NEW YORK – It's a funeral fit for a superhero.
In the drizzling rain at Arlington National Cemetery, thousands of grieving patriots solemnly watch as the pallbearers — Iron Man, the Black Panther, Ben Grimm and Ms. Marvel — carry a casket draped with an American flag.
Yes, folks, Captain America is dead and buried in the latest issue of Marvel Comics' "Fallen Son," due on newsstands the morning after Independence Day. After 66 years of battling villains from Adolf Hitler to the Red Skull, the red, white and blue leader of the Avengers was felled by an assassin's bullet on the steps of a New York federal courthouse.
He was headed to court after refusing to sign the government's Superhero Registration Act, a move that would have revealed his true identity. A sniper who fired from a rooftop was captured as police and Captain America's military escort were left to cope with chaos in the streets.
But the sniper didn't act alone, and didn't even fire the shot that killed the captain.
Writer Jeph Loeb has been busy working through the stages of grief in his most recent titles. A book centered on Wolverine dealt with denial; one with the Avengers covered anger; and Spider-Man battled depression.
With the story line so relevant to present-day politics, and the timing of the latest issue so precise, it's hard not to think the whole thing is one big slam on the government.
"Part of it grew out of the fact that we are a country that's at war, we are being perceived differently in the world," Loeb said. "He wears the flag and he is assassinated — it's impossible not to have it at least be a metaphor for the complications of present day."
But Loeb says he was working with more personal material: the death of his 17-year-old son from cancer.
"So many people have lost their sons and daughters over the years, for the greater good or to cancer or other horrible things," said Loeb, an executive producer for NBC's "Heroes." "I wanted this to be something people would identify with."
In the final frames of the book, the Falcon delivers a eulogy asking superheroes old and young to stand up and honor Captain America. Loeb did a similar thing at his son's funeral.
"It was this moment where I realized that we were all different, but this boy, my son, made us all connected," he said. "It was powerful."
Captain America, whose secret identity was Steve Rogers, was an early member of the pantheon of comic book heroes that began with Superman in the 1930s.
He landed on newsstands in March 1941, nine months before Pearl Harbor — delivering a punch to Hitler on the cover of his first issue, a sock-in-the-jaw reminder that there was a war on and the United States was not involved.
Since then, Marvel Entertainment Inc., has sold more than 200 million copies of Captain America magazine in 75 countries.
In the most recent story line, he became involved in a superhero "civil war," taking up sides against Iron Man in the registration controversy, climaxed by his arrest and assassination.
Marvel says you never know what will happen. He may make it back from the dead after all, although Loeb says that question isn't really important right now.
"The question is, how does the world continue without this hero?" he said. "If that story of his return gets told further down the line, great. But everyone's still been dealing with his loss.
"They aren't going to wake up and it's a dream, like it's some episode of 'Dallas."'