As I was browsing the shelves of my local comic book store this past Wednesday, I noticed a comic book from Marvel with the Heroic Age banner, titled, Super Heroes. I stopped and thought to myself, "Well that's an awfully generic name for a comic book." So I picked it up and opened to reveal another Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe type book, very thick, with what looked like character cards for all the active super heroes in the Marvel Universe. It was pretty standard, a headshot, team affiliations, short bio, pros and cons and and a Power Grid. I almost put it back after dismissing it, but then I paused and took a closer look.
Oh my god am I glad I did. In that one moment, I may have found one of the best books Marvel has published in years. I'm telling you people, this was nearly the pick of the week, but it's not actually a comic book, so it was ineligible. What this book so special? Well sit down and journey with me into the insane mind of Steve Rogers.
The thing that tipped me off that this was an odd book was the Power Grid. I expected to see categories like strength, intelligence, agility – that sort of character card type data. But I noticed that the categories in this grid were more…open to interpretation. Categories like Power, Altruism, Conscience, Courage and Free Will. I thought that these were somewhat odd things to be reporting the heroes levels on. I wondered who was making these judgments, so I flipped to the first page of the book.
On the first page of the book I found a long page of prose in a very small typeface. I've provided it here, to the right, for you to read yourself (click to open it full size in a pop up window). To save you time, I'll summarize what this page of prose explained:
The prose was "written" by Steve Rogers, after Siege, when he was made the "top cop" by the President of the US, overseeing all of the Marvel Universe's United States based heroes. Steve wrestles with the concept of heroism and what makes a hero and wonders who is he to led these heroes. So he seeks out his answers from a "higher power"
Steve calls upon, "Black Crow, a Navajo mystic who calls me brother." Black Crow "places" Steve into a "deep meditation" and guides Steve through "The Dreamscape" where he meets a "figured robed in white" named Veritas, or also known as "Sayge, the spirit of truth." Veritas and Steve sit and have a discussion about what attributes make a hero. Veritas explains to steve that the 8 attributes: Power, Conscience, Altruism, Wisdom, Courage, Determination, Free Will, and Vulnerability are, all together what makes heroes more or less heroic. After this "meditation" ended, Steve found the need to sit down and review, rate and document nearly 200 heroes of the Marvel Universe, gauging their level of heroism.
So, basically Steve got really messed up on peyote, had an imaginary conversation with a spirit in his head, and then in a peyote induced fever dream, judged all his fellow heroes and wrote it all down.
No, I am not making this up.
That sounds screwed up, right? Well wait until you see some of the things he wrote. The entire text drips with passive aggressive undertones, morality judgments and sometimes out and out sexism, mutant racism, and a little bit of homophobia. It's also at some points, extremely succinct and to the point, proving that the efficient soldier, Steve Rogers did indeed write this.
Don't believe me? Don't want to spend the $3.99 to find out? I've got some highlights of some of my favorite entries here to share with you, just to show you what I mean.
Now, I couldn't scan them ALL, so I just scanned a few. If you click on the images, you can open them up in a pop up window to read the entire thing. You can see how insane these "Power Grid" ratings are and how completely arbitrary they are. But the real gold is in the "Pros and Cons" section, that's where Steve Rogers really shines and shows us what he really thinks about his fellow "heroes".
Succinct And To The Point
One of the things I was most impressed by Steve Rogers assessments was how he cut to the chase and distilled each hero down to a few points, both good and bad. In some cases, he cut through the niceties to the heart of the matter.
Cons: Bonded to a demon and unpredictable at times – well Steve, that pretty much sums it up. "I could add Ghost Rider to the Avengers, ah, crap, he's bonded to a demon…"
So that gives you an idea of how Steve Rogers means business. If you don't believe me, he really shows what's important in his assesment of Nick Fury:
Pros: Great leadership abilities, master battle strategist, superb hand to hand combatant – Again, absolutely spot on, he paints a picture of a great soldier.
Cons: Fury's hot temper and rebellious nature keep him from always being diplomatic with allies. Blind in one eye - Ok, I can get the rebellious nature and temper thing, but really Steve? Blind in one eye? You're going to hold THAT against him?
Sexism and Passing Judgment on Social Lives
And yet, in other areas, you couldn't help but sense a bit of judgment being passed on some of his fellow heroes, specifically the women.
Cons: Shady past, questionable choice in associates, self serving at times – Shady past? Questionable choice in "Associates"? What is he referring to? Surely it's her checkered, criminal past right and not some dig at her dating history with Spider-Man? Steve is above that right?
