Monday, March 12, 2007

So yeah, I covered the Captain America death too

Yup, I got roped into the whole mass media onslaught that was Captain America #25 last week. Actually, it ended up being kind of fun, as I got to go to the comic store early in the morning, and got to talk to folks like Tom Spurgeon, which is always nice. My thanks to Tom, Joe Quesada, and my local comic book shops for taking time out to chat with me. It's always appreciated.

So long, Steve Rogers, we hardly knew ye.

Steve Rogers, of course, is the civilian identity of Captain America, the flag-wearing, shield-throwing superhero who, in the latest issue of his monthly comic, was seemingly killed by a sniper’s bullet.

Captain America first appeared in comic books in 1941 when then-scrawny Rogers was injected with the “super-soldier serum” to help fight the Nazis. Stan Lee brought him back in the 1960s, explaining his longevity by saying he had been cryogenically frozen in ice. The Captain has been a mainstay of the Marvel Comics universe since he thawed.

The current issue is a continuation of the recent “Civil War” mega-event, where the Cap led a resistance movement against the Superhero Registration Act, a law that required heroes to become federal employees.

The final issue of that series saw Rogers turning himself in, devastated at the destruction the two opposing groups had wrought to New York City. In the new comic, he’s assassinated while heading to his arraignment.

The news of the Captain’s death caused a media frenzy last week, with many drawing allusions to the current political atmosphere.

“Making a political comment that blunt caught everyone’s attention,” said Tom Spurgeon of

Marvel was, in fact, taken a little bit aback by the coverage.

“We’re not surprised that we got coverage. We are surprised by the magnitude of the coverage,” said Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

Local comic book stores, meanwhile, were flooded with phone calls and customers.

Bill Wahl, co-owner of the Comix Connection stores in York and Mechanicsburg, said hundreds of people had stopped by his York store on Wednesday to pick up a copy.

Ralph Watts of Comics and Paperbacks Plus in Palmyra said he sold out of his copies early on Wednesday. And Bob Newbury of Cosmic Comics in Harrisburg reported he’d sold out in two hours.

“As a retailer, I love it,” Watts said. “As long as my regular customers are covered, everything else is a plus.”

Leaving aside the political metaphors for now (does the Red Skull represent al-Qaida?), the big question is whether he’s really dead and, if so, when will he come back to life? Superheroes, after all, are killed and revived with alarming regularity. Superman, Supergirl, even Captain America’s long lost partner Bucky have all journeyed back from the great beyond.

“[Death] needs to be a consequence or [fans are] not satisfied with the level of violence or realism involved,” Spurgeon said. “And yet you have to have a way out of that because killing characters weakens the portfolio.”

Of course, the death and resurrection of a character is not something that’s unique to comic books. Soap-opera characters die and come back all the time. Buffy the Vampire Slayer popped out of her grave. Even Sherlock Holmes fell off the Reichenbach Falls only to return when Victorian fans demanded it.

But in this age of mega-hyped, “everything changes” crossovers like “Infinite Crisis” and “Civil War,” it’s easy to see Cap’s death as a PR stunt; a cynical attempt to drive up sales.

“If we really wanted to make this a publicity stunt we would have leaked this to the media about a month ago,” Quesada said. “We wanted to do something where we surprised fans. We didn’t come into this saying ... ‘let’s kill somebody.’ ”

Spurgeon agreed that Cap’s death appears to have arisen organically out of the current storyline, which may make all the difference.

“It’s nice when a comic revolves around a plot point from a writer rather than a bunch of editors sitting in a room deciding how to pump the market for some cash,” he said.

Whether you really believe Cap is dead, it’s hard not to be impressed with Marvel’s stealth tactics. Prior to the comic’s release, many in the comic world were anticipating last Friday’s arrival of “300,” the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel. No one’s talking about that movie now.

So R.I.P., Steve Rogers, at least until they decide to resurrect you a year or so from now. Or when they announce the inevitable Captain America movie. Whichever comes first.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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