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Death of an American Icon

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Although twenty-fifth installments of an ongoing series are often billed as anniversary issues, it looks like Captain America won’t be blowing out any candles soon. That’s right, patriots, Captain America is dead. Get out your handkerchiefs…

In yesterday’s Captain America #25, Steve Rogers got shot by a sniper while walking on the steps of a courthouse where he was to stand trial for his actions during Marvel Comics’ recent Civil War. If you thought Spider-Man’s unmasking and Marvel’s universe-wide The Initiative program were the only shockers to come out of Civil War, think again. Now comics fans must face a world without Captain America, the biggest comic character to die since DC brought us the 'Death of Superman' storyline back in 1993.

One could argue that Steve Rogers’ demise is more gripping for American readers than Superman’s was. While both characters are comic book icons, the Star-Spangled Avenger, as he was commonly referred to, was a true born-and-bred American, not someone conceived on a far-away planet before crash-landing on US soil in a rocket ship as a baby.

Pondering which character’s death is more important or comparing the relevance of Captain America #25 to Superman #75 won’t lead us anywhere. Not at this point, at least.

The real question, of course, is whether Cap will stay dead. As Marvel Editor In Chief Joe Quesada said yesterday, it’s impossible to rule out the character’s eventual return—nobody in comics truly ever stays locked up in a coffin.

The best example of that—oh, the irony—is Bucky, Cap’s teenage sidekick during World War II, who was resurrected about a year and a half ago by current Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker.

Rogers’ eventual resurrection was already on journalists’ minds when they wrote their articles yesterday covering the news. Apparently, they’re more familiar with superhero comics conventions than we all anticipated, or perhaps they simply learned their lesson after seeing Superman return a mere twelve months after Doomsday beat him to pulp.

Whatever the case may be, Quesada assured that when the day comes that someone decides to bring Cap back, it will be a big thing. "There was period in comics where characters would just die and then be resurrected. And the death had very little meaning and the resurrection had very little meaning," he stated in a CNN interview. "All I ask of my writers is if you're going to kill a character off, please let that death have some meaning in the overall scope of things."

One thing fans should hope for is that if Marvel brings the character back from the grave, they’ll probably let Brubaker handle the story. Together with artist Steve Epting and colorist Frank D’Armata, the Seattle-based writer has no doubt put forth the best string of Captain America tales since the memorable run by Mark Waid and Ron Garney.

When Brubaker took over the title with the launch of its fifth volume back in November 2004, he immediately turned Captain America into a must-read by digging deep into the character’s past and making it relevant for the present. At first, when Brubaker resurrected Bucky (as Russian special ops agent the Winter Soldier), many readers were out for his throat, but because the story was written with such a profound respect for Cap and Bucky’s history, fans soon stopped crying foul.

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Outside of his main title, Cap recently starred in Marvel’s Civil War as the head of the underground movement who refused to accept the Superhero Registration Act and the mockery of human liberties it presented. During Civil War, Cap ultimately yielded as he realised his fight—which a majority of fans felt was the right one—was causing much more damage than it was ever intended to do.

Voluntarily handing himself over to the authorities, Cap was imprisoned for his actions during the superhero war, setting the stage for yesterday’s gripping events.

Now, what happens next?

While the main Captain America series won’t resume until May, the ripple effects of his death start to spread as of next week, when Marvel releases Civil War: The Confession (by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev), which details the last moments of his life.

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Then, in April and May, the ramifications of Cap’s death and the responses of several key heroes in the Marvel Universe heroes will be seen in Fallen Son: Death of Captain America, a five-part event by Jeph Loeb and five top-of-the-bill Marvel artists (Wolverine: Denial, art by Leinil Yu; New Avengers: Anger, art by Ed McGuinness; Captain America: Bargaining, art by John Romita, Jr.; Spider-Man: Depression, art by David Finch; Iron Man: Acceptance, art by John Cassaday). 

Finally in May’s Captain America #26, Brubaker and Epting unveil how the autopsy of Steve Rogers’ dead body went.

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While its star character is dead, Captain America itself will continue. Brubaker has the next two years worth of stories mapped out, which implies that either Rogers will return at some point in the not-too-distant future, or someone else will be throwing the shield instead.

Whatever happens next, the comics industry shouldn’t worry about there being a rip-off on 'Return of the Supermen' on the horizon. Brubaker has proven time and again that he holds Captain America too close to his heart for a Cap-cyborg to step in and ruin everyone’s day…

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