Since the United states declared war on Iraq, I've been getting letters asking me to send Captain America overseas to fight alongside the allied forces. As the writer of Captain America for the past six years, I pondered the various requests. My initial reaction was a panicky "I can't do that" since I'd already worked out the basic storylines for the rest of the year. These storylines weren't as flexible as an observer might expect since the summer biweeklies were the very next thing I had to plot and they required me to concoct a special 6-part storyline, the premise of which I had to give our sales department some months in advance. But I suppose I could have scuttled what I'd worked out in favor of a 6-part Desert Storm scenario.
I ultimately decided not to, and not just because it would have required massive amounts of work to replace what I'd already done, in a very short period of time. The first reason for me was the uncertainties endmic to the war itself. For one thing, no one could say how long it would last. I could see committing to a 6-part storyline running from May through August and then finding out that the U.S. had totally withdrawn from Kuwait well before then.
For another thing, while I am certain that Captain America would support our troops over there, if not our government for sending our troops over there, I believe that the character of Captain America has gone past his World War Two era roots as America's Frontline Super Soldier. He's transcended the warrior in certain respects to become a champion of the American Dream of freedom of the right to try to better one's self. To send him back to basics, as it were, I felt would diminish his symbolic value in certain respects. And were Kuwait to become a situation that could not be resolved quickly and cleanly, Cap's involvement in the war would by necessity not be significant enough to hasten its resolution. (Ever wonder why Cap didn't fight in Vietnam?)
And finally, I have certain problems with letting our fantasy characters tread too closely upon real events, for fear of trivializing the real with our writers' possibly less-than-vast understanding of the various issues involved and the forces at work. I am not saying that there are subjects that cannot or should not be handled in the comics medium. But I am saying that there are subjects that if not handled well will diminish the importance of the subject matter as well as make the writer look shallow and insipid. For this reason, you will never see me do a concentration camp story. My own background and experience are insufficient, in my opinion, for me to treat this subject with the insight and dignity that it deserves. Perhaps you can understand why in the same light I have taken the Red Skull past his Nazi roots and made him embody evil in a more abstract nihilistic manner. The Nazis are real; evil as an abstraction is fantastical. I feel more comfortable dealing with the fantasy-based aspects of evil rather than the reality-based aspects. And what I feel more comfortable with, I write better.
I can't speak for all Marvel's writers and editors, but I don't imagine any of them intend to deal with the Gulf War too directly just yet. In a recent X-MEN, Chris Claremont cleverly inserted an official explanation why super heroes are not allowed in the war zone. Perhaps when the war is resolved, we'll see some after-the-fact now-it-can-be-told tales here are there. I doubt I'll be writing one, though.
At this writing, there is a cease-fire in Kuwait and President Bush has declared an allied victory. I'm certain I won't be the last person you hear or read hoping our troops a safe and speedy trip back to our proud land.
-- Mark Gruenwald