WoQW: Thoughts on NOT reading Captain America #25

Word of Questionable Wisdom: Thoughts on NOT reading Captain America #25
By Paul Sebert

So uh… how about that Captain America #25?

What? You didn’t read Captain America #25. Of course you didn’t Captain America #25. If you’re like me you probably just stumbled onto the report on CNN’s website or heard about it on NPR. Maybe you heard about it on a comics fan forum.

Captain America #25 coverAnd you learned that THIS ISSUE CAPTAIN AMERICA DIES! So you thought to yourself “damn, I guess I had better pick up Captain America 25.” Then you arrive at your local comic shop of choice and find a copy that Captain America #25. But wouldn’t you know it? My store was sold out. In fact every store in town was sold out. (Which I suppose isn’t that an impressive a feat as there’s only two Comic Shops in Huntington, WV.) It wasn’t just me. Customer after customer walked into the store wanting to read Captain America #25, but dammit they were sold out. John, the store’s owner was apparently getting phone calls all day from people wanting to know if he had any issues left. In fact he even got a call from a 60-year-old woman who as sad to see Captain America go.

It was like the Death of Superman all over again.

Only it really was nothing like Death of Superman. Death of Superman was a carefully hyped storyline so that people knew months in advance what was going to happen. This book which was just supposed to be a coda at the end the Civil War event, but has in itself become an event all in itself.

Which is no doubt why Marvel kept it’s post-Civil War previews as secretive as possible. We initially thought that the reason for this was to prevent us from knowing which side won, but as the cover art finally came through it was obvious who won. So why the secrecy? Well now we know.

It’s tempting to chastise Marvel for putting both fans and retailers in an awkward position. On the other hand, genuine surprises are so rare in this day and age of internet solicitations it’s also kind of tempting to applaud them for not letting the cat out of the bag. At least until the press releases hit Wednesday morning.

From a marketing standpoint it’s a fairly clever move, at least in the short term. It is seldom a bad thing when demand exceeds supply. In fact the first printing of Captain America #25 might be one of the few honest-to-goodness collector’s items in the recent history of comics. This hopefully doesn’t mean Marvel’s going back to the 90s practice of pandering to the collectors market. With tons of media coverage and fans scrambling to find the story Marvel will strike while iron is hot and get reprints back on store shelves as quickly as possible. They probably should also try to see how fast within reasonable time they can get the trades out in stores.

Which makes this no less frustrating for fans like me who don’t have the luxury of you know… actually reading the goddamn story!

So for most of the day I’ve been doing what I can to avoid as many spoilers as possible. Which means staying away from Newsarama, Silver Bullet, Scans Daily, The (not inside) Pulse, Jinxworld, Pop Culture Shock, etc.

“It probably is time to reassess just what Captain America represents and should be.”

Of course I can’t stay away from my friends who can’t stop talking about the issue and give stuff away whether they intend to or not. By Friday I had given up in my effort not to be spoiled and started reading and resumed reading my regular scheduled assortment of websites. Joe Quesada’s latest Joe Fridays column once again exposed Marvel’s current fly by the seat of their pants editorial model.

At that same, now legendary, planning meeting the idea was thrown about that Cap was going to pay the ultimate price. We couldn’t come off the subject, and Brubaker wasn’t helping [laughs]. The story was just taking us there and when that happens you have to at least discuss the idea very seriously. If memory serves, we were all pretty much convinced that this was going to happen, the debate then rages over two things: should it happen in Civil War itself as opposed to Captain America and who should the assassin be?

At one point, it was to be Miriam Sharpe who in a fit of anger was to shoot Cap right after he puts his hands up to be handcuffed but we eventually worked beyond that idea and decided that Cap’s death should come later as a byproduct of Civil War and should happen in his own book. This was also important because we felt that the entirety of Civil War would have been dwarfed by this event. Civil War would have gone down as the Cap death story when that wasn’t the thrust of it or the allegory behind it.

While Ed was at the creative summit, this was all new to Ed as it was to all of us, we were coming up with it as we went along, but Ed saw all the possibilities and made it fit seamlessly into his Cap run.

As much as Joe Quesada likes to play up the semi-annual writers conferences among Marvel’s staff, he’s revealed that much of Marvel’s editorial decisions have been played by ear in recent years. DC on the other hand seems to be laying out stringent plans for each event, never deviating despite unexpected fan reactions. (Like the Girl-Wonder movement.)

To be honest the thing that perplexes me the most is that I’ve been more upset about not being able to read the story than the actual decision to kill my favorite superhero. Captain America’s been one of the few books I’ve read religiously since Mark Waid’s run in the 90s, and I staid with him even through clumsy storylines like Dan Jurgens’ Protocide arc or the revolving door of creative teams from the book’s Marvel Knights era.

Steve Roger’s death doesn’t bother me as much as say that of Steph Brown, Ted Kord, or the two-dozen New Mutants that Christopher Yost & Craig Kyle have killed in the last year of New X-Men. I find it difficult to imagine a Marvel comics in which Steve Rogers stays permanently dead. Even if he stayed dead it’s not there’s no shortage of great Captain America stories one can pick up in in trade form and they haven’t even gotten around to reprinting the Gruenwald-era of the character.

Steph Brown was a character who had potential to be huge, but then DC squandered that opportunity just so they could add some cheap shock value to the “War Games” story arch. Ted Kord was a character who seemed to be making a comeback as a DC regular only to be a sacrificial lamb. New X-Men was a book created to give the opportunity for the next Wolverine# or Nightcrawler to pop up only to become a nihilistic book that makes John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad seem positively upbeat by comparison.

Captain America’s a character that’s been around for so long that nothing can truly take him out of the public consciousness. Steve Rogers will still be appearing in the Marvel Age titles, the Ultimate books, and any cartoons that pop up. Steve will most assuredly be back by the time an inevitable movie comes to pass.

Captain America as Nomad In retrospect Cap’s “death” makes sense as Captain America’s title has always reflected America’s political environment to a degree. Steve Rogers has temporarily quite being Captain America twice. Once following Steve Englehart’s “Secret Empire” storyline, a plot that reflected America’s newfound post-Watergate cynicism. The second was during Mark Gruenwald’s run in response to the Reagan administration’s legacy of shady back-door deals, gimmicky economic platforms, and wretched foreign policy (remember Iran-Contra?) Right now is a damned depressing time to be an American and it is hard to see a straight arrow like Steve Rogers surviving in the toxicity of today’s political environment. It probably is time to reassess just what Captain America represents and should be. So go ahead… let the Punisher or The Winter Soldier wear the costume for awhile. Rogers will eventually return, even if it’s later than sooner.

For now I’m just hoping Ed Brubaker continues to crank out some really good stories.