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Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence: The Evolution of a National Icon

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Since 1940, Captain America has battled his enemies in the name of American values, and as those values have changed over time, so has Captain America's character. Because the comic book world fosters a close fan-creator dialogue, creators must consider their ever-changing readership. Comic book artists must carefully balance storyline continuity with cultural relevance. C Since 1940, Captain America has battled his enemies in the name of American values, and as those values have changed over time, so has Captain America's character. Because the comic book world fosters a close fan-creator dialogue, creators must consider their ever-changing readership. Comic book artists must carefully balance storyline continuity with cultural relevance. Captain America's seventy-year existence spans from World War II through the Cold War to the American War on Terror; beginning as a soldier unopposed to offensive attacks against foreign threats, he later becomes known as a defender whose only weapon is his iconic shield. In this way, Captain America reflects America's need to renegotiate its social contract and reinvent its national myths and cultural identity, all the while telling stories proclaiming an eternal and unchanging spirit of America. In Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence, Stevens reveals how the comic book hero has evolved to maintain relevance to America's fluctuating ideas of masculinity, patriotism, and violence. Stevens outlines the history of Captain America's adventures and places the unfolding storyline in dialogue with the comic book industry as well as America's varying political culture. Stevens shows that Captain America represents the ultimate American story: permanent enough to survive for nearly seventy years with a history fluid enough to be constantly reinterpreted to meet the needs of an ever-changing culture.


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Since 1940, Captain America has battled his enemies in the name of American values, and as those values have changed over time, so has Captain America's character. Because the comic book world fosters a close fan-creator dialogue, creators must consider their ever-changing readership. Comic book artists must carefully balance storyline continuity with cultural relevance. C Since 1940, Captain America has battled his enemies in the name of American values, and as those values have changed over time, so has Captain America's character. Because the comic book world fosters a close fan-creator dialogue, creators must consider their ever-changing readership. Comic book artists must carefully balance storyline continuity with cultural relevance. Captain America's seventy-year existence spans from World War II through the Cold War to the American War on Terror; beginning as a soldier unopposed to offensive attacks against foreign threats, he later becomes known as a defender whose only weapon is his iconic shield. In this way, Captain America reflects America's need to renegotiate its social contract and reinvent its national myths and cultural identity, all the while telling stories proclaiming an eternal and unchanging spirit of America. In Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence, Stevens reveals how the comic book hero has evolved to maintain relevance to America's fluctuating ideas of masculinity, patriotism, and violence. Stevens outlines the history of Captain America's adventures and places the unfolding storyline in dialogue with the comic book industry as well as America's varying political culture. Stevens shows that Captain America represents the ultimate American story: permanent enough to survive for nearly seventy years with a history fluid enough to be constantly reinterpreted to meet the needs of an ever-changing culture.

44 review for Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence: The Evolution of a National Icon

