If you haven’t heard of the infamous article claiming that Captain America is only interesting when he’s a jerk, you can not call yourself a Marvel fan (and where have you been, in a hole?! Under a rock?! Abandoning us for the Iron Man fandom?!) Of course, you can’t insult Cap like that without Steve Rogers’ loyal fanbase rising up in protest. The argument has been going back and forth between the two camps for almost as long as Captain America: The First Avenger has been out.
I’m going to come out and say that the basis of that article is pure and utter nonsense of the first degree. Part of the reason why we love Cap so much is that he’s generous and kind and is willing to sacrifice everything to protect others. The conflict, with him, is that he’s a good person trying to live in a world where so many other people aren’t. Some people are going to try and take advantage of his generosity, and he’s going to meet opposition from people who want to hurt others. Also, he’s going to be pressured into sacrificing his ideals at times, choose the lesser of two evils (which is not conducive to being able to rest easy in one’s conscience), etc. He’s a good person, forced to live in a less-than-ideal world. How he finds his way through that world–that’s the story.
He’s not naive. He’s an optimistic realist, as opposed to a regular realist (like Fury or Natasha Romanoff.) He believes the best of people until they give him reason to think otherwise. That’s why we love this character so much. As always, Dr. Abraham Erskine says it best: “Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
Heroes are like this. Not always by nature, but by choice, certainly. If you have an anti-hero, who struggles against their own cynicism, that’s a story. I’ve heard people accuse Cap of being a Mary Sue, but that simply isn’t true, at least in the movie universe. He has to fight for everything; nothing is simply handed to him. He isn’t perfect. He ends up disobeying orders to try and rescue a friend who is probably already dead, and he lies on his enlistment forms (four times; the first was probably accurate.) Sooner or later, he’s going to lose control and break down, maybe come out of things violent and do things he’ll regret later. And he can’t catch a break. He’s going to be held accountable, and he won’t complain because he knows that they’re right.
Steve Rogers is, essentially, a man who thought he was going to his death, and was afraid to die, but did not turn back, in order to save lives. Instead of dying, he lost what little he did have, everything that was remotely his, or even just familiar. He’s terrified of losing it all again, and yet, instead of closing off, he goes on to create new connections and build new friendships.
Heroes are good people who don’t stand idly by on the sidelines, but try to take a stance and change the way things are. To be human is to change the tide. To live is to risk. It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all; that’s what differentiates heroes from the other type. It’s been said that the difference between heroism and recklessness is that heroism leads to success, whereas recklessness fails; this isn’t true. Recklessness has nothing to do with heroism, and people who try are still heroes, whether or not they fail, whether or not they’re recognized by others. Everyone is hungry for attention, for accolades. The true hero isn’t motivated by this desire; they would be continue even if no one knew of their efforts.
A hero is 7% inspiration and belief, 10% willpower and hard work, 3% skill, 5% suffering, 2% luck, 3% insanity–and 75% hope. Hope hurts. Hope is dangerous. Hope will often seem to have no basis. And yet, the man who continues to hope, to have faith, can accomplish miracles.
Essentially, being a hero is all about hope.