The following contains spoilers for ‘Captain America: Civil War’.
Marvel’s loose interpretation of West Side Story, otherwise known as Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, saw the in-universe federally mandated Sokovia Accords forcing the world’s mightiest heroes to retire, to be detained, or go on the run. The star-spangled Captain America (Chris Evans), born Steve Rogers to a working class family in Brooklyn, dropped his shield when his tussle with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) forced an unofficial truce between the heroes.
With Civil War now over, the cinematic Steve Rogers has begun a character trajectory his comic book counterpart has actually followed before. What do you call Captain America if he’s a man without a country? Well, in the mid-70s, comics called him Nomad. In a tumultuous election year, a dissenting Avenger declaring no national allegiance, making a quick appearance in a Marvel film, could give frustrated American audiences a cathartic experience.
In 1974’s Captain America #180, published just two years after the Watergate scandal, readers saw Rogers become disillusioned with the United States. In the text, he, like his cinematic counterpart, left his shield and helmet behind. He thus became Nomad, and while the Nomad comics do illustrate him wearing a horrendously goofy dark blue and yellow outfit, it’s the emotion behind his identify shift that still resonates. Cap’s stint as Nomad lasted only four issues, and those were written by Steve Englehart and illustrated by Sal Buscema.
Later in the ‘90s, Mark Waid worked alongside artists Ron Garney and Scott Koblish to create what many fans hail as the definitive Captain America, in the storyline Man Without a Country. Accused of attacking a U.S. military base, Cap is exiled and seeks to clear his name, but not before saving his hostile home from a bigger threat.
As Civil War and the Marvel Universe demonstrates, Captain America as Nomad would further the sweeping, romantic notion that Cap is dedicated to a larger fight between decency and evil, not just flags or circumstance. He’s now a star-spangled hero stripped of spangled stars. His superhuman resilience and steadfast devotion to honor comes from his heart, not the Super Soldier serum.
Like his comics counterpart, Steve Rogers in the MCU was born in the early 20th century and grows up wanting to fight for his country in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Instead, Rogers was shoved into the propaganda spotlight with USO girls, but Marvel’s fantastical, supernatural World War II allowed Rogers to rise to the occasion and become a real hero.
But in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Rogers struggles to live in the 21st century. The Greatest Generation soldier inhabits a world he nearly died to protect, but he doesn’t recognize its new values. Joe and Anthony Russo’s first film in the MCU saw America’s hero question American values, as Rogers becomes a fugitive while the governing body he pledged allegiance to, S.H.I.E.L.D., turns into his own worst nightmare.
“The safest hands are still our own.”
Rogers kept the shield as a member of the now-private Avengers fighting through devastation in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. And then, he left it on the ground in Captain America: Civil War. He gave Tony Stark a flip phone and told him he’d be around, for the Avengers, if needed.
In the wake of Cap’s identity shift in Civil War, there is no one else in the MCU suited to take up the red, white, and blue mantle. Even comics lore is no help here; Bucky is harbored, unconscious, in Wakanda while Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon, was broken out of General Ross’s compound by Rogers in the last few scenes of Civil War. He can’t really take up the shield, as he does in the comics, if he’s joined Rogers on the run.
It’s unlikely Marvel will fully explore the Nomad path; the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (final title TBD) is loosely based on the comic books The Infinity Gauntlet and sequel Infinity War, wherin Rogers is still wearing the red and blue as Captain America. But there’s room to detour, especially in Marvel’s Black Panther, arriving July 2018, or in an eventual Black Widow film.
Rogers states in Civil War that a motion such as the Sokovia Accords is always ruled by people with agendas, and that “agendas change.” While detractors of Captain America and the superhero genre think of him as a jingoist nightmare, in fact his classic, non-toxic patriotism is his greatest attribute. He refuses to belittle the red, white, and blue as imperialist agenda, and so he simply leaves it behind. We know what Cap’s identity crisis looks like in the comics; it remains to be seen how closely future films will follow that path.