The Shield as Excalibur in Captain America 702

by Drew Baumgartner

Captain America 702

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

Drew: Comics historians are obsessed with Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. There’s fun parallels to draw between the lasso and Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston’s invention of the lie detector, but another essential point is that a lasso isn’t a phallus in the same way that a sword or gun is. That is, it’s a feminine weapon, designed to entwine Wonder Woman’s enemies, rather than pierce their flesh. I think that reading certainly has utility, but I think practically, the effect of that choice is that Wonder Woman is less concerned with injuring and maiming her enemies as she is neutralizing them — her weapon of choice embodies her compassion. I think Captain America’s shield represents a similar compassion, positioning as a defender, rather than an aggressor. That fact becomes particularly salient as Mark Waid and Leonardo Romero explicitly draw parallels between the shield and Excalibur, effectively highlighting the difference between a shield and a sword.

To be clear, I understand that Cap uses his shield regularly as an offensive weapon, whipping it at the heads of his enemies as often as he shields himself and others from attacks, but Waid emphasizes its use defensively in the opening flashback, drawn by Rod Reis.

Peggy Carter protects Cap

Anyone using the shield to protect an unconscious Cap is already a symbolically dense moment, but the real power of this scene is the way it primes us for thinking about the shield — it isn’t a projectile or a bludgeon, but a literal shield, wielded to protect the defenseless.

It’s only later in the issue that how we think about the shield matters, but it suddenly matters a great deal, as Old Vic explains the significance of the shield:

It's Excalibur

Vic might simply be referring to the shield’s mythic significance (or Jack’s birthright to wield it), but in light of that opening scene, I can’t help but be aware of the fact that it’s not Excalibur, or any sword for that matter. Indeed, it’s when Jack wields it as such that things take a sudden turn for the worse. He should be using the shield to protect the innocent, but instead uses it to smash the cosmic cube (?) to bits, creating an entirely new problem for himself. It’s a clever twist that plays on the associations we have with Cap’s shield — it’s not a magic panacea for problems, but a tool that can be wielded both responsibly or irresponsibly. I suppose that’s true of Excalibur, too, though this story seems more immediately aware of the negative repercussions.

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

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