I have a confession to make. When I sent the manuscript for Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero (Dittmer 2013) to its publisher, I fell off the wagon. After reading superhero comics for the better part of a decade, documenting the adventures of flag-draped superheroes in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom from 1940 to the present, I quit. I’m not someone who believes that a big wall separates the superhero comics from the rest of the comics world, but after over a thousand superhero comics I was definitely ready to switch things up a bit. So I dabbled in all the great new stuff that I had missed when my reading time was occupied by my book project – some of which were discovered by reading this very website (Fransman 2012) and are highly relevant to this essay. And all the while my monthly delivery of Captain America arrived like clockwork, joining its predecessors on my office desk. Last week, I was finally shamed by the verticality of the stack (almost a year and a half’s worth!) into taking them home and giving them some attention. The comics included the end of Ed Brubaker’s eight year run on the title (a pretty remarkable achievement nowadays), during which he famously brought Bucky back from the dead and walked Captain America through the Civil War crossover that made headlines around the world (e.g., Gustines 2007). One might expect a triumphant victory lap for Brubaker’s swansong on the title. Nevertheless, the end of Brubaker’s run seemed fixated on decline and the limits to power. In this essay I hope to briefly trace the ‘Powerless’ storyline (Brubaker and Davis 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2012,d, 2012e), as well as the events leading up to and following from that storyline, before contextualizing it all with a tiny, painless dose of political theory. I will then argue that the trope of ‘Powerless’ (in which, not surprisingly, Captain America’s body loses its superpowers) is a relatively common one over the history of the character. While this is to a certain extent true of many superheroes, in the context of Captain America the plot device is freighted with the baggage of the nationalist superhero genre.
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