Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Can't There Be Two Captain Americas?

Bucky wonders about his future as Captain AmericaCaptain America: Who Will Wield the Shield by Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice & Luke Ross
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Natalia, aka The Black Widow, asks a very good question to Bucky in the one-shot Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? Namely, why can't there be two Captain Americas?

The quick back-story to those unfamiliar is that Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, had been presumed dead for years from Marvel's Civil War. During his absence, his former sidekick, Bucky Barnes, took the mantle of Captain America. Now that Rogers is back, there is the dilemma of who gets to be the hero.

Steve Rogers wants Bucky to continue as Captain America, citing some vague premonition about the dangers of Bucky relinquishing the shield. Bucky feels a sense of guilt over keeping the identity, as it was Steve's to begin with. In fact, he's actually pretty self-deprecating about the whole thing, claiming that Steve was better at the whole superhero thing than he ever was.

First of all, Bucky should know better than to doubt his self-worth. He has proven himself throughout the past few years to not only be a qualified candidate for the position, but for also adopting a style and technique that differs considerably from Steve Rogers'.

For example, Steve Rogers is stronger, faster, better coordinated, more confident, and has better tactical ability for non-lethal means. Bucky is stealthy, subtle, a better shot, and has better tactical ability for lethal and covert means. Clearly, each of them has an absolute advantage over the other in these terms. That is to say, if each devoted all their resources to non-lethal, non-covert operations, Steve would be able to perform better than Bucky. On the other hand, if each devoted all of his resources to a covert operation, Bucky would outperform Steve.

Now, let's assume that Bucky's concerns are true. Namely, lets say that Steve Rogers is better than Bucky at every element of the job. Steve has an absolute advantage over Bucky in being Captain America. Does this mean that Bucky should pack up his gear, assume a new persona, and move to Bludhaven to find a completely different set of criminals to fight?

Not necessarily. You see, Bucky should realize that although Steve can perform better in all of these feats, Bucky nonetheless has a comparative advantage over him.

The gentlemen from Overthinkingit posted before about superheroes and comparative advantage to show why Superman needs the rest of the Justice League at all. We rehash a bit of that next.

Suppose that there are two kinds of criminals that any Captain America would have to face. One type is the class of strong criminals that require pure old, fashioned fist fights to capture. The other is a more cunning and elusive type that requires more stealth/sneakiness to capture. Possessing both of these skills are necessary to being Captain America. Now suppose that if Steve devotes all his energy to fighting, he could stop 24 criminals in a week (of the first type), whereas Bucky could only stop 8. Now suppose that if Steve devoted all his energy to stealth maneuvering, he could stop 12 criminals (of the second type), whereas Bucky could still only stop 8.

Clearly Steve is better at catching both types of criminals than Bucky. However, for Bucky the opportunity cost of fighting 1 criminal is capturing 1 by using stealth techniques. The opportunity cost of fighting 1 criminal for Steve is capturing 1/2 a criminal by sneaking around (lets just say this means getting halfway there). Similarly the opportunity cost for Bucky of capturing 1 criminal through covert means is capturing 1 criminal by fighting. For Steve, however, the opportunity cost of capturing 1 criminal through covert means is capturing 2 criminals by fighting.

What we see here is that Steve has a lower opportunity cost of catching strong criminals by fighting, whereas Bucky has a lower opportunity cost of catching elusive criminals by covert means.

Now let's just say that in a given week, Bucky and Cap split their time evenly between both types. So, the number of criminals they capture in a week looks like this:


Fighting
Stealth
Bucky
4
4
Rogers
12
6
Total
16
10

Now suppose Bucky decides to "specialize." He spends all his time working on covert tactics, thus sacrificing the criminals he would have had to catch through fighting (4 criminals) to catch those he could by stealth. Rogers then decides to take 4 criminals he would have caught through stealth and devote that same amount of time to fighting. However, we know that Rogers can fight 2 strong criminals in the time that he can catch 1 elusive perp. through stealth. After they specialize, the new chart looks like this:


Fighting
Stealth
Bucky
0
8
Rogers
20
2
Total
20
10

Lo and behold, we are now better off than we were before. Despite the fact that Steve might be better at catching strong criminals and catching elusive ones, Bucky's concern that he is not needed is simply false.

Natalia obviously realizes this and as such asks a reasonable question: Why can't both continue to be Captain America to fight the different types of Captain America villains?

Well, for one thing there's only one shield. But more importantly, Bucky could simply specialize under a new superhero persona (which it looks like is what he intended to do). He could call himself "Captain Shadow" or something. He and Captain America could team up, each of them specializing in a certain type of criminal, which would increase the overall number of criminals caught.

On the other hand, creating a new identity does have its disadvantages:

1) New costume, new gadgets, new hideout, etc. all have significant start-up costs.
2) Pooling both skills into one identity could have the benefit of making Captain America appear to be invulnerable. This might deter more crime, as opposed to creating a new superhero that no one has ever heard of and that might take a considerable amount of time to develop the same reputation.
3) More superheroes might lead to more supervillains.

Really then, being Captain America all comes down to labels. Whether Bucky becomes Captain Shadow or remains Captain America, the important thing is that he realizes that he has an important role to play by fighting a specific subset of criminals. Once he figures that out, he should be happier.

29 comments:

Captain Noble said...

I think one of the benefits of both of them being Captain Ameica would also be the ability to be acive more often. I mean, they have to sleep and relax every now and then, right? If they slack on this, they aren't as effective at catching criminals. If they take turns, they can get properly rested and maximize their efficiency when they are on duty.

Tom said...

I agree, this is solely a labeling problem. I have a few solutions to propose:

Captains North and South America - Bucky needs to learn some Spanish. Or one for the blue states and one for the red states: Captain America, and Captain of the REAL America! Captain America, and Captain U-S-A!

Seriously though, is the shield the issue? Give one guy the shield, get the other guy a sword, bam, Captains America, The Sword and Shield of Liberty (or something). (I actually like the sound of that quite a bit.)

-t

Will said...

Be honest, this whole article is an attempt to have Marvel eventually have a nemesis to Bucky a.k.a. Captain Shadow named ShadowBanker. You just don't want your design efforts to go to waste. And since Marvel is always reforming their villains, the end goal is for ShadowBanker to first be a villain, then a Thunderbolt, and then an Avenger. We see through your clever, patriotic ruse.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Was this written by Captain Obvious?

ShadowBanker said...

Captain Noble - But they could still do the same with under different guises, couldn't they?

Tom - I love the Sword and Shield of Liberty idea! Time to call Marvel, yeah?

Will - You totally got me. Captain Shadow vs. Shadowbanker will one day happen.

Anonymous - The comparative advantage stuff? Doesn't seem obvious to Bucky.

Captain Noble said...

They could, but Captain America is a big brand. Everyone knows who he is and criminals are going to be afraid of him. This allows Steve and Bucky to capitalize on that rather than taking the time and effort to build up a separate brand.

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well why not, in the case of one of them fall the other can substitute to other, and finally another black super hero, at least marvel heard the request of all black people in the country.

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