I have thought for years: Captain America’s power came not from his being injected with a serum that gave him great strength, but rather his nobility of spirit.
As each successive presidential election seems to be tearing the country apart, and each winner is immediately branded as illegitimate, perhaps Americans need to believe in something like Captain America. Many may claim that we should look for real world heroes and not what amounts to pop culture myths. True, but that shared mythology is what binds us together and makes us Americans.
Vik Reddy is a plastic surgeon from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.