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Death of an American Idol

In the end, it was a bad break-up that doomed Captain America.

The Marvel Comics icon, who began his career battling Adolph Hitler and ended it taking on the United States government, was on his way to prison when he was shot by a sniper on the steps of a court house. His assassin, it turns out, was an ex-lover named Sharon Carter.

His death marked the end of a company-wide crossover story where all-out war broke out between two factions of heroes led by Captain America and Iron Man.

The heroes divided over a federal law that labeled superheroes as "weapons of mass destruction" after a large battle led to the deaths of hundreds in Connecticut. The law required superheroes to register with the government by giving up their secret identities.

Captain America saw this a violation of civil liberties and made his final stand against the same government he swore to protect since 1941.

But the shock of his demise in Captain America issue No. 25 was lost on Andre Verner, an employee at More Fun, Ashland's lone comic book shop.

Verner was unpacking a new order of comics Wednesday morning when someone from a local television station called asking him to comment on the hero's death.

"I was like, 'What are you talking about?'," he said.

Apparently, Marvel had managed to keep THE major comics' story of the year a secret, even from those who make their livings selling the company's product.

This presented a problem, since More Fun had ordered only 12 issues of Captain America No. 25. Any other week that would be plenty. But this was far from just any other week is the comic business.

"When you don't let your retailers know in advance it hurts to just drop a bomb on them like this," Verner said.

Those 12 issues disappeared instantly. Verner, who reads only two Marvel books, Captain America being one of them, managed to snag one from himself, but had to break the bad news to the many customers seeking the book.

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook," he said.

The shop could have more issues in this week. Until then they are taking down names and numbers of everyone wanting an issue. Customers will be called as the more copies of the book trickle in.

It didn't take long for speculators to start hawking the issue for $93 a pop on eBay. All this is eerily similar to the death of Superman craze that hit the comic scene in the early 90s and nearly destroyed it.

The media attention sparked a false market created by speculators who jumped into comics hoping to turn them around for a quick buck. As the hype dissipated, comic stores, bulging with inventory, were left holding the bag. Thousands of shops closed. Several companies folded. Marvel filed for bankruptcy in 1996.

True comic fans shake their heads at the boom and bust years of the '90s. For them it is the stories and characters that matter.

"For me it's about reading comics," said Crystal Maloney, who works at More Fun. "I don't understand the whole collectable thing."

The industry managed to right itself the last six years following several successful films and, perhaps most of all, by telling interesting stories.

In fact, several readers have drawn parallels between Captain America's death and the United States' fading reputation in the eyes of the world following the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act.

Ninety-three-year-old Joe Simon, who created the character, expressed his outrage in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week.

"It's a hell of at time for him to go," Simon said. "We really need him now."

More Fun owner Scott Hutchins said that stories are often lost in the shuffle when major characters are killed. He hopes Captain America's death is more than a cynical marketing ploy.

"It seems like they may actually be trying to tell a story with it," he said. "It may not be cheap manipulation."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

AP / Marvel Comics Comic book hero Captain America lies on the courthouse steps after being shot by a sniper in the latest issue of his namesake comic that hit the stands Wednesday. The superhero’s death ends a long run for the character, created in 1941 to incarnate patriotic feeling during World War II.