  1. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    Intriguing coincidence. Relatively recently I was discussing feminism with a younger family member. How they felt about it? Did they self identify? Did they feel compelled to behave in "approved" ways? And Captain America made an appearance. The proposal being that in order for feminism to succeed masculinity needs to be redefined. And the new and improved Marvel Comics Captain America was their advocate of the redefined male. Thus when I saw this title, I was intrigued. When I'm reading a nonfict Intriguing coincidence. Relatively recently I was discussing feminism with a younger family member. How they felt about it? Did they self identify? Did they feel compelled to behave in "approved" ways? And Captain America made an appearance. The proposal being that in order for feminism to succeed masculinity needs to be redefined. And the new and improved Marvel Comics Captain America was their advocate of the redefined male. Thus when I saw this title, I was intrigued. When I'm reading a nonfiction work I find it useful to read the preface and introduction so that I am aware of the focus of the work presented and any biases or omissions the author mentions. This one concerned me. [...]mass culture reduces complex ideology into simplistic themes and patterns for easier consumption by the working class. This is a footnote in the introduction and seems terribly simplistic. I find the pejorative and classist nature of it off putting and unexamined. Yes, mass culture can be the lowest common denominator, but it can also be a rally point, a resonance, or a reflection of zeitgeist. Thankfully, when the analysis began it was well researched and documented and the tone was less polarizing. Ironic, because the early Captain America was a polarizing character. Born during World War II, Cap's earliest manifestations were jingoist and nothing like the neutral, moral bastion depicted in today's Marvel movies. "[...]an expression of hypermasculinity "exposes, rather than allays, anxiety about masculinity."59 Drawback of ebooks, not being able to easily refer to footnotes. Grrr... I think it's a given that masculinity is a social construct. That it is fluid and changes over time and thus the above makes sense. I also think that hypermasculinity during wartime has the more obvious concept of invincibility and less nuanced gender politics driving the image. The American monomyth premise: Helpless communities are redeemed by lone savior figures who are never integrated into their societies and never marry at the story's end. What is more intriguing is the concept that genuine evil cannot be destroyed by due process, that it requires one outside of constraints of democracy and possessing unquestionable morals--the philosopher king. In time of uncertainty people want assurance, when threatened they want to feel protected, and the vagrancies of due process the idea that it is better to let one guilty person go free then commit nine innocents is no longer palatable. So, this book discusses the transformation of Captain America over the decades, responding to the issues of the day. Knowles describes Captain America as a secularized messiah transformed by science--interesting. Created by a Jewish scientist to fight Nazism. WWII Cap is offensive. He uses grenades, artillery, and tortures spies--he physically attacks Americans whom disagree with him politically calling them traitors and un-American. Interesting correlation to the rhetoric of America early Post-911. Whereas Cold War Cap of 60s, 70s, and 80s only has his shield as a weapon. Comics in the 50s accused of contributing to minor delinquency. A Senate Subcommittee was set up, and in a proactive move Comic publishers decided to self regulate: CAA. Included in the original provisions: crime doesn't pay, no vamps, ghouls, werewolfism, walking dead, torture, cannibalism, and that "females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities”. 10 cent tax cost tacked on to the consumers. But comic books were not going away. Each decade saw Cap changing moving slowly from neoconservative to liberal. The 60s, Stan Lee and Marvel's creation of The Fantastic Four, humanized superheroes played into the American monomyth of the "reluctant hero". The 70s saw Captain America as a liberal crusader with Falcon as his permanent partner in accordance with racial equality front and center in the nation. Unsurprisingly, Cap and women really only accounts for a couple pages worth, even including the seventies and women's liberation. What is a delightful parallel is the commercialization of Marvel during the 80s. "From the mid-1980s forward, Captain America would be idealized as "perfect" and "moral," with his leadership abilities rarely called into question. In that regard, he represented the new incarnation of the "innocent nation"--powerful, wise (though young), and idolized by peer nations." But it wasn't easy, Cap got called on the mat for the revisionist history regarding his stance on violence over a couple decades. Then the fiasco with Falcon and the major facepalm--where were the editors?-- with Cap's new sidekick, a black Bucky (a regional, derogatory term). That ignominious fail was quickly rectified by renaming him Battlestar and providing a complementary costume. The 90s, Marvel is bouncing in and out of bankruptcy the story lines lean conservative reacting to the recession and as they try and leverage the assets into multiple venue streams. Cap is becoming irrelevant as the more ruthless vigilante style heroes (Punisher/Wolverine) rise. Agent Carter (SHIELD) does the dirty work and the comparison between American political rhetoric and Sp. Ops' work parallels perfectly. In post 9/11 Avengers, with neoconservatism and US military actions, Thor is the dissident voice. Which for Age of Ultron fans makes the whole hammer joke through out and Cap's part in it very interesting. The Patriot Act as seen through the Marvel Civil War narrative sees Iron Man as the voice of neoconservatives, Cap as the liberal voice and Spiderman as being pulled between the two. Overall, an in-depth look at how the superhero narrative of Captain America changed in response to contemporary issues. Recommended for readers interested in seeing the transformation and how the steps and missteps were directly related to readers' attitudes and feedback. I received this copy from NETGALLEY, and a review was submitted.