But then, I saw the entry for Songbird of the Thunderbolts:
Pros: Solid sound construct generation, flight, debilitating sonic scream, natural combat tactician, skilled wrestler - That all seems about right, although I forgot about the "skilled wrestler" bit
Cons: Self esteem issues due to criminal past, troubled family background and checkered romantic history – Whoa, he just out and out said it! I can understand the self esteem thing, sure that's obvious, but "checkered romantic history"?!?! Surely Steve isn't getting personal with these assesments
But then I turned to the entry for Hellcat:
Pros: Enhanced strength, gifted acrobat, claws, magic resistant, can alter appearance, mystically enhanced senses, minor psychic powers, extensive occult knowledge - well that was awfully specific, wasn't it, Steve?
Cons: Questionable taste in men, traumatized by time in hell during death (since recovered) – Now come on Steve. "Questionable taste in men"?!?! Sure he was the son of Satan, but who are you to judge who she dates? We all have an ex that we're embarrassed about. Not everyone else can be as perfect as you are, jerk.
Post "Second Coming", we saw a tale of Steve Rogers and Cyclops bonding, and Steve basically inspiring Cyclops to be as public of a hero as can be, and even arranged for Cyclops to get a medal for saving lives. So one could assume that Steve was supportive of mutants, right? WRONG. This is all a cover so that Steve can get closer to the mutants, as evidenced by his clear lack of trust of them in the pages of this report. I couldn't scan all of the character cards because it was an overhwhelming number, but here's a few gems from the "cons" section of X-Men characters:
Cyclops: "put the needs of mutants over the rest of the population"
Dazzler: "Loyal to the mutant population"
Emma Frost: "While loyal, I'm unsure if it extends to humans"
Quicksilver: "Mutant chauvinist"
Steve's apparent hatred and distrust of mutants is clear as you read between the lines of his assessments, constantly separating "mutants" from "humans."
Now I know how strong an accusation of homophobia is on a person, so I'm not quite sure Steve is 100% there, and I'll give him that he's from the past, another time when the world was less…accepting. But come on, he's the real Captain America, shouldn't he support everyone? After his clear hatred of mutants, I had to raise an eyebrow at his assessment of the only gay character in the book (as far as I know), Northstar:
Pros: Trained super hero with a long history of teamwork – good words that kind of seem like Steve doesn't know anything about Northstar or his power set, but I won't worry about that too much
Cons: High amounts of media controversy; focuses on mutant causes primarily – Read between the lines here people. "Media controversy" is a thinly veiled dig at Northstar because he's gay. Oh and he's a mutant too, even more reasons to hate. Clearly Steve doesn't know anything about Northstar or else he would have slammed him for being Canadian, but more on that in a moment.
The insanity doesn't stop there, but sadly I'll need to wrap this up soon. Some other great moments from this book is Steve's unwavering allegience to the United States, which I completely understand and respect. Hell, he was Captain America! Plus he's been hired by the President of the United States. But as he searches for what makes a hero a "hero", does their country allegiences really matter? Again, and overwhelming amount of distrust and judgment for foreign characters such as Captain Britain, Black Panther, Blade, Sabra even! When you start drawing lines between heroes based on borders, this entire book starts to read like an insane Nazi manifesto.
Beyond the loyalties issue, there's some hysterical bits:
Like when assessing War Machine, Steve comments in the cons that he has "been described as obstinate." Not that he IS obstinate, just that he's been described that way.
Or when looking at The Punisher, Steve gives him some props in the pros: "Tireless efforts spent curbing international criminal activity" something that we all can get behind. But then cuts him down in the cons: "Frank Castle is a savage murderer" There's that Steve Rogers succinctness at it's best
I hope you don't misinterpret my analysis of this as a slam against Marvel or anything of the matter, this all comes from a place of love. I spent hours as a kid pouring throught the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and when things like this get published, I love it. I'd be totally happy with a boring list of powers and group affiliations, but thankfully Marvel is here to enterain me through and through and chose to make this a drug induced ranting of a single minded insane mad man, and I love them for it.
But don't take my word, go to your shop and pick this up. It was $3.99, and while seemingly expensive, it's thick, jam packed with interesting bits about the Marvel super heroes, and as I've shown you, will leave you cracking up for hours.
And it doesn't stop here! In the back of the book, they tease that in November another issue is coming out, VILLAINS. Sign me up.
side note: If you enjoyed this post, be sure to listen to this week's Pick of the Week podcast to hear me explain this entire thing to Josh and Conor – the results are as you would expect, hilarious.