Comic superhero Captain America is assassinated
NEW YORK - Captain America is dead.
The Marvel Entertainment superhero, created in 1941 as a patriotic adversary for the Nazis, is killed off in Captain America #25, which hits the stands Wednesday.
As Captain America emerges from a courthouse building, he is struck by a sniper's bullet in the shoulder and then hit again in the stomach, blood seeping out of his star-spangled costume.
His death is sure to ignite controversy in the comic book world - still reeling from Superman's death in 1993 and resurrection the following year - and even political pundits, who may see Captain America's demise as an allegory for the United States.
"It's a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now," said co-creator Joe Simon, 93, after being informed of his brainchild's death.
Simon and artist Jack Kirby came up with the character in 1941 as an adversary for Adolf Hitler. Since then, the patriotic hero has appeared in an estimated 210 million copies sold in 75 countries.
Not bad for an imaginary sickly kid from New York's Lower East Side named Steve Rogers, who volunteered to be injected with Super Soldier serum during World War II.
Part of Captain America's allure was that he had no true superpowers; the serum made him an example of a human being at his utmost potential.
He could bench-press 1,100 pounds, run a mile in about a minute and outsmart any spy.
Series writer Ed Brubaker - who grew up reading Captain America comics while his father, a naval intelligence officer, was stationed on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - said it wasn't easy to kill off the character. The 40-year-old, however, wanted to explore what the hero meant to the country in these polarized times.
"What I found is that all the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on and giving speeches on the street corner against the Bush administration, and all the really right-wing (fans) all want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam," Brubaker said.
Comic book deaths, however, are rarely final. Marvel's archrival, DC Comics, provoked a media frenzy when they killed off Superman in 1993, only to reanimate their prize creation a year later.
Joe Quesada, 43, Marvel Entertainment's editor in chief, said he wouldn't rule out the shield-throwing champion's eventual return. But for now, the Captain's fans are in mourning.
"I was shocked. I was not expecting it," said Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Midtown Comics in Manhattan. "I'd rather they didn't kill him - but it's going to mean great sales."