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Today, fans reacted with shock at the news that Chris Evans — our very own Captain America — doesn't seem to have extended his contract with Marvel. According to one interview, he's currently filming Avengers: Infinity War and the as-yet-untitled Avengers 4, and then will hang up his shield for good. Most fans are assuming this means the character of Steve Rogers will die a heroic death in Avengers 4, not least because we can't really imagine Rogers ever retiring and heading out to pasture, watching the world go by...
But one question remains: what's next for Captain America? In the comics, the mantle of Captain America has been passed from generation to generation; from Jeffrey Mace to Bucky Barnes to Sam Wilson. Will the #MCU take a similar approach? Will another hero step into Steve Rogers's shoes, inspired to live up to the call to be a hero?
Amusingly enough, the Russo brothers have set up not one but two possible candidates. The Winter Soldier revealed that Steve's best friend, Bucky Barnes, was still alive — and had been transformed into a brutal assassin! Since then, we've seen Bucky struggle against the brainwashing he suffered at the hands of Hydra, and he's currently in cryogenic suspension over in Wakanda. Given he's already confirmed for a role in Infinity War, many fans are expecting Bucky's tale to continue in 2018's Black Panther.
Meanwhile, The Winter Soldier also saw Steve Rogers team up with a former USAF pararescue agent who's particularly skilled with some pretty cool combat wings. Sam Wilson proved a true friend to Steve Rogers, helping bring down both Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D.. By the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Wilson had joined the Avengers as Falcon, and fought at Steve's side during Captain America: Civil War.
Head to the comics, and you'll see why both these two characters are important to the legacy of Captain America. In the comics, the "Civil War" event actually led to Steve Rogers's death, and it was Bucky who took over Cap's mantle. More recently, after Steve had been resurrected and regained his 'Captain America' identity (hey, this is comics), he was aged to the point where he couldn't be a superhero anymore. This time round, he passed the shield on to Falcon — although Steve's since been rejuvenated (again, this is comics), and there are now two Captain Americas.
So: in the comics, both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes have occupied the role of Captain America. Both have a legitimate emotional tie to Steve Rogers. For either to take over the role would be emotionally satisfying. But here's the catch: I don't think either should do so. In fact, I don't think anybody should.
How Will Steve Rogers Die?
We already know how Steve Rogers is likely to go out; facing insurmountable odds, but refusing to give an inch. That's been an integral part of his character since before he was ever injected with the super soldier serum, when he stood facing bullies telling them he could do this all day. He's the man you can always depend on to make the hard call — remember his early criticism of Tony Stark in The Avengers? He initially hated Stark because he saw nothing but ego there, and didn't believe Stark would ever be willing to sacrifice himself for others.
Steve Rogers's deepest belief is in the nobility of self-sacrifice, and his end simply has to embody that. He's not going to die a victim of a random laser-blast, or obliterated at Thanos's insane whim. No, he's going to die because he chooses it, because he accepts the consequences of his actions and embraces it. He's going to die on his feet, a hero, refusing to back down against insurmountable odds.
More Than A Legacy
This kind of heroism transforms lives; but I don't want it to just transform one life, inspiring one man or woman to lift the shield and claim the mantle of Captain America. I want this sacrifice to be a raw, emotional moment that inspires the assembled #Avengers to live up to Steve Rogers's example, to confront Thanos and his Black Order, and to save the day. I don't want one person to embody Steve Rogers's legacy; I want the whole #MCU to embody it.
Let me single out one man in particular who needs to be inspired by this death; Peter Parker, a.k.a. the amazing Spider-Man. #Marvel made the decision to skip the origin story, and so far there's one key lesson that's missing in their Spider-Man story; "With great power..." Sure, Captain America: Civil War had a fun scene where Peter danced around the phrase, and I'm sure Spider-Man: Homecoming will give us something more. But I want to see Peter Parker watch as Steve Rogers embraces both his power and his responsibility, unflinching even in the face of death. Such a scene would add a whole new depth to the character of Spider-Man in the MCU, and would remind every viewer just why the webhead is better off in the same cinematic universe as the Avengers.
Don't let anyone take up the mantle of Captain America, embodying the power and principles of Captain America. Instead, let the whole MCU embrace his legacy, with every hero transformed and inspired by the example of a true hero. That, after all, is what it means to be the Living Legend of World War II — you make the hard call, and unwittingly inspire others in your wake.