By Andy Frisk
June 14, 2009 - 22:31
Matthew J. Costello, PhD, teaches Political Science at
He begins by demonstrating that many characters inhabiting the Marvel Universe, including Captain
As time progressed, and the reality that the American identity is a multifaceted one that is not always united in one voice, or supportive of its government’s policies, and actions became clear, Marvel’s heroes would go through many allegorical changes. They both had to question their own identities and their relationship with a US government that wasn’t always honest or morally motivated in its actions, come to terms with the fact that they cannot represent the will of the people all inclusively when it is so multifaceted, make the switch to heroes for the people rather than for those in power, and often take sides against the powers that be to help Americans left behind by the march of the American Empire, all of which caused confusion and lead to numerous identity crises. Specifically, Costello follows Captain America and Iron Man, from their initial portrayal of the representatives of the illusion of the cultural consensus as envisioned by the early Cold War Presidents mentioned above, to their battles with their own identities, and how to pursue their goals of doing the right, and heroic thing when the ideals, in Captain America’s case, and the military industrial complex, in Iron Man’s case, are perverted by the self serving men in power which corrupts the images they both reflect and represent. The journey Costello takes us on, as he meticulously details and follows Captain America and Iron Man’s battles, transformations and crises of identity over the course of their histories, is a highly educational one on just what the American identity is, was professed to be, and can be.
Of particular interest to younger readers of this book, and Marvel Comics in general, during the past decade or so, is Costello’s brief, but clearly stated analysis of how Captain America and Iron Man, again in particular, are portrayed, pretty nearly from the first few months after the attacks of 9/11, as allegories for a concerted US response which often falters and stumbles over the lack of moral authority the nation needs, in the world’s eyes, to pursue its goals of retaliation as its government sees fit. Costello also briefly covers Marvel’s Civil War, and the death of Steve Rogers, as an allegory for “The War on Terror” and the US Patriot Act.
Overall, for anyone interested in American politics, the quest to establish an American identity free of an imposed government and military industrial complex influence, and how Marvel Comics reflected the social and political issues raised as a result of the cultural clashes which lead to progressive change, which occur due to inherent American diversity that asserts itself time and time again, this is one of the best books you can read on the subject. It also though, is a great read for those who are simply fans of comic books, Marvel Comics, or Captain
While the idea of a united American consensus or identity still seems elusive and problematic, Costello ends on a note of hope. He states, in regard to the quest for an American identity that is all inclusive: “The dream has not died with Steve Rogers, but it has indeed been revealed to be a dream, an aspiration rather than a description…Like President Clinton, we see the collapse of the myth of consensus as both frightening and an exciting opportunity to engage the reality of a multicultural America. Like President Bush, we aspire to promote progress around the world…We mourn the dying fire of that faith but nurture an ember of hope that we can reignite the flame to burn more brightly, free of the blinders of myth, and open to the faith that ‘out of many, one.’” (241)