Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Author’s Note: Back in March 2019, I mused to some friends about the notion that perhaps Steve Rogers (better known as Marvel’s Captain America) and Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers) were related to each other, probably as cousins, about ten years apart in age. Then I wrote a longer version of this idea and my friend Sean — a writer, musician, and illustrator of no small talent — started working on a few pieces to go with the short story. It was a lark to amuse us in a dark time that has only grown darker since the idea was formed, and in the midst of other priorities, the project was never fully finished.
Then last week, a senior advisor for the Trump/Pence 2020 campaign decided to sneer at Joe Biden’s recent town hall by comparing it, unfavorably, to “Mr. Rodgers’ [sic] Neighborhood.” And in response to that nonsense, Sean and I decided to finish the illustrated story once and for all.
So here it is. For our purposes, story continuity follows the narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
* * * * *
The young man from Brooklyn finds his cousin on the front stoop, absently teaching a marionette to dance.
“Hey Fred,” he says, having a seat on the steps next to him.
“Hi Steve,” Fred responds. “Mom says you’re leaving soon.”
“I am. They ship me out for training in two days.”
“You didn’t have to come all the way out to Pittsburgh to see us.”
“Sure I did,” Steve says. “You, your sister, your parents — you’re all the family I’ve got.”
“Are they really going to send you over?” Fred asks.
“Maybe. I don’t know yet. To be honest, I’m still surprised they finally let me enlist.”
Fred lets the marionette relax. He looks over at his cousin, a man ten years older but barely taller than most of the students at his high school. The suit hangs loosely on his frame; his hands look like they might snap into splinters if he clenches them. But Fred also sees the resolve in the steel-blue eyes.
“I don’t understand why you want to go,” Fred admits. Steve nods.
“You know, I remember visiting here some years ago,” he says. “Your mom told me how some of the other kids used to pick on you, call you names. That’s been happening to me my whole life, too. But the one thing I know about bullies is that they’ll keep coming at you until you push back and tell them to stop. I’m not going because I want to. I don’t think most of us ever want to go fight a war. We’re going because somebody has to stand up and say that what the Nazis are doing, what they’ve already done — it’s wrong, and it needs to stop.”
“Are you scared?” Fred asks.
“Sure,” Steve replies.
“We were listening to the radio the other night. Dad was saying he doesn’t think the Axis is going to give up easy.”
“Your dad’s probably right.”
“If I were old enough, I’d come with you. I’d try to be as brave as you.”
“I hope we can end the war before you’re old enough that they’d call for you. So I don’t want you to think about having to be brave. I want you to think about after.”
“When this is all over,” Steve says, “I think what we’re going to need more than courage and guns is people like you. You’ve got a good heart, Fred. Always have. I’ve seen you, the way you treat people, how you look out for your neighbors. How you and your family did for me after my mom died. That’s more important than being brave. That’s one of the most important things.”
Steve picks up the marionette.
“And the other thing we’re going to need,” he says, “is imagination. Which I know you’ve also got in spades. So listen: What I want you to do is take those two things you have — your kindness, and your imagination — and I want you to work on building a world where nobody has to send any of their kids off to fight in wars. You think you can do that for me?”
“Steve?” he says. “Stay safe.”
“I’ll do my best,” Steve replies. “I’ll tell you all about it after I get home.”
New York City, NY
The one-eyed man, the man who tells him he has spent nearly 70 years encased in ice, provides him with a television of an absurd size and a hunk of plastic with more buttons on it than he remembers seeing in the cockpits of fighter planes. Steve sits alone in a blank apartment in the middle of the night while a cold plasma screen brings him tide upon tide of lost information.
News of the victory he missed and the wars that came after that victory. The atomic clouds and the people put in charge of such power, the brushes with annihilation. Scandals and assassinations, genocides and injustices. For every advance in science and technology there seems to be a shadow lurking at its edges working to twist the miracles into malice. Steve Rogers is a soldier endowed with superhuman strength and resilience who finds himself overwhelmed by understanding.
But there is also a man in a cable-knit cardigan and penny loafers, singing his gentle songs about friendship. A man who talks to the trolley moving between the living room and the land of talking tigers. A man speaking to a nation of children with unvarnished sincerity about the virtues of kindness, during a decade that the concepts of right and wrong will be examined under the most unforgiving of spotlights. Fred looks directly into the camera and Steve looks directly back at him.
“You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you,” Fred says. “There’s no person in the world like you. And I like you just the way you are.”
“You too, kid,” Steve says. “You did good.”
All text copyright Bilal Dardai; all illustrations copyright Sean Archer (check out his portfolio and Instagram). Captain America is the intellectual property of Marvel Comics, and Fred Rogers’ likeness belongs to his estate, and neither Sean nor I are sharing this to profit from either. We liked the idea, and decided to follow it a little further than its original form; that’s all.