Like the subject of this post, this old man was nearly off to bed when the news came across the wire that Steve Rogers would once again wield the shield as Captain America following the upcoming "Avengers: Standoff" event. Rogers will star in a new title, Captain America: Steve Rogers, while his successor, Sam Wilson, will continue to serve as Cap and feature in his own title, which launched several months ago. Both titles will be written by Nick Spencer, and Rogers' title will be illustrated by Jesus Saiz, which is encouraging news on both writing and art fronts.
Naturally, I'm glad to see Classic Cap back in action, and I also like that Sam is continuing in the role—and although I fear it's inevitable, I hope he doesn't become a second-tier Cap and fade from the scene once Steve returns. (More on multiple Caps and other heroes below.) As Spencer says in the news release/interview, he is planning to tell very different stories with each, continuing to address current political controversies with Sam's book and focus on old-fashioned superheroics in Steve's. (I trust this won't be a strict division, and would be disappointed if it were.)
When asked why this was the right time (in story) for Rogers to come back as Captain America, Spencer answered:
The country is as divided as it’s ever been, and Steve is one of a kind; he’s a unifying figure, someone we can all look up to, [and] someone we can all put our faith in. It’s no secret the Marvel Universe is about to enter a period of serious conflict with Civil War II looming on the horizon, and as such, it feels like the perfect moment to bring Steve back into fighting shape.
I always appreciate when creators bring out Rogers' ability to unify people, as I emphasized in The Virtues of Captain America (see also this post at Psychology Today). It will be interesting to see what role Rogers plays in Civil War II, where it seems Iron Man will face off against Captain Marvel, rather than Captain America as he did in the original Civil War. Of course, Cap was anything but a unifying figure in that story, but some time later he did help bring the Marvel heroes together to confront Norman Osborn at the end of his "Dark Reign," restoring the moral center that had been lacking in the Marvel Universe since his "death." (For more on Steve's entire arc during that period, see A Philosopher Reads Marvel Comics' Civil War, on which more here.)
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More generally, the presence of two Captains America at the same time in the Marvel Universe adds to a growing number of "multiples": two Spider-Men (Peter Parker and Miles Morales), two Hawkeyes (Clint Barton and Kate Bishop), two Human Torches (Jim Hammond and Johnny Storm), and possibly soon two Wasps (Janet van Dyne and the mysterious new character debuting in Marvel's Free Comic Book Day offering), assuming the original sticks around. It is also not unlikely that the Odinson will eventually once again be worthy and serve alongside the current Thor, Jane Foster.
We in the real world all understand the value of an established name (or "brand"), and we've all heard the difficulties comics companies have creating new characters who catch on. As a result, we get "new" characters with familiar names: Sam as the new Cap, Jane as the new Thor, Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel... only Tony Stark escapes this, perhaps because Tony Stark is as popular, if not more so, than Iron Man himself (thanks to Robert Downey, Jr.). This "recycling" of characters also helps increase diversity and representation, which is difficult to do with more original characters who have trouble catching on with the reading public, and that's a big positive result of the practice.
All good... until the powers-that-be want to bring the originals back, while retaining the goodwill, publicity, and sales they gained with the new, fresh approaches. So we get two Caps, two Spideys, and so forth.
The Distinguished Competition has done this at times too, but they handle it in a different way. This was in no small part because there was a longer tradition of legacy characters at DC (at least until the New 52), which usually meant one person adopted the mantle from his or her predecessor rather than operating at the same time, which was more rare: the Flashes Jay Garrick and Barry Allen (or Wally West or Bart Allen), for example, and the thousands of Green Lanterns buzzing around the universe (a handful of them on Earth). And when DC brought a classic version of a hero back, they usually dismissed or diminished the newer version, even after years of building a devoted fanbase—such as when Wally West and Kyle Raynor were shunted to the side when Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were brought back, which upset a great number of readers who had grown up with the younger characters.
The closest DC came to the current Marvel situation, appropriately enough, was during a storyline eerily similar to one at Marvel: Dick Grayson, who won the "Battle for the Cowl" after Bruce Wayne's "death," continued to operate as Gotham City's Batman after Bruce returned and started "Batman Incorporated" to globalize his trademarked brand of crimefighting. (Comics!) Not only did this parallel the situation at the time with Steve Rogers and his former sidekick Bucky Barnes (although they didn't serve as Cap at the same time other than a brief time during the Siege of Asgard, immediately after Rogers came back from the dead), it also closely resembles the current status of the two Spider-Men, with Peter Parker playing global entrepreneur while Miles Morales sticks closer to home.
There is nothing wrong per se with multiples: it allows various iterations of the general concept of a character, such as Captain America, Spider-Man, and Hawkeye, to play out at the same time, similar to different versions of Superman or Batman in different media. The only difference is that the Marvel multiples operate in the same continuity, the same "earth," even the same city or side-by-side. While this may potentially lead to some confusion among ordinary folk in the Marvel Universe as well as ours, it will be more interesting to see how it plays out in terms of sales, and this is what concerns me.
The market has supported books with new versions of Cap, Thor, and Ms. Marvel, and it has supported multiple books with one version of a character, like Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman. But will it support multiple books with different versions of the same character, like the two Cap books coming soon? On the bright side, each could capture its own audience, and the fact that both characters are named Captain America will prove trivial. But I can also see the readership wanting to buy just one book with (a) Captain America, not appreciating the different characters and approaches in each, and whichever Cap appeals to them more will get the majority of sales while the other fades and is cancelled. And while the new, fresher, more diverse versions of Cap and Thor have devoted fanbases, I'm guessing the classic versions will get the majority of readers in the end based on mere familiarity if not devotion. (At least readers will have a choice, unlike with Wally West and Kyle Raynor at DC.)
I wish the very best to the two Captains America and their respective titles; I hope they both find their readership and that they share many of their readers. I know I'll be reading both. But at the same time, I'd rather be reading two books titled Captain America: Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier, or The Falcon and Captain America. I have nothing against legacy characters, even I miss seeing my favorite bearer of a particular mantle, but I don't want to see a comics shelf dominated by multiple versions of the same characters. I have to believe that if Marvel and DC put enough creative and marketing effort behind truly new characters, they can break through.
But maybe that's my foolish idealism. You can blame that on Steve Rogers, one of the people named Captain America.