  2. 4 out of 5

    GONZA

    This interesting essay illustrates the parable of the character Captain America, the most american of all the superheroes from the beginning till today; it focuses both on its hyper-masculine imagine, and on the changes that the superhero has suffered in the meantime. Once again it shows how often these icons are but that mirrors where readers and fans are reflected over the years and projected depending on the mode and the problems of the moment. Questo interessante saggio che illustra la parabo This interesting essay illustrates the parable of the character Captain America, the most american of all the superheroes from the beginning till today; it focuses both on its hyper-masculine imagine, and on the changes that the superhero has suffered in the meantime. Once again it shows how often these icons are but that mirrors where readers and fans are reflected over the years and projected depending on the mode and the problems of the moment. Questo interessante saggio che illustra la parabola del personaggio Capitan America, dall'inizio ad oggi, si focalizza sia sulla sua immagina ipermascolinizzata, sia sui cambiamenti che il supereroe ha subito nel frattempo. Ancora una volta si evidenzia come spesso queste icone non siano che degli specchi dove i lettori e i fan si rispecchiano e nel corso degli anni si proiettano a seconda delle mode e dei problemi del momento. THANKS TO NETGALLEY AND SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY PRESS FOR THE PREVIEW!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Melek

    Captain America has never been my favorite superhero (though, I haven't read lots of comics either, so that statement might not have too much value). Still, while I cannot deny my hesitation over reading this as I haven't read enough of the older issues of Captain America and don't know much about American history, I was a bit excited. I must say, I'm not disappointed. The first thing I should say about this book is, reading even the introduction was interesting. It took me three days to go over Captain America has never been my favorite superhero (though, I haven't read lots of comics either, so that statement might not have too much value). Still, while I cannot deny my hesitation over reading this as I haven't read enough of the older issues of Captain America and don't know much about American history, I was a bit excited. I must say, I'm not disappointed. The first thing I should say about this book is, reading even the introduction was interesting. It took me three days to go over everything because I had to stop and do some research every now and then about a lot of things, which means, according to me, that this book is well-searched. Apart from that, this book was captivating enough to read in one sitting. I'm considering reading more of Cap's adventures, starting with the oldest issues I can find, and going back to this book again. Overall, it was a 4-4.5/5 read for me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joel

    I enjoyed the text. As a casual fan of the comic books, especially the Captain America of the last chapter, I enjoyed the historical grounding of the character that Stevens provides. He outlines the origins and development in the comics and other media effectively. However, there is more to the book than the biography of a comic book hero and his publication history. It looks at modern American history, as well as masculinity and violence in America, through the prism of Marvel comics and Captai I enjoyed the text. As a casual fan of the comic books, especially the Captain America of the last chapter, I enjoyed the historical grounding of the character that Stevens provides. He outlines the origins and development in the comics and other media effectively. However, there is more to the book than the biography of a comic book hero and his publication history. It looks at modern American history, as well as masculinity and violence in America, through the prism of Marvel comics and Captain America specifically. Stevens does this skilfully, even if there are certain sections that feel a little repetitive.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    One of the better pieces of superhero criticism. He evaluates the Jewett and Lawrence monomyth according to Cap's evolution through time and how the character deals with political events. I still missed any kind of close reading of the actual comics form.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Piper Gee

    I was given a digital copy of this book for review by netgalley. As always, the opinions expressed in the following are all mine. This book is a study on Captain America throughout the decades and the different ways he is written to appeal to people during different eras. Since Captain America is often described as a perfect male specimen, there is plenty of time given the subject. How masculinity was perceived at certain times and how Cap was retconned to fit in with the day's modern views. As t I was given a digital copy of this book for review by netgalley. As always, the opinions expressed in the following are all mine. This book is a study on Captain America throughout the decades and the different ways he is written to appeal to people during different eras. Since Captain America is often described as a perfect male specimen, there is plenty of time given the subject. How masculinity was perceived at certain times and how Cap was retconned to fit in with the day's modern views. As the title suggests, the is also a lot of time spent discussing various era's view on violence and how the comics would retcon certain details to keep the character being a hero. There are also tidbits about what was going on in the Comics industry and how it affected writers and more. It is always enjoyable for me to read studies of pop cult subjects that are written in a serious matter. The author tried to be unbiased, but at times you could tell their POV on a subject. That can be bothersome to some readers, but I didn't mind it. I did feel like the book was fairly extensive and had a great many references, which were all listed. Very appreciated. I thought it was wriiten in a way that was slightly dry at times. Since other parts of the book were better with similar subject matter I think things could be punched up a little in those areas. All said, I found it to be interesting amd enjoyable to read. I would recommend this for fans of Captain America, comics and people interested in pop culture or femininity/masculinity in entertainment.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian Fuentes

