Captain America and Superman are both classic heroes with no flaws in personality – so why do writers struggle to write for one and not for the other?
The two Captain America and Superman are two of the world’s best-known superheroes, and they share many similarities. In particular, both are known to be extremely patriotic benefactors who have few or no character flaws. But while one hero is constantly portrayed as a three-dimensional character on many levels, the other is seen by many as a static, late man who, even today, cannot shake his reputation as a Blue Boy Scout. This begs the question: why does Captain America lack a “Superman problem” and how can the Man of Steel best imitate his Marvel Comics counterpart?
Captain America and Superman both emerged during the golden age of comics – Superman in 1938 and Captain America in 1941. Both characters were presented as highly patriotic: while Captain America fought in World War II, Superman remained on the home front helping the Americans in their daily lives. Lives. The first signs of trouble for the two heroes began after the war, when superhero comics fell out of favor in favor of westerns and horror titles. Captain America titles were finally put on hold in the 1950s, but Superman continued, seemingly the only character not to suffer too much from the post-war superhero crisis.
When Captain America was brought back in 1964 by Marvel Comics, writer Stan Lee immediately put Steve Rogers in a tough spot: Bucky Barnes was dead and twenty years had passed since World War II. Steve felt out of place in this new era, and with the political turmoil in the 1960s, he was continually challenged – especially as a man who represented America. Writers could have put Superman in this position as well, but most didn’t; while Captain America fought terrorists in American organizations like Hydra, Superman fought aliens in the traditional ’60s fashion. Superman was very rarely faced with a situation that challenged his moral principles – but for Captain America to in the late 1960s and early 1970s he faced one moral dilemma after another.
In Captain America # 175, Steve Rogers battles the leader of the Secret Empire – but when his mask is removed, Steve Rogers is stunned to see Richard Nixon’s face (later confirmed by writer Steve Englehart, but only strongly suggested in the comics). Taken with. no way out, Nixon commits suicide. The situation has deeply upset Captain America – how could he possibly hope to represent America now? Finally, he realized that he could embody the spirit of what America should be where she is, but only after completely relinquishing her identity as Captain America (albeit temporarily).
Sadly, Superman never received his story from Nixon. The writers took issue with Captain America’s core value – that America, and by extension the US government, is infallible and worth fighting for – and ended up with a more nuanced Steve Rogers who always retained his characterization. from 1941. Superman is a strong character, but he’s never really been challenged as Captain America – and readers have noticed.
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