Thursday, March 20, 2008

Captain America is still dead

From Kolchak:

I'll give him this much: Kevin Ferris caught my attention.

Ferris is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Usually, his columns are devoted to trying to justify our presence in Iraq. In early March, though, Ferris praised the first issue of a black-and-white comic book called Matamoros.

He said that the creators of the comic showed a "better grasp of how Iraq fits into the larger war on terror than most pundits or politicians.��� He also praised the title character for ���carrying on the homeland defense work of the late, great Captain America.��� ( In the world of Marvel Comics, the original Captain America was seemly shot and killed in the climax of a plotline called Civil War. It's safe to assume that Cap will be back, but just over year later, he hasn���t resurfaced yet.)

I wasn't sure that either of Ferris' statements qualified as recommendations, but I was curious now. And I thought I saw copies of Matamoros #1 at one of the comic shops I hit in my regular circuit. So, I took a look.

It turns out that naming a super hero Matamoros is a lot like naming him the White Supremicist or Super-Christian. Santiago Matamoros is a legendary Spanish figure who led the fight to drive Muslim invaders out of Spain in the eighth century. The word "Matamoros" can be translated as "Moor Slayer," or "Arab Slayer."

In the comic, the modern Matamoros is Chuck Sobietti , a veteran soldier who undergoes the classic Experimental Procedure, in order to recover from injuries he received from a landmine. "Anything," he thinks, "to get back into the fight."

Although the procedure is successful, Sobietti winds up back in America, as a civilian. Not to worry, though. He soon encounters some incredibly clumsy Muslim jihadists discussing their Sinister Plan at a " local kebab and falafel shop." When the police prove to be unhelpful, Sobietti takes matters into his own hands. After he breaks up the terrorist cell, the national news media dubs him Matamoros. His reaction? "It'll do."

In that same scene, he is reading a newspaper with the headline: VIGILANTE SENDS TERROR CELL TO THEIR 72 VIRGINS. I could spend a whole post talking about what's wrong with that headline, but I'll spare you this time.

The politics in Matamoros #1 is unabashedly neocon and it may be that neocons will enjoy the book. Me, I was alternately grossed out and amused.

One plot element that falls in the latter category is the description of the Experimental Procedure:
"The docs injected stem cells from genetically matched umbilical cords into (frames of biodegradable polymer). The implanted cells would regenerate what was left of my lung and liver into new organs--assisted by human growth hormone and protein mediators."��

So let me get this straight: the Bush Administration is publicly opposed to stem cell research, while conducting it in secret? That doesn't sound like the sort of thing you should be saying about your leaders in a time of war...

The news isn't all bad, though. While trying to decide whether I was going to write about Matamoros
, I ran across some promotional material for Captain Britain and MI-13,"
a comic book coming from Marvel in May. This book is being British author named Paul Cornell, who is best known in this country for his work on Doctor Who. (Among other things, he wrote the TV episode "Father's Day.")

The cast of"Captain Britain" is going to include Faisa Hussain , who Cornell describes as a "highly competent young doctor." Faisa comes from a Pakistani background, but Cornell says that she and her family are "thoroughly middle class Britons.���He goes on to call Faisa "an everyday religious person who you won't hear anything religious from until it naturally comes up, which is hardly ever.���

To me, this is a much more sensible and constructive approach. If nothing else, though, it shows the range of reactions that the War on Terrorism is producing.

Part of me says that I should be angrier about Matamoros, but, from what I���ve been able to piece together from the web, their creators intend to sell their book through neocon meetings and web sites, rather than through comic specialty shops. So it���s impact may be limited The script is credited to Sleet and Darius LaMonica, while the art was contributed by John Cox. For the record, the web site is at

The shop where I bought my copy was one of three stores nationally that were listed on-line. When I asked the owner for the first issue,. I found out that he had already pulled his copies off the shelf, but he graciously dug one out for me. He hadn���t heard about Kevin Ferris��� column, and he hadn���t gotten any other inquiries about it.��

Still, I���m going to borrow a line that the late Don Thompson used when reviewing comics for the Comics Buyer���s Guide: if you like this sort of thing, here���s some more of it.