The Burden and Joy of Public Service in Captain America 699

by Drew Baumgartner

Captain America 699

This article will contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

For many superheroes, superheroics are a means of righting some cosmic injustice — the death of a loved one a the hands of a criminal, for example. Indeed, that particular motivation is so ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget that many heroes are motivated not out of some personal vendetta, but because they feel morally compelled to help when they can. We tend to think of Spider-Man (death of a loved one at the hands of a criminal notwithstanding) for that kind of power/responsibility stuff, but I’ll suggest that Captain America might embody those ideals even more thoroughly. For Cap, superheroing is a public service, no different from volunteering at a soup kitchen or picking up trash at your local park. He’s able to make the world a better place by being Captain America, so he has to be Captain America. Again, it’s not an attitude that’s entirely unique to Steve Rogers, but as Mark Waid and Chris Samnee crank that aspect up to eleven in Captain America 699, it’s hard to imagine any other character living that ideal so perfectly.

Actually, what makes this issue so special isn’t just Cap’s attitude, but the fact that Waid and Samnee are so deliberate in drawing parallels between superheroes and the work of everyday civil servants. The first real gut punch to that point comes when Ben Grimm learns how his trust has been abused and put and his work put in service of evil.

Steve and Ben

Isn’t this the curse of the civil servant? They get into public work with the goals of helping others, but those goals can be corrupted by subsequent administrations, forcing those civil servants to aid their political enemies just so they can keep helping their fellow citizens.

And, you know, it’s no coincidence that the administration in this issue is spearheaded by a unattractive despot with tiny hands and uncanny powers of persuasion over the small-minded. Or, to put a finer point on it:

Cap fights for freedom and hope

This clown might be able to take advantage of the rage-filled, but those of us who actually care about the American ideals Cap stands for can see right through that bullshit. It’s far from the most nuanced take of the current political climate, but it doesn’t mince words with where Cap stands in it all.

Of course, this issue also tests the limits of Cap’s dedication to public service. He trusts his own moral compass, and recognizes that his ability to throw shields has made him most useful as Captain America, but how does that translate to political office? With the events of Secret Empire still fresh in Cap’s mind, we can understand why he’d be reluctant to accept absolute power — or bestow it on anyone, for that matter. So, will his sense of duty outstrip his aversion to power? That this arc will be concluded in the next issue, with Cap likely returning to the present (perhaps via the “stuff” Ben mentions needing from Reed’s old lab), suggests that he certainly won’t be taking on any responsibilities long-term, but I’m excited to see how this creative team navigates that conflict.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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