O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
The countdown draws to a close…
2. Captain America (Steve Rogers)- 1616 points (43 first place votes)
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Steve Rogers was not accepted into the Army, so the next best thing he could do was volunteer as a test subject for a new Super Soldier Serum. The serum transformed the weak Rogers into a lean, mean fighting machine.
As Captain America, Rogers was the great Super Soldier for America against the Nazis, along with his partner, Bucky Barnes. His main enemy was the Nazi Red Skull. Tragically, towards the end of the war, an explosion seemingly killed both of the men, although in reality, Captain America was just placed into a state of suspended animation.
He was revived years later by the Avengers, of whom he soon became first a member, then a leader, and soon a symbol of the very team itself.
He fought alongside SHIELD, which was headed up by his former World War II buddy, Nick Fury. There he met Agent 13, Sharon Carter, who would be his companion for quite awhile.
Soon, he met up with a new superhero named the Falcon. The two would become partners for quite awhile (even having Cap’s book retitled Captain America and the Falcon).
Recently, Captain America sided against the US Government over a Superhero Registration Act. He ultimately decided he was in the wrong, and gave himself up for arrest. While in custody, he was assassinated by Sharon Carter, who was brainwashed by his arch-nemesis, the Red Skull.
Here is why Dave Sikula had Captain America #1…
I was first introduced to Cap in 1965. Up until then, I was strictly a DC guy, but when I heard the Marvel Super-Heroes show was coming on television, I figured I’d better get up to speed and start reading Marvels. In those days, it was easy to visit any number of liquor and convenience stores and pick up back issues for a dime or a quarter. I managed to get caught up with Cap’s story in short order and was fascinated by the concept of his being out of time: a man of the 20s and 30s trying to deal with the 60s in all its aspects. I’ve always felt an affinity for that period (even as a kid), so I could identify with his feelings of alienation (what adolescent couldn’t?).
But there was something about Cap that made him unique. His introspection — I remember him being referred to as the “Hamlet of the comics” — with the difference that Cap would take action against a sea of troubles. He knew when to talk (and brother, did he talk) and when to act — and when he did act, he did it knowing instinctively what was the right thing to do.
He’s always been a touchstone for me. When I read Englehart’s stories in the 70s — which are probably “my” Cap stories — I knew what he was feeling; his confusion and frustration that the institutions he stood and fought for had somehow become corrupted. But being the solider he was — and is (oh, he’s coming back; we all know it) — he didn’t give up; he continued to fight for and live those ideals.
Cap is the touchstone for all that’s right in the Marvel Universe — and in America, really. (If he wasn’t, there wouldn’t have been such a commotion over his “death.”) He’s a true patriot who’s optimistic and believes in the system, but who’s realistic enough to know that that system has to be redefined by every generation — and he embraces and welcomes those changes while clinging firmly to the core American — if not human — beliefs of freedom and equality. There’s not a character in the Marvel Univers who doesn’t measure their own actions by his. He’s a man who will not give up, but who will fight “when a duel is due,” and “the red and the white and the blue will come through.”
I look forward to his return.
Here is why my pal, Ronald Bryan, had Cap tops…
Captain America is my favorite Marvel character because he’s the ideal person. While Spider-Man is who we are all most like, Captain America is who we all wish we could be. We wish we could have the kind of convictions that Cap possesses. Captain America never falters in his beliefs.
He’s willing to stand against the government he loves for the betterment of mankind.
He’s willing to give it all up for what is right.
Unlike so many heroes, Cap’s motivation has always been to help others. He rarely thinks of himself. There’s a reason Cap is looked up to by all of the heroes in the Marvel Universe, because he is the ideal vision of what a hero is.
Selfless, not selfish.
Besides, he beat the cosmic cube with Twinkies! Anyone who can beat an object that does not eat with food is the greatest character ever!
Thanks, Dan and Ron!
1. Spider-Man (Peter Parker) – 2164 points (103 first place votes)
Created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, Peter Parker was a typical high school nerd who was bitten by a radioactive spider, which gave him superpowers. He used his powers first to gain glory, but when he allowed a crook to get away because he couldn’t be bothered to stop him, he soon learned a hard lesson in responsibility when the crook he let escape went on to kill his beloved Uncle Ben.
Parker then decided he would be a hero, no matter what befell him, and a lot of tragedy has happened to him since then.
He began taking pictures of himself as Spider-Man, and selling them to the Daily Bugle, where J. Jonah Jameson used the pictures to cast Spider-Man in a bad light. Eventually, Peter became a science teacher.
