Saying Goodbye to Captain America
Spoiler alert! Look inside 'Captain America: The End' #1 right here...
Warning! This article contains spoilers for today's CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE END #1, SO READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK, TRUE BELIEVERS!
Last month, Marvel revived THE END with special one-shots that have depicted possible conclusions for Deadpool, Miles Morales, Captain Marvel, and others. And today, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE END #1 puts together a closing chapter for one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes. It also marks a homecoming for industry legend, Erik Larsen, who wrote and drew the issue.
Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Larsen established himself on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) and SPIDER-MAN (1990) before co-founding Image Comics. Larsen, however, has never lost his love for Marvel’s heroes, and he’s previously returned for runs with Nova, Wolverine, Defenders, and the extended Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tribute, FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD’S GREATEST COMICS MAGAZINE (2001).
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE END #1 largely bypasses the modern takes on Cap and recaptures the vibe of Kirby’s 36-issue run on CAPTAIN AMERICA (1968). Larsen places Kirby and Joe Simon’s hero in a post-apocalyptic setting that invokes one of Kirby’s comics for another distinguished company. It also seems to echo Kirby’s “Mad Bomb” story from CAPTAIN AMERICA (1968) #193-200. But instead of a bomb that drives its victims insane, the plague is literally the Red Skull. Somehow, Cap’s greatest enemy created a virus that turns everyone it infects into an extension of himself. The Red Skulls have overrun the Earth, and even Steve Rogers can’t maintain his trademark optimism in this ruined world.
Willpower and determination are some of Captain America's defining traits. That’s why it’s so affecting to see an older Cap near the end of his rope. For perhaps the first time in his life, Cap doesn’t see a way to overcome the odds. More alarmingly, the Red Skulls seemingly have a hive mind as they relentlessly pursue Cap and a handful of survivors. And even the slightest cut can turn an ordinary man, woman, or child into yet another Red Skull.
In the face of such an insidious evil, Cap openly wonders if he’s doing the right thing by continuing to fight back. Would the Red Skulls focus on rebuilding civilization if they didn’t have Captain America to focus their hatred on? Would it be better for Cap to simply give up and let his old enemy win? These are questions that would never occur to Cap under ordinary circumstances—but this is far from ordinary, and Cap is increasingly alone in this world. Without that spark of hope, even Steve Rogers can be lost to despair.
However, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE END #1 wouldn’t be true to the spirit of Simon and Kirby’s creation if there wasn’t a way to beat even this insidious threat. Captain America became a legend because he wouldn’t back down to evil in World War II, and he’s not about to start now. The solution to the problem ultimately lies within Steve Rogers and not his costumed persona. Larsen cleverly shows the reader the solution long before Cap figures it out. Essentially, Steve finds a way to make an even bigger impact on the world as himself, and he willingly puts aside his costume to play a much needed role. The result isn’t a perfect world, but it is a world that has a fighting chance to reclaim its soul. And it’s one that’s true to the ideals of Captain America. He’s a hero who will always be relevant, regardless of the circumstances.
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