Captain America: Civil War became a high-point for the Marvel Universe by being a low point for its characters, in particular the star-spangled Avenger. After a near-perfect political parable in the form of The Winter Soldier, Joe & Anthony Russo were tasked with pitting our heroes against one another, culminating in goody two-shoes Steve Rogers breaking into a maximum-security prison. He left his shield and his Bucky in the cold, and the only remaining link to him in the Western world is a cell phone he gave to the last guy he punched. So, where does that leave him going in to Marvel’s next big culmination, the Russos’ Infinity War? Here’s what brother Joe had to say:
“I think him dropping that shield is him letting go of that identity. [It’s] him admitting that certainly the identity of Captain America was in conflict with the very personal choice that he was making.”
The Russos helped turn Cap into one of the world’s most popular heroes, a feat I thought impossible despite loving him for years, so I trust them with his story. You can trace Cap’s journey in relation to America through what he wears in each appearance, from the bright beacon of freedom in The First Avenger, to the feel-good throwback in The Avengers, to the more ambiguous Winter Soldier outfit (which he sheds in favour of his original stripes), to the logo of an organization the world was losing faith in, in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He too loses faith in the Avengers, but it’s not just the uniform he sheds in Civil War. After the loss of Peggy, his moral compass, he ends up shedding the one unchanged constant since World War II: the literal and symbolic shield that determines who gets to be Captain America.
He nearly uses the shield to kill Tony Stark, which is part of why he leaves it behind. While Thor’s hammer determines the worth of its wielder, Steve Rogers makes this decision himself, because he knows that Captain America needs to stand for something better… So, what’s next for Steve Rogers? And if he isn’t Captain America, then who is?? Probably no one since Bucky and Sam are both outlaws (though I do think one of them will wield the shield eventually), but a world with a new Cap doesn’t sound as bleak as a world with no Cap at all.
Does that mean he’ll take up a new identity? Perhaps Nomad, like he did in the comics? I have my doubts, if for no other reason than it just doesn’t feel right in the world the Russos have created. Perhaps we’ll get to see who Steve Rogers is without any mantle, or as Ultron theorized a couple of film ago, a man pretending he can live without a war. We know war is coming in the form of Thanos, which will certainly galvanize his return, but this new status quo makes Steve’s next appearance seem all the more exciting.
Avengers: Infinity War arrives May 4th 2018, and if all goes well, Steve Rogers will reclaim his place as the leader of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, at least for the time being.