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Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier

What did you think of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer?   Of course, as superhero scholars we can detect a complex interplay between the different eras of Captain America in this film.  Unlike his first outing, Captain America: The Winter Soldier relies heavily on the contemporary stories from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's Captain America.

Lauded by fans and critics, Brubaker and Epting's Captain America run featured the return of Bucky, believed dead for decades, as (spoiler alert) the Winter Soldier.  Considered sacrilegious by some the storyline revived interest in the classic character.  At the same time, Brubaker's story tapped into a long established tradition in the pages of Captain America, deep engagement with political intrigue.  A steadfast patriot, Captain America offers writers a chance to reflect on that era's political climate. The result have been classic stories in the 1970s and 1980s that force the ultimate symbol of nationalism to reconsider his relationship to national authority.

Of course, given the centrality of nationalism in the U.S. experience, we naturally sought a scholar to explore this seminal character for Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men: Superheroes and the American Experience.   Antonio S. Thompson's exploration of Captain America in chapter 6, "Nationalism and Power: Captain America, Governmental Policy, and the Problem of American Nationalism" does a good job of tracing the contours of the history of political engagement linked to Captain America.  For this study, contemporary exploration were not our aim, instead classic political engaged Captain America stories from the 1970s and 1980s allowed us to focus on the shifting dialogue around social, political, and economic concerns in superhero comics. 

The lesson we can gleam from these efforts are twofold. First, the importance of political debate to Captain America's heroic action cannot be underestimated. Because the character is steeped in patriotic symbolism, writers naturally seek to test his resolved over and over. Second, the result of those challenges has been a distinction between Captain America as representative of the country versus a status as representative of the people.  Indeed, the recurring theme in the pages of Captain America is that love of country does not necessarily equate to blind faith in government.  While it will be all to easy for those unaware of the character's history to see a critique of the current administration in this cinematic adaptation, the truth is this film merely reaffirms established tropes for a general audience unschooled in the complex political narrative inherent to Captain America.


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