This week on Most Heroic, we’ll be continuing our look at heroic moments with a great, great monologue from the greatest hero that the Marvel universe has to offer.
In 2006, Marvel comics drastically changed the landscape of their mainstream universe with a huge, company-wide event called Civil War. In this storyline, a major piece of legislation divides the super-heroic community in two. After the tragic destruction of Stamford, Conn., partially due to the actions of some inexperienced heroes, the United States government introduces a bill called the Superhero Registration Act.
This new act requires that all super-powered vigilantes reveal their identities to the government, and register to act as agents of the peacekeeping agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Some of the more mainstream and established heroes, like Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic see the benefits of the SRA, and believe that this would be a great opportunity to become more proactive and start building the next generation of heroes. Alongside Hank Pym, they become very involved with the plans and work as the architects of the new Initiative.
However, other heroes refuse to sign away their civil liberties and independence. Some distrust the government in general, and others like Luke Cage, compare it to indentured servitude. Those anti-registration heroes are given a leader in none other than the most respected man in the Marvel Universe, Captain America. After refusing to hunt down any dissenting heroes for the government, the man who wears Old Glory on his chest becomes a fugitive.
Before long, most of the heroic community are grouped into one side or the other, but things don’t stay that way. The conflict between the two groups grows more tense over time, and the tactics on both sides become more and more ethically questionable. The pro-registration heroes build a huge penitentiary in another dimension that eventually becomes a sort of political prison for opponents of the SRA, and the detainees are held there without trial. They also hire known super-villains like Venom, Bullseye, and the Green Goblin himself to try and bring in members of Cap’s resistance.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Spider-Man was pro-registration. He chose to support his friend and mentor Tony Stark, and in a shocking historic maneuver, he actually unmasks himself to the public. However, as the conflict between the heroes grows worse, he begins having doubts. When he finds out about the Negative Zone and the enlisting of his archenemy, Peter decides that enough is enough and leaves the pro-registration group behind to join Cap’s forces. He also reveals the plans for the prison on live television and states his opposition to Tony’s methods.
This is where our scene picks up. Cap meets Spider-Man on a rooftop right after Peter has made his televised announcement. They talk about how this will make things much harder for Peter, since he’s now going to be perceived as a traitor. Peter then asks Steve how he does it.
This is where I realized that I loved Captain America.
Like the Superman scene from a few weeks ago, this was written by J. Michael Straczynski. However, unlike that scene, this one is pretty damn close to perfect, in a few different ways. First, JMS got his characterization of Steve Rogers absolutely right. It’s his steadfast adherence to his own morals that makes him the most respected man in the Marvel Universe. This is what makes him Captain America.
I also love Peter’s response to Cap’s speech. Too often we see Peter as being really downtrodden and moody, so it’s a very pleasant sight watching him get inspired like this, and then immediately geek out.
This moment was made bittersweet months later. Captain America was “killed off” for a few years, not too long after this issue came out. He was seemingly assassinated by agents of his archenemy, the Red Skull. While he was gone, the Marvel universe became a very dark place to live in.
I can’t thank JMS enough for writing this scene. Not only did he cement my love and respect for the character of Steve Rogers, but he exposed me to this beautiful, eternal quote. I’ve done my best to try and memorize it, but even if I don’t know it verbatim, I’ll never forget the spirit and the intent of Mark Twain’s words. Over the years, this has been a passage that I’ve used as a guiding light, and I can honestly say that I’m a better person thanks to its influence.
Some might think that it’s a little strange that the lines of a long dead novelist and a fictional character have been inspired me so much, but I don’t think it’s strange at all. After all, that’s what are heroes are there for.
Next week on Most Heroic, we’ll start to examine some real-life heroes.