Thursday, March 08, 2007

Captain America dead after 66-year reign - The Boston Globe

Captain America dead after 66-year reign - The Boston Globe

Superhero's death stuns the faithful

By Don Aucoin and Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff | March 8, 2007

He first appeared in March 1941, punching out Adolf Hitler on the cover of a brand-new comic book. Ever since then, attired in a red, white , and blue uniform and armed only with a shield, he fought for liberty and justice, not unlike that guy with the cape.
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But Captain America is no more.

When fans yesterday opened the comic book that bears his name, they discovered a shocking development: Captain America had been cut down by a sniper . His sudden death prompted a run on comic-book stores by fans hoping to snap up a potential collector's item -- and also triggered considerable consternation among some devotees of the stout-hearted superhero.

"I didn't like it when they did it to Superman, and I am no fan of it now that they have done it to Captain America," a fan who called himself "Union Jack" wrote on an Internet message board devoted to the character. Another asked plaintively: "Is it true? If so, then I think my days of buying comics have officially come to an end." Some fans accused Marvel Comics of killing him off as a publicity stunt. Is this a reprise of "The Death of Superman" in 1993, which eventually led to the return of Superman?

In a telephone interview yesterday, Marvel Comics editor in chief Joe Quesada dismissed suggestions that Captain America's demise was staged to boost sales. Rather, he said, the death of the character he fondly called "Cap" was the logical outcome of a long-running story line involving a "civil war" among the superheroes in the Marvel universe. "The story was taking us there," he said.

Still, Quesada conceded, "We've been biting our lips, and here it is, the moment of truth. I don't think there's a dry eye in the house. You're talking about a character who wears the American flag. . . . The Marvel universe has had a Captain America in it since the 1940s. Now there is a big void that has to be filled."

Anthony Gallucci , assistant manager at Newbury Comics in Boston's Government Center, got 50 copies of "Captain America" Tuesday night. All were sold within two hours after opening yesterday. "This was a pretty well-guarded secret," Gallucci said. "I was kind of surprised they were going down that road when I turned to the last page. 'They're not really going to do that, are they?' I wondered. But they did."

Quesada said the notion of Captain America's death was first floated 18 months ago during a story conference at Marvel Comics. "It just seemed like the room was leaning toward the direction that, unfortunately, Cap was not going to come out of this story in good shape," he said. The way it played out in yesterday's edition contained echoes of contemporary issues: Captain America was on his way to be arraigned for his refusal to sign the government's "Superhero Registration Act," a step that would have exposed his true identity. (That identity, by the way, is Steve Rogers, a physically feeble art student transformed into a powerhouse by a military "Super Soldier" experiment.)

"Captain America" has consistently ranked among the 25 best-selling comic books, according to Jonah Weiland, owner of Comic Book Resources, an online magazine that tracks sales.

The cover price of yesterday's magazine was $2.99, but Gallucci expects copies to sell for two to three times that on eBay or in secondary markets at comic-book stores. The price could go even higher. "My understanding is that Marvel has no plans on reprinting the issue, so however many copies were ordered is it," Gallucci said. "And that will spark an immediate rise in price."

But what will be the cultural impact of Captain America's death? After all, an estimated 210 million copies of the comic book have been sold over the years in more than 70 countries. Captain America has been featured in a 1944 movie serial, a 1991 direct-to-video film, live-action TV shows, toys, and action figures. He has also cropped up in the occasional song, such as Jimmy Buffett's 1977 "Captain America," and even some novels.

Fred Grandinetti , a comic book historian from Watertown , said the decision to kill off Captain America is part of what he termed an unfortunate trend. "Rather than have heroes just hang up their cape in a closet to use them again, they kill them, because they want to boost sales," he said. "It's an insult to the fans that have grown up with these characters all these years."

But might Captain America be resurrected somewhere down the line? "There's no plans for that right now," said Quesada, before adding: "I can't sit here and tell you absolutely not."

In the meantime, Quesada said, there is a momentous question to be answered in the days ahead: "What is a world without Captain America in it?"

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.