What the Death of Captain America Really Means

ByABC News
March 8, 2007, 10:42 AM

March 8, 2007 — -- 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.

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.