I’m not breaking any new ground here or offering a hot take by suggesting that one of the most definitive Captain America moments – maybe THE definitive moment – didn’t take place in his own comic book series.
But every once in a while, the importance of this one panel – not an issue, not a page, just one panel (!) – hits me and resets my moral compass as an American.
It comes near the end of a two-issue coda to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s masterful Born Again storyline in the Daredevil series. Specifically, it’s in issue #233.
Cap is being confronted by a corrupt general, who suggests that our hero’s loyalty is appreciated by this military POS and his cohort. In response, Cap grasps the American flag in one hand and says, “I’m loyal to nothing, General – except the dream.”
Daredevil #233 was published at the end of summer in 1986. I was almost 12 years old, and my interest in comics was still three or so years away. I wouldn’t read Miller and Mazzucchelli’s story for another decade or so.
I found a used collected edition of Born Again at a flea market in Waterbury, VT. If I recall correctly, I paid $3 for it. Hell of a bargain.
I wasn’t particularly political at that time in my life, but I was getting there. Seeing Cap express patriotism in those blunt terms, suggesting that loyalty is best displayed not to a political ideology, military official, or politician, but rather to the American Dream, was a powerful experience. It still is.
Of course, the American Dream is as unique as each person who dares to dream it. That’s what makes the shared experience of this country so messy and complicated. But I also firmly believe that disloyalty to that dream has made life in the United States even messier and more complicated.
Swearing fealty to a political party is not a dream. Nor is blind obedience to one person.
If you can’t look at an elected official and find faults, you’re not serving your country. You’r participating in a cult. I was (and still am) a pretty big Obama fan, but I’ll be the first in line to say that his record is not beyond reproach.
Engaging in drone strikes that were oftentimes unjust, an education policy that was out of touch with the needs of educators and students, and establishing a healthcare plan that was filled with well-meaning but ultimately crippling stutter steps are a few examples of issues I still have with that presidency.
Watching followers of our current President defend his handling of the coronavirus epidemic as though it is blameless is terrifying. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to envision a gathering of red-baseball-cap-wearing, Kool Aid-drinking cultists singing and dancing around a giant wicker man as it burns, filled with elderly COVID-19 victims being sacrificed to the gods of Wall Street.
Cap grasping the red, white, and blue, swearing loyalty to the American Dream over politics and corruption made me feel better when the image popped into my head again this morning. It straightened my spine and lightened my load.
It’s just one panel, but it packs a hell of a punch.