Captain America Gets Commemorative Statue in New York City — but Is It in the Wrong Place?
The early 1940s were a pretty big deal in the world of superhero comics. Wonder Woman will be celebrating her 75th anniversary with her first live-action feature film next year. This year, Captain America celebrates 75 years, and will be receiving a commemorative bronze statue in a park in New York City. But is it going to be erected in the right place?
Marvel will be revealing a 13-foot bronze Captain America statue at San Diego Comic-Con this year, after which it will be taken across the country to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for a dedication ceremony on Aug. 10.
As reported by USA Today, Marvel’s Senior VP of Licensing at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media Paul Gitter says of the statue, “For the past 75 years, Captain America has inspired generations of fans serving as the ultimate global icon for freedom, strength and doing the right thing. We hope that when fans see the statue, they will think back to a favorite comic book, treasured action figure or even be transported back to a special time and place in their lives where Captain America’s values played influence.”
USA Today had an exclusive sketch of the statue:
The quote on the statue (“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”) is, of course, from Captain America: The First Avenger, which for many people was a first encounter with the comics icon. While there’s no question that Captain America has a connection to Brooklyn, the Cap of the comics was not “a kid from Brooklyn.” Steve Rogers was the son of Irish immigrants from the Lower East Side of Manhattan like co-creator Jack Kirby, who was the son of Austrian Jewish immigrants from the LES.
Cap’s relationship with Brooklyn didn’t start in the comics until he was an adult in the aftermath of the events of September 11th, 2001. In 2002, the character has revealed his identity as Steve Rogers and moves to the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn in the story arc collected in Captain America, Vol 4. After that, Civil War, etc, etc.
Suddenly, in the MCU, his Lower East Side childhood (along with being the child of immigrants) has been erased in favor of a Brooklyn upbringing. For many who haven’t read the comics, that’s the Cap they know. So, it makes a certain amount of sense that this statue would appeal to those people, rather than to comics fans or those who are interested in Captain America’s actual comics history.
And yet, Gitter says that Marvel hopes fans “will think back to a favorite comic book, treasured action figure or even be transported back to a special time and place in their lives where Captain America’s values played influence.” This is supposed to appeal to comics fans, or people who grew up with Captain America, and yet the statue uses a quote from the MCU and will have its home in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, cementing Cap’s identity as “a kid from Brooklyn.”
Cap being born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is important when you consider the time at which he was created. The LES was a place where many immigrants — particularly Jewish, but others too — began the American Chapter in their lives. The fact that Steve Rogers is a product of that environment is extremely important to Captain America as a symbol of what America truly stands for.
To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (as I’m wont to do for just about any reason these days), “America/You great unfinished symphony/You sent for me. You let me make a difference/a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up!”
By the time Steve Rogers was a teenager, he too was an orphan immigrant surrounded by other immigrants on the Lower East Side. He too rose up against oppression, informed by the values of those who came to America looking for a better life. It’s that kid who fought desperately to join the military during World War II only to be turned away because of his scrawniness. It’s that kid that receives the serum that gives him his superhuman strength then chooses to defend the country to which his parents were newly arrived, but fervently claimed as home.
I wish it were that kid we were getting to know in the MCU and wish Marvel hadn’t erased that aspect of his story for their films. They seem to have wanted Cap to be from a “trendier” location. A place that more people around the country would know, I suppose. That’s understandable to a certain extent. Tentpole movies gotta make money, after all.
However, it would be nice if Marvel and companies like them took their roles as stewards of our iconic characters a bit more seriously. There are opportunities with these characters that go far beyond fun and popcorn. Things about them that are already baked into their DNA that is being consciously changed or removed for no real reason. Things they could use.
It would’ve been amazing if, instead of Prospect Park, Marvel had worked something out with the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, for example. Having a Captain America statue standing in one of those tenement courtyards would’ve been epic. It also would’ve been truer to 75 years of Cap history, rather than only immortalizing the Cap history of the past five years when Steve Rogers started appearing in films.
In our current sociopolitical climate, it seems like a huge mistake to erase the fact that Captain America is the child of immigrants, and that his heroism is not just about his super-strength, or the fact that he punched Hitler in the face. It’s about America having been built by immigrants, and the children of those immigrants being its strongest supporters and defenders if we allow them to be, rather than trying to keep them out, or get rid of them once they’re here.
To me, that’s the Captain America history that deserves to be immortalized in bronze forever.
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