Superman has long been America’s hero and has typically been associated with the “American Way”. However, in the realm of contemporary pop-culture, Superman is starting to look like old news. Instead, Captain America is quickly becoming the most popular American themed superhero, both at home and abroad.
While it probably would have been more subtle to name him Mr. Patriot, or Sgt. USA, Steve Rogers aka Captain America has been smartly and effectively rewritten by Marvel- whereas the recent updates to Superman’s character have been met with far less enthusiasm at the box office. What’s interesting is that both of these characters embody the same general traits of kindness, duty, and being an all-around force for good. Where the similarities start to end is how both of these characters have been updated for modern times.
Superman’s recent film appearances in 2013’s Man of Steel and this year’s much maligned Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice were both met with less-than-stellar responses. The team at DC and Warner Bros. decided it would be appropriate to accentuate Superman’s “otherness”. His status as an alien interloper, unable to truly relate to humans, has been a major theme for both of his recent movie appearances. In an effort to make the character darker and more exciting, the creative teams behind Superman have instead made him a violent stranger, someone who seems to actually dislike all of humanity for their violence and corruption.
Captain America too has been faced with the worst of humanity, fighting Nazis in his first film Captain America: The First Avenger, and later his own government in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Yet throughout this all, Captain America has maintained a general faith in both people and himself. He sees the corruption, a corruption many real Americans see today in our own political world, but he separates them from the everyday people. His reaction to the fictional espionage, which have eerie similarities to our own, is to maintain that whether or not he understands what’s happening, he will trust his own moral compass. This compass has been established over the course of several films to be based in part his own nature, but also his belief that the United States is fundamentally a kind nation.
In a time where the morality of nations and leaders is under intense scrutiny, a genuine belief in doing what’s right, even if the details are blurry, might be just the thing Americans, both fictional and real, are looking for.