Captain America

A trailer for the Captain America movie coming out in July.  Two superheroes have managed to become symbols of the nation:  Superman and Captain America.  One of the first of the comic book heroes, Superman first appeared in 1938  and helped establish the whole concept of a superhero.  “A strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of a mortal man”, Superman was a hit from his first publication and rapidly achieved fame around the globe, as World War 2 GIs carried Superman comics with them throughout World War II.

Captain America was another favorite comic of American GIs.  He first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 dated March 1941, which was actually on sale in December 1940.  It told the story of Steve Rogers, a classic 98 pound weakling, but with the heart of a lion.  A student of fine arts, he desperately wanted to fight for America in the war he saw coming against Nazi Germany, but was rejected by the Army due to his physical weakness.  He was offered an opportunity to serve his country by volunteering to be a  human guinea pig in an experiment by Dr. Josef Reinstein.  Reinstein injected him with a formula that transformed him into a perfect human specimen:  muscular, quick and agile.  He was to be the first of many volunteers who would be injected with this “super-soldier” formula, but a Nazi agent who had infiltrated the project shot Reinstein to death, before being subdued by Rogers, and therefore he would be the one and only “super-soldier”.  The first issue sold an astounding one million copies, an indication of just how popular Captain America would be with the American public.  However, not all of the public.  Writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby also received hate mail and death threats from isolationists and Nazi sympathizers in the country.  I guess Captain America punching out Hitler on the cover of  issue # 1 was a clear indication of where Simon and Kirby stood as to the Third Reich.

Captain America was by far the most popular super-hero of Timely Comics, the predecessor of Marvel Comics, appearing, in addition to his own comic, simultaneously in five other Timely comics.   He was especially popular among servicemen.   Steve Rogers joined the Army, and, in order to disguise his identity as Captain America, was something of a foulup, while secretly performing heroics as Captain America against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  Other than his heightened physical prowess, Captain America had no superpowers, and it was easier for his readers to identify with him than superheroes who possessed incredible abilities.  As clearly pointed out in his origin story, Steve Rogers always had the heart of a hero, the super-soldier formula merely allowing him to act on the heroism he already possessed.   Patriotism was also a constant theme in the Captain America comics, and the Forties was doubtless one of the more patriotic periods in American history.

With the ending of World War II the popularity of superhero comics waned.   Captain America comics endured until 1954, right on the cusp of the “Silver Age” revival of super-heroes.  Captain America was brought back by Marvel in 1963, with an Avengers story revealing that he had been in “suspended animation” on an iceberg since 1945.  (Ah, the suspension of disbelief require by comics is a wonder to behold!)  Captain America has been a fixture in Marvel Comics since, with much play being given to the fact that due to his suspended animation he is a man out of his time, and contrasting his attitudes of the Forties with those of the modern world.  He has often been used to support political causes that are out of step with him as a symbol of the nation.

The Captain America movie being released in July wisely deals with Captain America in the Forties when his character was at his most compelling.  The transformation of Steve Rogers into Captain America was a symbol of the transformation of the US from a relatively militarily impotent power into the global superpower that triumphed in 1945, and the victory of good over manifest evil.  It will be interesting to see whether the current generation of Americans responds to the Captain America movie with an enthusiasm similar to that of the World War II generation for the Captain America comics.

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  1. I really want to go see this, but I’m worried that the American patriotism will be toned down to make it palatable to an international audience.

    The only other “summer movie” that I’m looking forward to – with some reservations – is Cowboys & Aliens. If it takes itself too seriously, I don’t think it will be good. It needs to be slightly tongue-in-cheek.

    So far, I’d say this summer was a bust, with the exception of X-Men: First Class.

  2. I saw X-Men First Class which surprised me as I enjoyed it and I have hated the other X-Men movies. I am looking forward to Cowboys and Aliens also ( What a natural combination!). In regard to Captain America, it is always a mistake to predict a movie on the trailers, but I am willing to risk paying for movie tickets based on the good impression that the trailers left me with. If I am disappointed, I will make sure that TAC readers hear about it! 🙂

  3. Haha. I will see both of these movies. It is wise to note that the recent Marvel movies are setting up the eventual Avengers Movie(s). That should be fun.

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