As for the tragedy thing mentioned before, his beloved Aunt May has been sick many times. His first love, Gwen Stacy, was murdered by an enemy. The enemy turned out to be the father of a friend of his, Norman Osborn. His friend, Harry Osborn, then was turned against Peter, and eventually died, as well.
The one good thing Peter had in his life was his wife, Mary Jane Watson. Now perhaps that may be gone, as well…
Chris (Chris Coke in the comments), who has been this Countdown’s biggest fan, gives his reason for picking Spider-Man #1…
I first got to know Spider-man in an Avengers comic* and his very presence made the comic more enjoyable. Partly because he was so funny and partly because he felt out-of-place being in space and among great heroes, just like I would be. So he could act as the window to the story for me. I could watch Captain America being noble and heroic and Thor being all powerful and godly against Nebula’s minions; but I could see it through Spider-Man’s eyes.
Why do I love Spidey? I think it’s because I feel I can relate to him. But that’s certainly not the only reason. His wit makes his adventures enjoyable to read. His everyman hard-luck hero status gives him humanity. He has the best supporting cast in comics and the best rogues gallery this side of Gotham (though I may have that backwards). He is instantly recognizable in any number of iconic poses thanks to the genius of Steve Ditko. I love all these things. And I love the central theme the series revolves around, the last line of his first adventure:
*With great power comes great responsibility.*
That’s the code Spider-Man chooses to live his life by. It means putting others first, making their problems his own. Feeling as though he’s failed them by not being there to help. Dedicating his life to swinging around, doing his best to be there to save lives and stop bad guys and otherwise help those in need. Believing that to do otherwise would be wrong.
But is that really a good idea, Spider-Man? Does it work well for you? Or is it too simple an idea? One that’s great in theory but fails in practice? What about the personal responsibility of others? Their own accountability for what happens in their lives? What about your responsibilities to yourself? What about your responsibilities as a nephew? As a friend? As a boyfriend? What about your studies? What about your life? Shouldn’t you get your own house in order before you try to make things right for others? And who would look after Aunt May if you got killed in battle saving some stranger? Aren’t you shirking your real responsibilities in order to be Spider-Man? And how far do you go? How much should people come to depend on you? What are the limits? Where is the balance between your need and theirs? Between your responsibility and their own? Where?
These are good questions. And Spider-Man doesn’t have the answers. And that’s where I really relate to him, I think: his uncertainty. I understand uncertainty in life. He wants to do the right thing but never quite knows what that is. He takes it one day at a time and does the best he can. And we are there with him as he struggles; there as he stumbles; there as he triumphs; there as he learns; there as he grows.
Yeah. Apologies to the guy in the cape and cowl and the dude with the S on his chest, but Spidey’s the best superhero ever. More importantly, he’s my favourite.
Ooh, and remember that time he kicked the Juggernaut’s butt?
*That was Avengers 316, the second comic I read with Spider-Man in it, the first being Transformers #3 (just in case anybody cared)
Here is why my pal, Michael Pullmann, of the blog Tales to Mildly Astonish, picked Spidey #1…
Why is Spider-Man my number one?
Because every book of fairy tales needs a Brave Little Tailor.
I hope I don’t have to convince anyone reading this that superheroes are the Twentieth Century’s iteration of the essential archetypes that ride the winds of literature like zephyrs, skipping across the thermals of genre one by one, sailing the centuries. Thousands of years from now, when everything we know is dust and museum pieces, when scholars draw the line from Gilgamesh and Genji through to the ephemeral pop heroes of whatever civilization surpasses ours, they will draw it through Superman, Batman, Captain America, and Spider-Man.
If Superman is the Golden God of Light, then Spider-Man is the Brave Little Tailor. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim and Horatio Alger’s Dick Whittington (google it, damn you), there’s nothing particularly special about him. Yes, he can spin a web, any size (these days without mechanical aid), but that’s just the trappings of the genre. Behind the bright primary tights, where the important stuff sloshes around, is what matters. Is why he succeeds.
Spider-Man wins, not through his proportionately enhanced muscles or nebulously-defined spider-senses, but through true grit. He’s the tempest-tossed sailor, thrust into the forefront of legend by a combination of dumb luck and his own mistakes, getting through by a combination of wits, a firm moral center, and the determination to do the right thing. He’ll walk through hell to help his fellow man; in fact he has, sometimes literally. And often for no more than a single life, a single wrong to right.
