Sacrifice? Whatever. If American leaders had a chance to demand a sense of civic duty from us after the 9/11 attacks, they punted. At this point, only a fraction of the American citizenry has anything to do with a conflict that’s coming to define the world we live in. “There’s a wide gulf right now between the military and everybody else,” Fick says. He likes to use a quotation that’s usually attributed to Thucydides: “The nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

Catching a red-eye to the Green Zone is not, of course, the only way to serve your country. But even for those who are against the war in Iraq, or who feel helpless in the face of news about something like global climate change, the righteous actions of a comic-book conqueror like Captain America only call attention to our own inertia on the home front. Ed Brubaker remembers picking up his first Captain America comic book around 1972. “I liked that he wasn’t just some government stooge. I saw him as being the ultimate example of what Americans should be,” he says. “That made Captain America one of the coolest characters, the fact that he would stand up to his president and go, ‘You know what? That’s it. I quit.’”

In fact, if we want to stretch the metaphor a bit, we could draw a comparison between Captain America and Pat Tillman, the NFL star who enlisted right after 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan—and who, it was later reported, had doubts about the effectiveness of the U.S. mission. “When you talk about Pat Tillman reading Noam Chomsky while he’s hunting down al-Qaeda, it’s like, Jesus Christ, that’s a hero, somebody who is actually investigating the world while still trying to make it a better place,” Brubaker says. “People on the right always want Captain America to be doing whatever President Bush says—going over to the Middle East and just being a right-wing yes-man. And people on the left always want me to have Captain America standing on a soapbox preaching against the Bush administration. As his writer, I have to imagine him as a real person, and he wouldn’t be any of those things. Steve Rogers is not an idiot. He’s going to be an individual, and that, to me, is what being a hero is.”

If Gen Xers are attracted to heroes at all, they’re heroes of that very stripe—lone-wolf individualists (whether we’re talking about Pat Tillman or Kurt Cobain or Matt Damon in the Bourne franchise) who are driven by passion and skepticism in equal measure. Since the topic is comics, consider David Rees. Now 34, Rees found himself feeling so frustrated after 9/11 that he began to crank out “Get Your War On,” a bitterly hilarious comic strip in which office drones engage in sarcastic-absurdist chitchat. (Sample line: “Oh my God, this War on Terrorism is gonna rule! I can’t wait until the war is over and there’s no more terrorism!”) Rees says that writing the strips has been “cathartic,” and they’ve attracted a devoted following, but that doesn’t mean he sees anything heroic about them. “I try to tell myself, ‘Well, Dave, you’re doing your part, you’re making this comic, you’re speaking truth to power,’ but really, that’s a bunch of bullshit,” he says. “It’s not like wearing 50 pounds of body armor in 120-degree heat.”