Monday, November 29, 2010
Superman and Captain America - Contrasts
It's interesting to me that Captain America and Superman are often considered synonymous with America, given the contrasts in their back stories, and how that reflects on their characters.
First, when you think about it, Clark's experiences growing up exposed him to possibly the best features of America - granted, farming isn't exactly the most prosperous lifestyle, but it's hard not to see some of the most idealized aspects of the American immigrant story in Superman's upbringing. He starts out on a small farm in the middle of nowhere in a Norman Rockwell conception of America, and then climbs out of that to a more middle-class urban existence as a crusading reporter in the big city. That's the stuff the American Dream of social mobility is all about.
By comparison, Steve Rogers? He got to see some of the worst times in American history - his parents dying not because of crime, but because of the horrors of disease and the Great Depression. His upbringing was one of isolation and struggle to survive, and he did. He had to rise above it, he had to...well, he had to transform himself so he wouldn't become bitter and cynical. He had to believe in something more than what his experiences told him life had to offer.
What's also interesting is comparing the methods both take in their particular version of the American Dream. Captain America is all about defending the platonic Ideal of the DREAM - his weapon is a shield for a reason - he's all about DEFENCE - from external threats, from twisted versions of the dream (which is why there are so many "evil versions" of Cap out there), etc. Captain America focuses on the big picture. Superman, or at least, Superman at his very best, is more about the details. He focuses on the more immediate issues of security - preventing a robbery, stopping/relieving disasters, helping people when there are no other systems left to turn to. Superman is there to help, but its in those small moments of heroics that you see Clark Kent, the farmboy and the pragmatist, trying to make life just a little more tolerable by sharing the amazing gifts as a way for saying "thanks". If Cap is all about being the top cop protecting the community, Superman is all about giving back to the community, and defending it is just one part of that.
Or at least, that's how I see it.