Knull gets inside Captain America’s head in King in Black: Captain America #1, taunting Steve Rogers with his number one fear: his own persona.
Warning: spoilers for King in Black: Captain America #1 are ahead.
Marvel Comics’ King in Black storyline has forced some of Earth’s mightiest heroes to face their fears, and Captain America is no exception. Early on in the event, Captain America (Steve Rogers), along with a core group of the X-Men, fell to the symbiote god Knull during his attack on New York City. Trapped inside Knull’s symbiote hive, Captain America was only freed once Dylan Brock managed to break him out in King in Black #4 (written by Donny Cates, pencils by Ryan Stegman, inks by JP Mayer, colors by Frank Martin, letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles).
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A new spinoff, King in Black: Captain America #1 covers Captain America on a mission in the aftermath of his freedom from Knull (written by Danny Lore, art by Mirko Colak, Stefano Landini, Roge Antonio, and Nico Leon, colors by Erick Arciniega, and letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna). Captain America is no stranger to dealing with evil like Knull, but it is clear that his experience inside the hive dealt a blow to his psyche. Though he is back to performing the functions of a superhero, Steve now has some reservations about his efficacy on the battlefield.
Captain America’s mental sparring with Knull in this issue reveals that his greatest fear is himself. While this may seem out of place for a hero as straightforward as Captain America, Steve’s fear is not completely unfounded. Knull’s possession of him offered him a glimpse of what he could be capable of if he lost control over himself, and while he is free of Knull’s hive, the symbiote god still is able to taunt him psychologically.
So much of Captain America’s character hinges on his image as a hero who is incredibly pure of heart, making him suitable for the Super-Soldier Serum. What Knull’s possession of him did, however, was show what that would look like if his conscience was consumed by darkness instead of light. While Steve Rogers is only human, his old timey sense of heroism prevents him from fully recognizing his own humanity, which is what is at the heart of his fear of himself. If King in Black elucidated anything about Captain America, it is that his biggest fear isn’t aliens invading Earth, but rather the idea that one day, he won’t be in the best condition to fight them off. This fear demonstrates the loneliness of his experiences as a moral “beacon,” which Knull exploits against him. Seeing how easily his heroic aspects were corrupted by Knull, Captain America is now unable to trust in his longevity as a superhero.
Knull Attacks Captain America Through His Own Morality.
This turn for Captain America’s character is a fascinating development in the broader King in Black storyline, because he is a hero fans wouldn’t necessarily see as consumed by doubts over whether or not he is a good guy (excluding the events of Secret Empire). Unlike more outwardly troubled characters like Morbius the Living Vampire, Bucky Barnes, Blade, and Werewolf By Night, Captain America possesses classic heroic aspects that make him easy to identify as a hero. There is no shortage of examples where Steve Rogers has demonstrated his dedication towards protecting the public.
It is this aspect of Captain America that Knull then exploits, throwing into question his particular method as a hero. In a nightmarish vision where Steve tries to save a civilian from a symbiote onslaught, Knull’s voice in his head states, “Did you think that no amount of repetition makes your triteness a reality? Did you forget already how little it takes to slither in, to control you? To make you a lie? You are a fool.” Knull carefully targets Cap’s tried and true method of doing whatever it takes to keep innocents safe. The villain frames it as a falsehood, because Steve Rogers has fallen under his control once before. In this light, Knull makes it difficult for Steve to continue trusting that his brand of heroism still holds up in the wake of his possession.
Knull Stands To Gain From Captain America’s Fear.
This new fear that Captain America has of himself is specific to King in Black, and Knull as a villain. Strategy-wise, Knull’s best play for taking out someone like Captain America now is to distort their confidence as a superhero. Captain America cannot perform his best in the field if he is bogged down by fears over whether or not his team would be better off without him.
On the whole, the unity that Earth’s heroes have (for the most part) is a great advantage they have over Knull. But if he splinters the confidence of their most iconic leaders, their resistance becomes much weaker. This is why the friendship that underlies Captain America’s role in Marvel Comics is so important out in the field. In the issue, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes recognize his struggles in the wake of Knull’s possession, and remind him that “What you believe in has got to be stronger. Will always be stronger.” Try as Knull may to make Captain America unsure of himself as a hero, there will always be others to remind him of this truth.
Fear has played a dramatic role in King in Black, with the event taking a more horror-filled turn in comparison to others. This has opened up a uniquely psychological element to the story that has shed light on Marvel’s characters in new ways. Though the event has been full of superhuman feats, the universal experience of fear has united both reader and hero in meaningful ways.
For Steve Rogers, fearing himself is a tactic used by Knull to shift him back into the psychological darkness that characterized his possession. While it remains to be seen how Steve Rogers recovers in the wake of the event, one thing appears clear. There will always be those who see Captain America as their hero, even when he does not see himself as one.
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