What the Death of Captain America Really Means

Rest in peace, Captain America.

You wore red, white and blue and had superhuman abilities, but the war on terror was too much even for you.

Comic book fans are mourning the death of the Marvel Comics' icon, who was gunned down by an assassin in "Captain America Vol. 5, No. 25." The "Sentinel of Liberty" was perhaps at his lowest point -- he had become an outlaw while fighting and ultimately losing a war against his fellow superheroes to protect the civil liberties of all Americans. At the time of his death, he was facing a life sentence in prison.

Bullets took the life of the Sentinel of Liberty, but he was really a victim -- and product -- of the times.

"Heroes are often a reflection of the times. When Spider-Man came along in the 1960s, there were a lot of kids entering college who had a hard time finding their identities, what cause to get involved in," said M. Thomas Inge, author of "Anything Can Happen in a Comic Strip: Centennial Reflections on an American Art Form."

"There were a lot of internal problems in this country, with the civil rights movement going on. A lot of kids continued reading comics after entering college, which is unusual since most teens stop at that time," Inge said.

Parallels to the Post-Sept. 11 World, Iraq

Cap's demise followed the climax in Marvel's "Civil War" storyline, in which a newly passed law requiring all heroes to register their secret identities with the government divided the superhero community.

The law, the "Superhero Registration Act," was passed after an encounter between a reckless teen supergroup and a villain called Nitro led to the deaths of hundreds, mostly children, in Stamford, Conn.

Captain America thought the act violated basic civil liberties and led a group of crime fighters who went rogue after refusing to register.

His former friend, ambitious billionaire Tony Stark -- aka Iron Man -- championed the law and considered it a natural evolution of superheroes' role in society. He secretly orchestrated a campaign that created circumstances to scare and mislead the public and government officials into supporting the act and all the programs that it entailed.

Does this sound vaguely familiar? Politically-motivated opportunists preying on the fears of a nation? A conflict based in part on questionable intelligence, arguably lies?

You're not crazy if you think Captain America's struggle parallels the debates over the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the Bush domestic surveillance program and other controversial programs in the post-Sept. 11 world.

The civil war among the heroes ended when a distraught Captain America, overwhelmed by the carnage around him, took off his mask and surrendered to authorities as his alter ego, Steve Rogers. Some readers may have been shocked to see Cap give up and imprisoned but they didn't expect him to get killed off.

"I'm definitely pissed off," said Ken Feliu, a 34-year-old commercial production director and lifelong comic book reader. "I mean, why did they have to kill him off?"

"He's supposed to represent all our ideals, everything we're supposed to aspire to and they couldn't leave him intact?" Feliu said. "And the way he died -- with two bullets to the chest by a sniper? Come on!"

"All the heroes today have to have an edge, have to be gritty," he continued. "No one has enough creativity where they can't leave a hero who actually stands for something well enough alone."

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