Bully: “You just don’t know when to give up, do you?”
Steve Rogers: (Panting) “I can do this all day!”
That was one of the best lines in Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. I saw that movie after Marvel’s The Avengers came out, but it only confirmed what I had seen of Steve Rogers in that film. Though I sometimes wonder about Chris Evans, I know there is no need to wonder about Cap.
I am sharing a picture with you today. It was made for the backs of certain comics issued by Marvel several decades ago – at the time when we were still intent on travel into space. I have no idea what the “Young Astronaut” program being hyped in the small white print was or is, and I do not really care. The picture of Captain America standing behind two stargazing children is what I want to discuss today.
A number of years ago, I ended up with some leftover comics. There was some housecleaning going on, and these books were on the chopping block. I was asked if I wanted any of the comics, since I had begun perusing them curiously instead of helping with the packing and the cleaning. I said yes after making sure the original owners did not want them back, then packed the books away for some time. Oh, I read a few of them, but I was interested in other things when I first acquired the stories. I felt a little silly reading the comics, too, despite the fact that I loved the characters in them (or most of them).
Also, at the time my ability to read comics was almost non-existent. I had been raised on normal books, so it took a while before I figured out how the story in a comic book progressed from panel to panel. In my limited defense, there were no comic book stores in my vicinity, and I usually eschewed graphic novels. Garfield comics are not nearly as detailed or involved as Marvel’s were, either. No one I knew at the time was a big comic book reader, so I was on my own.
Eventually, though, I decided to tackle that stack of comics to find out which ones I really could not live without and which could go. Some of the comics were easy to ditch; they were pieces of story arcs, and I did not have the rest of the story. Flick, there it goes. Some of the pieces were not to my taste. Flick, there they go! One of them was from the Dark Phoenix Saga – I hated the cartoons based on that storyline, so I was not interested in the comics, period. Bye-bye!
Others stayed. They were fascinating, as much for the advertisements as for the stories. The ads were like snapshots of time. There are not many comics – or other media, for that matter – which advertise Daisy rifles or BB and air guns these days. To see them displayed on the back cover of a comic in the same way as video games was refreshing. It was like stepping into a previous, freer era I had heard about but which I had never really seen in a concrete way before.
Then I closed one of the comics and found the above picture on the back.
It took my breath away. Literally, all the air went out of my lungs and I know my eyes nearly popped out of my head. If advertisements for rifles and BB guns are rare today, posters encouraging space exploration have gone the way of the dinosaur in most media outlets. Even the few we have now are not always this poetic.
You look at the picture and the first thing you see is the blue background. It makes you sit up and pay attention. You notice the stars peripherally as the star-gazing figure of Captain America pulls your eye toward the center of the page. Then you see he has his left hand on the shoulder of a boy who is standing in front of him. The boy cannot be more than twelve. He in turn has his left hand resting on the shoulder of a girl who is probably his younger sister. All three are gazing up at the star above the R in Reach.
If you look closely, you will notice that the boy and girl’s mouths seem to be slightly open. The sight of the stars hanging above them is so spectacular that they have forgotten to keep their mouths closed completely.
Cap does not have this same look of slack-jawed wonder. He is looking at the stars in a different way. You can just imagine him telling the children that, someday, they are going to get to explore those stars. That he wants them to go where no man has gone before, to see things and new worlds he will never get to explore. The life of an Avenger, like the life of a soldier, means that you get to visit all sorts of wonderful and amazing places, but you barely get glimpses of them while you are there. Cap has been to the stars…. but he has never seen them except in passing flashes.
These kids, Cap hopes, will be explorers. They are the future, the next generation, the heroes of tomorrow. Not heroes like him – they will be heroes for the territory they open up, the discoveries which they make, and the worlds which they find.
The boy and his sister will not be alone when they go out to do this, either. They will have each other. You can see that in the way the boy’s hand lies on the girl’s shoulder, assuring her that he is there for her, as her standing in front of him reminds him that he is not alone.
I think I nearly cried when I saw this picture first. It still makes my eyes a little wet as I look at it now. It reminds me of when I was a child, dreaming of being on the starship Enterprise. It recalls my old dreams about the unending possibilities there would be for being a hero, like the characters I admired and loved and watched so faithfully.
I wish Marvel had more posters like this. Not posters with just any old hero on them, readers, but posters with a hero who adds dignity and honor to the picture. Cap does that here. If you tried to redo this picture with Captain Marvel, or Iron Man, or Black Panther, or Star-Lord, or even my other favorite Avenger, Hawkeye, it would not work. Because the only hero who looks at the stars in that way is Captain America/Steve Rogers; very few of the other heroes would be able to do it, and even they would fall short of the gravitas he adds to this picture.
Not that I think Marvel would not try to have them do it, mind you; I just know the attempt would fail. I could hope for it to backfire in their faces spectacularly, but I already know that does not learn ‘em. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.” Marvel is repeating its mistakes over and over again, while expecting a different result.
We live in a crazy world that is always on the brink of falling apart, readers. I know that. I just wish that there were not quite so many of us going crazy right along with it, destroying so many good things as we go. This picture – this understanding of Captain America and Marvel Comics which the writers once had…it was a good thing. It is too sad that their heirs and maybe even some of the original writers themselves threw it all away in an attempt to be “hip” to get in the good graces of the in-crowd.
In the interest of ending this post on a happy note, readers, please take another look at the photo before you leave. Feel free to copy it, if you like. But whether you do or do not, please, look at it one more time. Look at it and remember it. Look at it and remember the Latin word for “ever higher”: Excelsior. Look at it, and remember your own dreams.
Let’s try to keep reaching ever higher, readers. Even if it is just a little bit higher than before, a little is better than nothing at all.