Back in 1987, fourteen years before 9-11, America was a very different place. The Cold War was ongoing. Foreign policy was a confusing world of summit meetings, sabre rattling and shadow wars fought in Asia and South America. Secrets were emerging that were shaking people’s trust in the establishment. Even Captain America, the blue-eyed boy of the USA was caught up in the strange spirit of the times. From that year, comes one of the most interesting and unusual comic books that I have ever come across.
The cover is extraordinary. Where is Cap now, head held aloft, bashing Nazis on the nose? His head hangs down, his shield missing. The colours of the flag bleed away off the page. Even the bust of Abraham Lincoln, so familiar from the $5 bill, has a tear in his eye.
The story inside by Mark Gruenwald is unique. First of all, there is the villain: a fanatic calling himself Warhead. He lands by parachute on the Washington Monument carrying a nuclear weapon. Threatening to blow up Washington DC unless his demands are met, he sits atop the monument barking orders out through a megaphone. His aim? To provoke a war:
That’s right. Back in 1987, villains could complain that the world wasn’t militaristic enough.
Never fear: Captain America will take him down with a swing of his shield. Except that he doesn’t.
Cap is tied up with the Feds. They have suddenly discovered that the concept of ‘Captain America’ as well as his uniform and shield were all the creation of the federal government. This is owing to the 1940s super-soldier project by which the government gave Captain America/Steve Rogers his super-powers in the first place.
While Warhead is threatening to blow Washington DC off the face of the earth, Rogers is hauled before a secret government task force called the commission who make him an offer he cannot refuse. Since ‘Captain America’ was a creation of the government, Steve Rogers has to give up his freelance operations and come and work for them.
Does our dyed-in-the-wool patriot leap at the chance to serve his country? Does he heck! Look at his concerns about what they might make him do in the name of the USA (and check out the first black Captain America, which has now come true with Marvel’s news today):
Cap’s biggest fear is being involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. That was a confusing web of espionage whereby members of the CIA secretly aided Nicaraguan rebels (the Contras) in their civil war against the Marxist government of the time. It was a secret operation, which badly shook public confidence in the government of Ronald Reagan when the truth leaked out.
It’s hardly surprising that Captain America didn’t fancy being caught up in all that, and this comic book ends in a stunning conclusion, where Marvel’s All-American hero resigns his role, refuses to work for the commission and heads off into the wilderness. It seems like he may never wear the red, white and blue again.