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What If? Featuring Captain America

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2005
By: Michael Bailey



"What If...Captain America Fought in the Civil War?"

Writer: Tony Bedard
Artists: Carmine DiGiandomenico (p), John Stanisci (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics


Plot: Hector Espejo, known online as "The Watcher," manages to hack onto a separate quantum reality and view web sites from an alternate Earth. On one site he finds the history of a Captain America who began his career during the Civil War. Stephen Rogers, a corporal in the U.S. Army, finds himself at odds with his unit when they attack civilians in a small town called Osceola. Injured, he is found by an all-volunteer regiment and is tended by a soldier who uses his teachings from a medicine man to release the ultimate potential inside Corporal Rogers. During the ceremony the men from Rogers' unit, led by Colonel Buck Barnes, arrive at the fort and attack. Barnes is bathed in the same light as Rogers and while Rogers becomes the ideal that had lived in his heart, Barnes becomes the personification of hate and death. By the end of the war, Rogers had been promoted to the rank of captain leading the papers to call him Captain America.

Commentary: It's really odd. All of my problems with this comic had nothing to do with the quality of writing or artwork. I thought that Tony Bedard did a fantastic job in conceiving his alternate reality, and he obviously did some research into the era he chose to write in. While I would have preferred a more natural style for the book, I did enjoy Carmine DiGiandomenico and John Stanisci's art and thought that it worked for what Bedard was trying to accomplish.

Technically, I enjoyed the book but the setting and the philosophy of the story is where I had my problems. As good a job as Tony Bedard did in crafting a character called Captain America that could have been created during the Civil War, it's not really what I think of as Captain America.

You can call me narrow minded or a bull-headed fanboy, but one of the reasons Captain America is such an awesome character is the fact that he was created in one of the few conflicts the United States has gotten into that I read about and say, "Yeah, we needed to do that." When you look back at the history of World War II, you find that the country was divided on whether or not we should get involved until December 7, 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the country began to get unified and eventually came together and got behind the war effort. Despite the fact that it was the Japanese who attacked us, we also went to war against Germany and Italy, and it is hard to argue against fighting such an obvious despot like Adolph Hitler.

So the concept that Steve Rogers was a 4-F weakling who volunteered to do whatever his country needed him to do because he felt it was the right thing to do works for me. I can get behind that character. The fact that the first appearance of Captain America came out before the United States entered the Second World War says a lot about why the character was created. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were not only trying to sell comic books, but they were also finding a way to vent their frustrations towards what they perceived as a real threat. Why else have Captain America giving a smashing right cross to Hitler on the cover of the first issue?

The Civil War is another matter entirely. The reasons for the Civil War are still a hot button issue for people today well over a hundred and forty years later. Whether you believe it was about slavery or state's rights doesn't matter because in the end it was still brother against brother and to have the personification of what America can be come out of that conflict doesn't still very well with me. Fighting against Hitler is one thing. He and those under him were obviously power hungry, and we eventually learned that they were performing acts of genocide. As much as some people like to argue that slavery was the main reason that the North went to war against the South, there was more to it than that. The war wasn't just about slavery, it was about keeping the Union together. Slavery was just the catalyst and many of the people in the North weren't totally opposed to the practice. The bigotry and racism that was prevalent in the South was just as prevalent in the North with the difference being that the North had abolished slavery as a practice.

Captain America emerging from a nation's desire to create, through science, the ultimate soldier to fight tyranny is one thing. Captain America emerging from a Native American ceremony that brings out what a person can truly be inside so he can teach the rest of the country about unity and equality is righteous but doesn't have that same emotional impact.

The Axis powers left their homes to conquer other lands. Many of the people in the South felt they were simply defending their homes. They broke away from the Union because they wanted to go about their business as they saw fit. It was wrong, make no mistake, because slavery is wrong, but the Civil War was not about pushing back tyrants no matter what some may believe. It was about ideology and, to a certain extent, commerce. The concept that our nation's greatest hero would come from one of our darkest times may be dramatic, but I just don't like it.

In The End: I'm not trying to suggest that this was a bad comic or question the noble intent that Tony Bedard had when he wrote the book. I admire his efforts and agree with the themes he wrote about. I just didn't like the fact that the Civil War was the cause of Captain America's creation. The one thing I will applaud is that Bedard was very daring in making this a totally new character with a new raison d'etre. It would have been easy for him to try and shoehorn Cap's origin to the Civil War era, but he didn't. He created his own concept and it was very well written which is why, despite my problem with the philosophical implications of the idea, I give the result .



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