Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Steve Rogers became Captain America as an adult, but Eli Bradley became Patriot as a teenager. My take on Patriot involves looking at what it would be like to be an American flag wearing superhero as a teenager instead of a full grown man. An adult is more mentally equipped to shoulder the responsibility of the flag, but a teenager is a completely different story. Eli Bradley never served in the military like Steve Rogers did in WWII, and he would have trouble understanding the kind of symbolic pressure that comes with wearing an American flag on his back. The idea of this Patriot solo series is to show Eli Bradley's struggle to come to terms with what it means to be a representative of the American ideal.
The series opens on Eli Bradley in his civilian identity as a high school kid. Despite the super soldier serum coursing through his veins, Eli's not the most popular guy. Before he got involved with the Young Avengers, he was a part time librarian at The New York Public Library and also the president of the history club. Needless to say, these aren't pursuits that necessarily lead to popularity. Even though Eli isn't likely to become prom king, we see that he is a superstar as Patriot.
Eli is afforded the thrill of being the center of attention as Patriot. Patriot effortlessly beats up muggers and thwarts convenience store robbers while posing for camera phone pictures. Patriot takes care of the street crime in his neighborhood with the ease of a teenage super soldier, and the local media love him for it. He's a poster boy, a star spangled spectacle that pummels petty thieves and smiles for the camera at the same time. He's showered with praise as Patriot, and Eli relishes his status as an icon the way only a repressed librarian can.
At a photo op and interview where he's tossed softball questions, Patriot is given a wake up call from a single mother that throws black paint onto his red, white, and blue costume. Patriot recently put her husband in jail when he caught him trying to hold up a convenience store, but the man was only stealing to feed his newborn baby. The economy's in a bad place and the woman's husband was laid off. Of course stealing is wrong, but the woman's argument is that Patriot is a hypocrite to hide behind the American flag while brutally beating petty criminals that only turn to crime because of larger problems with American society. In front of reporters and flashing cameras, she says Patriot should be ashamed for concentrating on street crime when the top 1% of the population has 90% of the wealth. She calls him a coward for using his amazing abilities to fight street level criminals and totally ignore the flaws in American society that force good people to turn to crime.
Eli is hit hard by the woman's somewhat unfair criticisms. He realizes that he has a responsibility to something much larger than himself when he's in his Patriot persona. He can't just be a glorified mascot draped in the American flag; Patriot has to live up to the American dream. He has to try to be a physical embodiment of that uniquely American ideal that's not always the reality of our nation, but is always the lofty goal that we work toward. Patriot can't simply pound the criminal class into submission and pretend to be a representative of America. Eli has a revelation that Patriot has an obligation to honor a higher standard, an ethos that "life should be richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability and achievement". As Patriot, he must become more than a mere vigilante. Patriot has to be a walking manifestation of the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
After he has a heart to heart talk with his grandfather Isaiah Bradley, Eli sets out to tackle more challenging issues than mundane muggers and thieves. He takes down a supervillain and gives away his money to the poor instead of letting the cash sit in police evidence lockers for years or lining the pockets of opportunistic cops. He busts up a large Mutant Growth Hormone dealing operation and burns all of the product, which is a symbolic moment for Eli who had his own issues with MGH in the past. He attends a protest and protects the people's right to peacefully assemble from a somewhat overzealous riot squad. Finally, he puts his super soldier stamina to use in a constructive way and he fixes up an entire inner city school in a single day. With his biology at the pinnacle of human potential, Patriot can act as a tireless one man construction crew, and he turns what was a disgraceful learning environment into a seemingly brand new school. Here, we see Patriot as a socially proactive superhero who works to deal with the problems that cause crime instead of bashing criminals in the face with his fists.
Patriot catches the attention of his uncle Josiah X with his new tactic of socially conscious superheroism. Josiah X was always a bit disappointed in his nephew's willingness to take part in the endless superpowered brawls that preoccupy most superheroes. However, Patriot's recent activity impressed Josiah X, and he gives his nephew the opportunity to take his efforts to the next level. Josiah X gives Patriot a file full of his research on the corporation Power Broker, Inc. Power Broker, Inc. used to be a criminal organization that supplied people with superpowers, but the group recently went completely legitimate (or so they claim). Now, Power Broker, Inc. is a publicly traded company that's privatizing the superhero business by giving ordinary people superhuman abilities for an obscene amount of money. They have a new CEO, commercials on primetime television, and a billboard in Times Square. They appear to be a legal operation at first glance, but Josiah X has been gathering intelligence on the corporation that suggests otherwise.
Patriot sets out to investigate Power Broker, Inc. and the people who have gained superpowers from the company. He visits members of the corporation's proprietary superhero team "The Power Players". Patriot discovers that most of the people who applied to Power Broker, Inc.'s superpower program are rich eccentrics who wanted to experience the adventurous life of a superhero. These people treat their superhero career like they're playing a video game rather than the life and death occupation that it is. However, some of the Power Players are good people who took out mortgages and sold all their property to obtain their powers and live out their dream of being heroes. Patriot also sees that Power Broker, Inc. ruins these people's finances by draining millions from them with their superpower formula. These people have to take daily doses of the extremely expensive superpower formula to maintain their abilities, and failure to take the drug will result in a crippling withdrawal that could lead to permanent brain damage.
Ultimately, Patriot confronts the CEO of Power Broker, Inc. Based on Josiah X's research, Patriot insinuates that the corporation's superpower formulas are designed to be addictive to maximize profit, and that the drug could half the user's lifespan. Patriot threatens to expose Power Broker, Inc. and he promises to do everything he can to destroy the company. The CEO's response is to make Patriot an offer. He's done his own research on Patriot, and he knows about his history with MGH. If Patriot tries to ruin Power Broker, Inc., the CEO will reveal Patriot's substance abuse history to the public and destroy his reputation as a squeaky clean American hero. Instead of mutually assured destruction, the CEO proposes that Patriot sign a lucrative contract with Power Broker, Inc. as their official spokesperson. He would have a multi-million dollar salary and a bigger platform than ever for enacting progressive change.
Of course, Patriot refuses this offer. The CEO brings down the full force of Power Broker, Inc. on Patriot's head. He sends The Power Players to apprehend Patriot on the grounds that he's in possession of illegally obtained information on the company and he's going to be prosecuted for corporate espionage. Patriot becomes a fugitive on the run from The Power Players. This superhero team handles this manhunt like a lighthearted paintball game, and they don't take the idea of capturing a teenage superhero (who doesn't actually have any superhuman abilities) seriously at all. This is a huge mistake. Patriot cut his teeth in the Young Avengers, and he was caught in the middle of a Kree-Skrull battle. He fought in the superhero Civil War, and he's received one on one training from Captain America. The Power Players underestimate him, but we see as he takes down the team one by one that Patriot is a highly skilled tactician that has no problem using strategy to defeat a team of more powerful but less experienced superhumans.
At the conclusion of this story arc, Patriot defeats The Power Players, but he has no concrete evidence to bring down Power Broker, Inc. This sets up an adversarial relationship between the young superhero and the corporation that could be continued if this series became an ongoing. Patriot could work to be a representative of the American ideal and fight to make the behemoth of Power Broker, Inc. face accountability for its exploitative actions. The central conceit of this series is to show what it would be like to be a teenager with the weight of the American flag on his shoulders, and the kind of moral struggle that comes with that responsibility.