Matthew J. Costello
Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America

I was thinking of trying to write about this book for the Reader…but as it turned out, it was too boring to finish. Basically, it’s one of those “super-heroes show how America has changed” riffs. In this case, Costello looks at Iron Man and Captain America comic-books from the sixties to the present. At the beginning, when Marvel was young and peppy, the Cold War gave us all a common enemy and a consensual American identity based on capitalism and virtue and assurances that good was good and evil was evil. Over time, though, we all figured out that America wasn’t maybe so good, and identity politics took hold and we didn’t know who we were anymore and then there was a Civil War in the Marvel Universe and Captain America got shot.

All of which seems to miss the main point, which is that super-hero comics didn’t change because America got all conflicted. They changed because the demographics shifted. The folks reading Captain America comic books in the 60s were probably 10-16, somewhere in there. The folks reading Captain America comics now are more like 25-35. If the stories are more complicated, or the morality is less black and white, it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that the readership is older than with any historical shift in American identity.

I mean, I agree that superhero comics have gone to shit more or less, but that’s an issue of genre and demographics, not a sign of cultural decay. We didn’t kill Captain America because we’re less unified than our parents. We killed him because we’re middle-aged and bored.