Before You Go: Captain America

Welcome to Before You Go, the feature in which I give you all the background you need to enjoy tomorrow’s big nerd movie (I really need to put that on a save string or something so I don’t have to type it out all the time). Today — “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

Now, you may be wondering why does “Captain America” have that odd tagline when no other Marvel movie does. It’s not even accurate — Thor was out avenging wronged Vikings long before World War II. It turns out America isn’t all that popular in some parts of the world so the studio wanted to give its overseas markets the option of dropping the “Captain America” part of the title. Only three countries did: Russia, Ukraine and South Korea.

Let’s Rap About Cap

Captain America was created by Stan Lee and Jack, oops…sorry…force of habit. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Stan had nothing to do with it.

He first appeared in 1941 in Captain America Comics No. 1 published by Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel. Yes, that’s him punching Hitler in the jaw in his first appearance. America hadn’t even entered the war yet, but Cap couldn’t wait around to beat up Nazis.

This is the story of Steve Rogers, a scrawny young man with a heart of gold and indomitable spirit who wanted to join the army and fight Nazis but was declared unfit. Thanks to his heart of gold and indomitable spirit he was whisked away to a top-secret project where they filled him full of a special mix of 1940s steroids and turned him into the perfect physical specimen. The scientist who concocted the Super Soldier serum was killed shortly thereafter, ensuring that there would never be another like Cap.

Cap was given a boy sidekick – Bucky – because young sidekicks were all the rage at the time. He was also given a shield to fight with, because shields were all the rage in WWII. The shield has gone through changes over the years, but the bottom line is this: When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who choose to oppose his shield must yield.

Captain America was pretty popular during the war years but the fickle public lost interest once the battle was won and Cap’s comic ended in the mid-fifties.

A Man Out Of Time

In 1964, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were riding high on their newly created line of comics at the now Marvel Comics company and decided it was time to bring back Cap. They did so in the immortal fourth issue of The Avengers.

In the story, Cap disappears in the last days of WWII while trying to stop a rocket. He falls into the North Atlantic and is frozen in a block of ice. Said block of ice is found almost 20 years later by The Avengers, who invite Rogers to join their team. With nowhere else to go, Rogers agrees and becomes a mainstay and frequent leader of the group.

The savvy among you will note that this story contradicts the fact that Timely Comics was publishing Captain America stories into the 1950s. This is another example of the retcon, a concept I have already explained at length and so don’t need to go over again.

Cap was eventually given his own title, after sharing a book with Iron Man for a while, and he’s pretty much had one ever since. Cap has occasionally given up the Captain America identity and it has briefly fallen into other hands but that rarely ends well. Most recently Cap was replaced by his old partner Bucky after Cap was shot and killed during the Superhero Civil War (He got better).

Interesting story about Bucky: When Cap was brought back in Avengers 4, Bucky was apparently killed in the rocket incident that put Cap in deep freeze (Stan reportedly hated kid sidekicks). Cap spent many years mourning Buck’s death. It was such an important moment that all agreed that only three Marvel deaths should never be overturned: Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and Bucky.

About 40 years later they brought Bucky back. The Soviets found him and brainwashed him and had been using him as their secret black ops guy. He came to his senses just in time to replace Cap after his death. Bucky was recently killed — again – just in time to get Rogers back in the flag suit for the movie.

A Star-Spangled Star

“Captain America: The First Avenger” is the latest movie from Marvel Studios, which has been linking all their films (“Iron Man,” “Incredible Hulk” and “Thor”) into one grand tapestry that will lead into next year’s “The Avengers.”

Chris Evans, who played the Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” films, has been tapped to play Steve Rogers. His arch-enemy, the Red Skull, is played by Hugo Weaving, because it’s not a nerd movie franchise without Hugo Weaving.

Read More About It

To be honest, I haven’t read a lot of Captain America comics. I get my fill of him in “The Avengers.” So I can’t advise you much. I’m sure there are collections of his Golden Age stuff out there, but Golden Age stuff is pretty dated. The Essential line collects the Silver Age stories in a cheap format, but a lot of Silver Age stuff isn’t worth plowing through either.

Ironically, the first time I briefly collected “Captain America” was in the ’70s when he decided to quit being Captain America after he discovered Richard Nixon was the leader of the evil Secret Empire. Nixon shot himself in the head when Cap unmasked him, which shook up Cap pretty bad. There were some interesting comics made in the ’70s.

Cap eventually took on a new identity — Nomad, Man Without a Country — but eventually went back to being Cap. At which point I stopped reading. Just lost interest. According to Amazon, you can find these stories in a two-book series called “Captain America by Steve Englehart.”

The next time I tried collecting Cap was during the Heroes Reborn era. It was OK but nothing special and I dropped it within a year. The last time I collected Cap was after 9/11 when John Ney Rieber and John Cassaday did a brief run. It’s a pretty ham-handed Cap vs. Terrorists story but Cassaday’s art is very pretty. Available in book form as “Captain America: The New Deal.”

For the past few years the book as been written by Ed Brubaker and he’s gotten a lot of praise for his work, so if it’s recent Cap you’re interested in, check it out.

And that’s all you need to know — Before You Go.

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