If that spider had landed on somebody else’s hand, Peter would still be a hero. He would be curing cancer, or genetically increasing crop yields, or volunteering in a soup kitchen. His Uncle Ben taught him that with great power comes great responsibility, and his Aunt May taught him that to love your fellow man is the greatest responsibility of all. But he stumbles. He feels the weight of heroism on his shoulders, and though he may be tempted to shrug, he instead plants his feet. He is a hero by the sweat of his brow and the tears of his eyes. It is not in his nature, or no more than it is in anyone’s; like any worth making, it is his eternal choice, one made with the weary rising of every sun.
People need that. I need that. We need Superman to show us the world of tomorrow, but we need Spider-Man to show us that it’s possible for us to get there.
In the wake of the Nuremberg War Trials, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the capacity within all human beings that the Nazi war machine exploited to turn the otherwise ordinary population of Germany into willing accomplices and executors in the extermination of millions of people. Sixty years later, Dr. Phillip Zimbardo has turned the coin around and introduced to scholarship the concept of “the banality of heroism,” the capacity found in the millions of ordinary people who give of themselves for the betterment or protection of their fellows. Doctors who bring modern medicine to third world countries, whistleblowers who reveal criminal or pollutive actions taken by their employers, teachers who educate the children of poverty out of the most desperate ghettoes, everyday people who make an everyday choice to do good, regardless of personal cost. By this rubric, Peter Parker, the timid teenager is the most banal hero who ever strapped on a leotard.
Welcome fame? He’s ignored. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why did Ron Keller pick the wallcrawler #1?
I would have to say the main reason personally, is that I have followed Spider-man the longest. When I was I was a younger kid I made sure I saved up whatever money I had and went to a local comic shop to try to catch up on the any of the Spider-man books that were going. I also made sure I caught every episode of the Spider-man cartoon on Fox in the 90’s. Another would be that, and I know this has been said before, is that normal people can relate to him. Peter Parker has to deal with ordinary, everyday problems along with being a superhero. He is one of the most recognized and marketable characters and has been responsible for cartoons, movies and video games.
Also unlike many other characters in the Marvel Universe we have seen his character grow. His is no longer a kid going to school trying to balance learning his powers and the struggles of growing up. I think in order to tell new and interesting stories it was better to age his character. People complain about how they miss the old school spider-man stories, they still have the ultimate universe where a young Peter Parker is going through some of the same situations that made the regular Marvel U Spider-man great.
Don’t get me wrong I am not completely happy with all the things they have done with the character. I am still scratching my head from the “other” story arc. He died and was reborn in a cocoon, but also came back with new powers? I kinda shrugged off the natural webbing that they introduced a couple years ago, but the stingers? I noticed few writers have even brought it up since the event. I think he is such a great character that I can look past whatever zany power or gimmicky costume they come up for him next. My steadfast rule to see if I like a character is to look at their villains. I enjoy a lot of spider-man villains and I believe they help make him a better character.
Here’s why Jamie Bradley picked the webslinger #1…
I picked Spider-Man for the same reason that I suspect a lot of other people did: for me, he’s the quintessential “Marvel-style” hero. For most of my life I’ve been a DCU fanboy, but the first comic I can remember reading was a copy of Web of Spider-Man #21 that I found on the playground after a bunch of other kids had finished trading and accidentally left it there. I was completely confused by the cover since it showed, I found out later, a black costumed Spider-Man (which I knew nothing about) trying to prevent an impostor wearing the classic red and blues from severing the cable of a tram with a blowtorch. This is the “Marvel-style” for me: not the cosmic level iconic action of Superman or the more or less real streetlevel action of Batman or even Daredevil. Spider-Man’s always fighting against misperception, particularly the views of people around him who question his morality and his basic ability to succeed. Are his intentions good and is he really the loser he appears to be? It’s the pretty ordinary story we all face seen through a fun house mirror. From the moment he put on that costume for the first time everything was bound to become more absurd. I think so many people read his stories because they want to see how far he can go before he finally breaks and abandons his sense of responsibility or gives in completely to self-loathing.
What makes it so interesting is that the conflict never really ends. He marries the supermodel and still has to deal with tools who dress up like him and threaten acts of terrorism for one dumb reason or another, like the guy on the tram, or he finally joins the A-list with the Avengers and gains a new home and security for his family only to trust the wrong person and end up even worse off than before. Then there’s the fact that he’s one of very few heroes in the Marvel U that’s ever tried to apprehend the Punisher only to get his ass handed to him every time they meet. Doing the right thing gets him the eventual win and secures his place as a hero and a truly good human being…but he takes a lot more lumps than most heroes before he gets there.
Thanks to Chris, Michael, Ron and Jamie!
Thanks for following the countdown!
I hope you enjoyed it!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.