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A hero dies

News of Captain America's demise spurs run on comic-book stores

He first appeared in March 1941, punching out Adolf Hitler on the cover of a brand-new comic book. Ever since then, attired in a red, white and blue uniform and armed only with a shield, he fought for truth, justice, and the American way, just like that guy with the cape.

But Captain America is no more.

When fans today opened the comic book that bears his name, they discovered a shocking development: Captain America had been cut down by a sniper's bullet as he walked into a federal courthouse. His sudden demise prompted a run on comic-book stores by fans hoping to snap up a potential collector's item and also triggered considerable consternation among some devotees of the stout-hearted superhero.

"I didn't like it when they did it to Superman, and I am no fan of it now that they have done it to Captain America,'' a fan who called himself "Union Jack'' wrote on an Internet message board devoted to the character. Another asked plaintively: "Is it true? If so, then I think my days of buying comics have officially come to an end.'' Some fans accused Marvel Comics, which publishes "Captain America,'' of killing him off as a publicity stunt.

But Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, said in a telephone interview that the death of the character he fondly called "Cap'' was the logical outcome of a long-running storyline involving a "civil war'' among the other superheroes in the Marvel universe. "The story was taking us there,'' said Quesada.

Still, he conceded, "We've been biting our lips, and here it is, the moment of truth. I don't think there's a dry eye in the house. You're talking about a character who wears the American flag.''

"The Marvel universe has had a Captain America in it since the 1940s,'' said Quesada. "Now there is a big void that has to be filled.'' The question to be answered, he said, is: "What is a world without Captain America in it?''

Anthony Gallucci, assistant manager at Newbury Comics in Boston's Government Center, got 50 copies of "Captain America'' on Tuesday night. All were sold out within two hours after opening yesterday. "This was a pretty well-guarded secret,'' remarked Gallucci. "I was kind of surprised they were going down that road when I turned to the last page. 'They're not really going to do that, are they?' I wondered. But they did."

The cover price of the magazine was $2.99, but Gallucci expects copies are fetching two to three times that already -- and possibly headed higher. "My understanding is that Marvel has no plans on reprinting the issue, so however many copies were ordered is it,'' said Gallucci. "And that will spark an immediate rise in price."

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