    An excellent read about American popular culture and mainstream culture as reflected and embodied in masculine and violent aspects and traits of Marvel Comics' Captain America. When talking about issues of race and racism, much like other key topics like gender, Stevens focuses solely on events within the Captain America comics ---which is expected and should not be a surprise. It might be a missed opportunity that Stevens did not widen his scope of analysis to include similarities between Capta An excellent read about American popular culture and mainstream culture as reflected and embodied in masculine and violent aspects and traits of Marvel Comics' Captain America. When talking about issues of race and racism, much like other key topics like gender, Stevens focuses solely on events within the Captain America comics ---which is expected and should not be a surprise. It might be a missed opportunity that Stevens did not widen his scope of analysis to include similarities between Captain American and Luke Cage like other authors have done before. As well, Stevens' text does not delve too much, if any, into the histories of the people behind the comics --- the reader does not get a clear picture who Captain American writers and artists are except at key points in the book, but those are far and few between. Overall, given its flaws this was a great book. I would recommend this book to fans of Captain America, and comic book fans and scholars too. Goes good with: 1. Howe, Sean. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. 2. Nama, Adilifu. Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes.

  8. 5 out of 5

    J Earl

    Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence by J. Richard Stevens is a comprehensive academic, yet very readable, look at the changing ideas on masculinity and violence as presented through the character of Captain America. Very well researched and documented, this book takes Captain America through his various changes and looks closely at what they reflect about society's views as well as how it might also help to develop those views. From conservative to progressive, from anonymous to known, Cap Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence by J. Richard Stevens is a comprehensive academic, yet very readable, look at the changing ideas on masculinity and violence as presented through the character of Captain America. Very well researched and documented, this book takes Captain America through his various changes and looks closely at what they reflect about society's views as well as how it might also help to develop those views. From conservative to progressive, from anonymous to known, Cap's character always offers a view into what constitutes, in each era, a moral type of justice and even patriotism, though in some ways the patriotism becomes tempered with some reality rather than the rose-colored glasses of many types of patriotism. Whether you're a fan of Captain America or primarily interested in the intersection of popular culture with issues of gender, violence, politics and ethics, this book has something for you. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Fantasy Literature

    Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence, by J. Richard Stevens, is the second academic exploration of comics that I’ve read this week, and while Stevens’ text isn’t as strong as Liam Burke’s look at comic book films (you can see that review here), its sharper focus and thorough exploration of the Captain America character makes it a worthwhile addition to the field. [note: apologies for what may be a lack of specificity in the review. My Bluefire Reader App is crashing every time I try to acce Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence, by J. Richard Stevens, is the second academic exploration of comics that I’ve read this week, and while Stevens’ text isn’t as strong as Liam Burke’s look at comic book films (you can see that review here), its sharper focus and thorough exploration of the Captain America character makes it a worthwhile addition to the field. [note: apologies for what may be a lack of specificity in the review. My Bluefire Reader App is crashing every time I try to access my notes/hi... Read More

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This was a really fun and entertaining scholarly read that I enjoyed a lot. I knew the basic outline of the early Captain America stories, but it was fascinating to read a more in-depth look at both the comics and the cultural context they were written in. The history/cultural analysis of American readers' response to Captain America over the years was fascinating. I also enjoyed the author's sense of humor and clear enjoyment of the fun/ridiculous aspects of comics.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This was very academic and at times difficult to get through, but as a Captain America fan, it was fascinating to read how the character has evolved throughout the years and just how much popular opinion and American culture has shaped his personality.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Annice22

    Borrowed from Publisher/NetGalley for an honest review. Once you get past the boring introduction, this book gives readers a very good look into the history of Captain America as well as what's currently happening to the character.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Jung

  14. 4 out of 5

    John Amory

  15. 5 out of 5

    kim

  16. 4 out of 5

    Whitney Thompson

  17. 5 out of 5

    France

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jaq Greenspon

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ih8JaneAusten

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Pemberton

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael Barker

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Boguslavskaya

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Williams

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

  29. 4 out of 5

    Wayne McCoy

  30. 5 out of 5

    ~Geektastic~

  31. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Rittmann

  32. 5 out of 5

    Renay

  33. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Lewenda

  34. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  35. 4 out of 5

    Frank

  36. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  37. 4 out of 5

    Carly Naughton

  38. 4 out of 5

    Christen

  39. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  40. 4 out of 5

    Kristy K

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  42. 5 out of 5

    Ayla

  43. 4 out of 5

    Brittney

  44. 4 out of 5

    Sesil

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