A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


No, I haven't flipped my lid and gone completely megalomaniacal. In the title of this post, I'm referring to Marvel Comics' latest issues of Captain America, in which Cap's former kid sidekick, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, steps up to become the new Captain America. Steve Rogers, the original Cap, was assassinated months ago, leaving the country without its sentinel of liberty.

I'm really torn about it, too. As you might imagine, as a lifelong comic book fan and someone who sports a name quite similar to Barnes', I have a deep emotional connection to the Bucky character. Hell, when I was a pre-teen, I once even convinced some friends of mine that the character was based off me. We were about the same build, had the same hair color and style and silly grin.

But being connected with Bucky Barnes wasn't always so cool. Comic book readers already had a tendency to be considered geeks or nerds when I was growing up -- back when it wasn't cool to be unique or geeky -- and I actually found myself being poked fun of by those who didn't read comics and by those who were comics readers. You see, Bucky was seen as a dorky character, THE kid sidekick cliche, even less appealing than Robin, who had at least grown up to make something of himself instead of eventually dying in a pitiful attempt to catch a baddie, leaving a legacy of guilt for his best friend Steve.

Bucky was even one of the few comics characters who had died that fans actually wanted to stay dead. For me, I took this sort of underdog, sidekick, campy role and internalized it. I was always one to root for the little guy anyway, and being a quirky kid, it came natural to connect with the Barnes through a mutual characterization that was deeper than our shared names and looks.

When I was in grad school, I even assistant-taught under a Captain America fan who everyone knew was going to be a star. I was his kid sidekick, the neat but weird fellow in his shadow and happy to be there.

Now he is a rising star in academia. But, all of a sudden, I see I'm finding my own way too; I'm on the cusp of doing well for myself and starting my own possibly stellar career. And guess who else has been revitalized? Bucky Barnes. First his mission and death were retconned such that it was revealed he was a black ops soldier who did the dirty work that Cap couldn't do -- work like killing and maiming the enemy. Cap was the "boy blue" soldier who could subdue the Nazis, but the little boy in the blue togs was the one doing that Greek drama thing and slitting their throats off-panel. Further, his body was salvaged after his apparent death; he was nursed back to health, brainwashed by the Soviets, and transformed into "The Winter Soldier," a super-spy bad-ass who can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Marvel Universe. Iron Man, Wolverine, anybody.

And now this: honoring Cap's final wishes, an adult and recently deprogrammed (or is that reprogrammed?) Bucky Barnes has taken up the title and role of his former mentor. Bucky is Captain America. For now, he has the potential to become THE superhero, the noblest of noble, the flag-draped symbol of all that is good in America.

Me? I'm getting ready to finish my degree and could be offered a tenure-track job any day now, meaning I could be living my American dream. There's even the possibility that I could become the departmental colleague, the equal, if you will, of the Cap fan I once sidekicked under.

Is that why I'm so afraid Bucky Barnes will screw up in his new role? Do we both seem destined to fail? Or are we both afraid to succeed? Are we both actually more comfortable doing dirty work, even if it's good work, off-panel while others get the glory? Bucky can never be Steve; no one knows that more than he does, but can he be his own man and do well at it?

If he succeeds, it'll be a nice little American Dream: the once scurrilous scamp kid makes good. Sort of sounds like my own story: The kid from Nowhere, NC, rises up from abuse and poverty, from low expectations and ridicule, to become an exemplar in his chosen profession. If he fails, does it suggest I'll fail too? I'm just as close to ending this job season with no offers as I am to procuring one, just as apt to have to do more work as I am to pass my dissertation. There's a lot of evidence to suggest the American Dream is a myth, after all, that the best way to get ahead in America is to start ahead, thereby indicating that those who start with nothing are quite likely to finish with only a little more than that, regardless of what we do and how hard we work.

Bucky, Bucky, Bucky: You're so close. Don't f*ck it up. Please, lord, don't let others f*ck it up for you. Be the Captain of Whitman's "O Captain, my Captain." At the very least, be the best you can be, and hope to God it's good enough...


Bucky C. said...

Well, I passed. I'm Doctor Carter now. Now to procure that tenure-track job!!!! :)

Bucky C. said...

Well, it looks like I might not get to be at the same institution as my former Cap, but I have landed a tenure-track position at an exciting place. So, looks like I did it, finally. Now let's see how Marvel's Bucky does...