In Defense of the Good Guys: Why the Moral Archetypes of Captain America and Superman are Needed in a Relativistic Society.

Superman and Captain America are good guys, in every sense of the word.

They embody everything from the era they were written. Their morality was black and white – no gray area slipped in-between. Both characters represent in their own way, men who have an unwavering sense of duty, and unflinching morals; which, in today’s relativistic society, is both relevant and needed. If you know anything about either character, then you most likely know Superman’s motto “Truth, Justice, and the American way,” or read at least once, the famous Cap “No, you move” speech in Civil War.

Before I go any further, I know there are other characters who have similarities to the two I mentioned – Cyclops leading the X-Men comes to mind – but as a whole, no two heroes embody the sense of unchanging morality better than Cap and the Man of Steel.

What sets these two apart from other heroes in their respective pantheons is their sheer moral uprightness.

I enjoy a good comic arc of a hero facing the sins of the past, and finding redemption, or even an old fashioned revenge tale, because I can identify with moral shortcomings. I can relate as a human being to the fallenness of man.

But I consider myself a bit like Mr. Glass from Unbreakable in some ways (except for the mass killings of people), because I read comic books for more than just an entertaining story. Mr. Glass was like J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis in some ways, because they held that mythology pointed to something true, something lost in time. The first time we see Mr. Glass grown up is him explaining to a potential customer how comic books are today’s mythology.

I would agree.

I read comic books, as I do with traditional books, because if you look closely at the stories, especially the good ones, they can point you to nuggets of truth, truth that doesn’t change.

The two main examples of finding those nuggets of truth in comics are found in these two characters of Cap and Superman.

Captain America’s shining moment is in Civil War storyline we see on film, but mainly in the comic book version. In the comic books, Captain America was vehemently against the Super-human Registration Act (SRA), because it infringed on their God-given, inalienable rights. He saw it as government overreach, and actively fought against it, although it meant being on the opposite side of many of his closest friends and allies.

Why Cap responded to the SRA the way he did is the same reason why he fought alongside and lead the Howling Commandos during WWII, because he is on the side of justice, protecting people from tyrannical governments.

And in the culmination of his pivotal speech to Spider-Man in the run, he shows why it is the leaders of America, not him, who have lost what it meant to be American. The leaders had shirked in their duty to uphold the Constitution,  and had forgotten the paragraph in the Declaration which read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

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Captain America gives his pivotal speech to Spider-man during the Civil War crossover storyline in Amazing Spider-Man issue #537

Cap reminded Spider-Man that it “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, you move.’”

Cap gives us an ideal to look to as citizens, and holding government accountable for protecting our rights. He pointed us to something that doesn’t change. He reminds us that dignity is universal.

Alex Ross’s Superman: Peace on Earth and Snyder’s version of him in Batman v Superman are the two main sources I point to in learning valuable truths from the Man of Steel.

Being created by two Jewish men, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman originated as a Moses figure, but later developed into more Christ-like symbolism in the more modern films of Superman Returns, and Snyder’s version. Especially in Snyder’s version, we see the Last Son of Krypton sent to earth where he begins to save various people on earth from disasters, followed by saving them from an outside force in General Zod. Superman is the ultimate Boy Scout, always optimistic. He’s just a kid from Kansas. How much more American can he get?

But in Superman: Peace on Earth, drawn and co-written by the fantastic Alex Ross and Paul Dini, and for much of BvS, we see a weary Superman. We read of Superman attempting to feed all the people on earth, only to be met with a mixed reaction of rejoicing or hostility toward him.

In both versions, he is weary of helping but never seeing a difference. But he does not give up hope. He continues to feed people around the world, and lives as an example for others to live by.

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A weary Superman in Superman: Peace on Earth, as drawn by the fantastic Alex Ross.

Nowhere is his example seen better than in the climax of BvS, where, after having endured an entire films worth of controversy and hate from the very people he protects, Superman picks up the Kryptonite spear, knowing the price of Doomsday’s death would be paid by his own. He sacrificed his life for a world that hated him. But he did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

Since what is right never changes, neither does the way to do the right thing.

The two heroes direct us to truths which echo beyond the page.

Captain America points us to prize human dignity and worth over being pawns and facing abuse under tyrannical governments. And Superman, as I stated earlier, alludes to a deeper truth. Originally it pointed to Moses, but in our culture now more clearly points to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for a world who hated Him.

They are the good, standing firm against the forces of evil. Their characters personify on the inked pages the ideals of right vs wrong, good vs evil, justice vs injustice.   

They are the archetypes. And they are here to stay.

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About Joseph Hamrick

I write at www.articleasylum.wordpress.com and www.allthingsnew.wordpress.com. You can follow me on Twitter @HB_Jhamrick. I enjoy reading and attempting to write stories I find interesting that provoke thoughtfulness and introspection. I often achieve that in my reading - rarely in my writing. I am a Christian, so most of my writing and thinking comes from a theological perspective. I love contemplating on the moral, philosophical, and theological aspects of what I read and watch. I am also a Tolkien fan who thinks his works are the pinnacle of High Fantasy literature. And I am of the opinion that the six film Middle Earth saga reigns supreme as the best pieces of filmmaking in cinema history.
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One Response to In Defense of the Good Guys: Why the Moral Archetypes of Captain America and Superman are Needed in a Relativistic Society.

  1. Pingback: Rick Flag: The Fatal Flaw of a Flawed Film | Article Asylum

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