Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sympathy for the Captain

So, mostly I am really glad to hear that one of my favourite writers, Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Astonishing X-Men, etc), will be writing and directing Marvel Studios' forthcoming Avengers movie. For those of you who don't know, the Avengers is like Marvel's version of DC's Justice League, wherein all the greatest superheroes get together in one book (who then come and go intermittently in order to provide a spotlight for lesser known characters who would never get their own book, but I digress).

With movies coming in the next couple of years for both Thor (directed by Kenneth Branagh!) and Captain America (Joe Johnston), and since all these films (plus Jon Favreau's Iron Man and Louis Leterrier's Incredible Hulk) share both a studio home and a fictional universe together, it is a golden opportunity to incorporate these individual heroes into the first real super-team movie ever in 2012. DC could have done it, and had a Justice League script ready to go with George "Road Warrior/Babe: Pig in the City" Miller set to direct, but that got put into turnaround just before casting began because Warner Bros (which is not only a movie studio already but in addition full-on owns DC Comics and most characters and properties therein) is apparently terrified of success, and The Dark Knight breaking all those records has driven them completely mental..

Anyway, in addition to his Avengers duties, Joss Whedon will doing some kind of script overhaulage on Captain America. Now, this man understands superpowers, and can readily portray the humanity behind the mask and abilities, and he has a very deft hand with the dialogue, so this is mostly cause for celebration, but it does make me a little apprehsnsive, and here's why:

Captain America is not like other comic heroes. Having been created in WWII and then brought to the present day by way of suspended animation, he is a throwback to an earlier age, a representative of 'the greatest generation'. His charisma, intelligence and skill as a tactician make him a natural leader, a role he fulfills on almost any team he is a member of, despite the fact that he is almost never the most powerful member of that team.

When I was doing leadership training for managers at Games Workshop, I used to illustrate the fact that not every great employee is a great manager candidate by asking, 'who's more powerful, Captain America or Spider-Man?' Well, clearly, it's Spider-Man. Cap is a strong human, where Spider-Man can heft a bus full of people. Captain America has an unbreakable shield, where Spidey has the ability to climb walls, inhuman reflexes, his own web shooters and a sixth sense that warns him of danger he can't see. In most straight up fight scenarios, the odds favour Spider-Man pretty heavily.

And yet, Spider-Man has never led a super-team, while Captain America has led The Avengers. He is a testimony of the power of human potential, an inspirational figurehead, moral authority and pater familias all in one.

So let me ask you this, if you are a fan of Whedon: has he ever written a decent dad or even a father figure? Let's check:
Buffy - absentee dad, issues
Xander - dysfunctional family, drunk dad
Willow - has a dad?
Angel - dad is an overbearing pratt
Cordelia - materialist, jailed for securities fraud
Wesley - another overbearing pratt
Mr. Tam - (Firefly) "I'm sure River is fine..."
Dollhouse - don't get me started

That's just the television side of things; in the second arc of his run on Astonishing X-Men, Whedon completely undermined the moral authority of Professor Xavier, a position he has held unchallenged in the Marvel universe for over four decades, and which greatly hampered my enjoyment of the rest of the series.

Nope, dads do not fare too well in the Whedonverse. The closest we come to a great father figure would seem to be Buffy's mentor and 'Watcher', Rupert Giles, who is mostly excellent, but is still deeply conflicted, morally divided, and who ends up betraying Buffy and getting punched in the face by her prior to a chilly reconciliation which is a pale reflection of their previous relationship. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single fatherlike figure among Whedon's many creations who is even half as decent a parent or person as Buffy's mother, Joyce. (If I have overlooked someone, be sure to mention it in the comments.)

Most super-teams have a father figure, or at least an older brother, and on teams with Captain America, he is usually tapped for that role. I will be very curious to see how Joss Whedon approaches Captain America, both in next year's Captain America: The First Avenger and 2012's The Avengers. I don't consider myself a real fan, but he is an easy character to respect, mostly because of his values. Like Superman, he has never let his abilities (which are significant) jeopardize his humility, and despite his patriotic appearance, he has always made it clear that his loyalties are to the values of America and not its government. In the '80s he even gave up the title of Captain America as well as his government affiliations in protest of government actions, and more recently he even fought against government sanctioned heroes in opposition to the Superpower Registration Act which was the crux of Marvel's "Civil War" event.

For his troubles, he has been mocked mercilessly, endlessly lampooned both within and without the comic-book universe in which he lives, and in 2007, he was killed by a sniper in the aftermath of "Civil War". (It is important to remember, however, that mortality is usually only a temporary setback for comic characters, and this goes doubly for those who have their own titles. The current record for remaining dead in this case is still held by The Flash, who died back when I was in high school, only to reappear about a year ago. Steve Rogers has already made his return to the land of the living.)

Given the state of the world, the divisiveness in our southern neighbours and the damage done to the United States' international reputation under previous administrations, I hope Whedon isn't too hard on Cap. It might feel like kicking a guy when he is down, and this particular guy deserves better, I think.

1 comment:

  1. Good analysis, Steve. Many writers have trouble with characters like Captain America because, I think, they're idealized figures, the kind of people we aspire to be. I get the feeling that writers find these kinds of characters boring for some reason, and so they attempt to artificially induce some character flaws or angst to make them relateable.

    Frankly, this strikes me as a little lazy. Captain America, Superman, Wonder Woman and Thor may be harder to write, but folks like John Ostrander and Walt Simonson can do it, and masterfully. Maybe Whedon should look at some of their work.