When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield…
By Bert Ehrmann
July 15, 2011
happens to be clobberin' Hitler!
Captain America has to be one of the most recognizable super-heroes of all time, yet I doubt very many people really know the true origin of Cap', or that there's really been two separate origins of the character since he was first created nearly 70 years ago.
The first comic book entitled Captain America was published in March, 1941 by Timely Comics, nine months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the Second World War. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the 1940s version of Captain America focused on literal "90 pound weakling" Steve Rogers who is turned into a super-soldier via a experimental serum from scientist Professor Reinstein. While the serum doesn't give Rogers super-powers per-se, it does give him incredible strength, speed and agility who, along with his shield, is practically indestructible.
Rogers was set to be the first of many super-soldiers for America's involvement in WW2, but Reinstein was killed by an enemy agent just after the creation of Captain America and the secret of the serum died with him. Throughout the 1940s Cap' fought his nemesis The Red Skull and the Nazis along with his side-kick Bucky. Captain America was so popular that a 15 chapter serial of the character was shown in movie theaters in 1944.
Dressed as the living red, white and blue embodiment of the American flag, Captain America (most of the time anyway) only carries a shield into battle. He's the idealized vision of America, the protector and defender of the week who is incredibly strong but isn't interested in aggression.
After the end of WW2 Captain America fell out of favor with the public and eventually that comic book was cancelled.
In 1964 Captain America was reintroduced by Marvel Comics who had inherited many of the Timely characters when the first team of The Avengers found Captain America literally frozen in a block of ice after a mission during WW2 went astray. In this updated version of the character, Captain America had slept for 20 years and is a literal man out of time who must face an America, even an entire world, quite different from the one he left in the 1940s. In the book "Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics" (1991), author Les Daniels describes Cap's situation as, "…he seeks the meaning of freedom in a time where patriotism may not be the same thing as unquestioning loyalty to political leaders."
In fact, this "man out of time" version of Captain America, where the hero must come to terms with having come to age in the past but forced to live in an uncertain and quite different present is the backstory of all modern versions of the character.
After his reintroduction in the 1960s, Cap' sprung back to prominence and since has become one of the most popular comic book characters in the Marvel line-up. Along with the comic version of Cap', there was a 1966 Captain America cartoon where instead of fighting Nazis Cap' fought Commies, two movies of the week in 1979 starring Reb Brown as a motorcycle riding, van driving, free-spirit Captain America and even a feature film version of the character in 1990.
Interestingly enough, the Captain America comic book sprung to an even greater prominence after the events of 9/11 with Cap' leading the charge into battle against terrorists and all other enemies that might threaten the U.S.
Now the biggest version of Captain America, with an estimated budget of $140 million, is set to be released in theaters July 22 as Captain America: The First Avenger. From all appearances this film looks to be a retelling of the 1940s version of the character, where meek Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) becomes mighty Captain America who's sent to fight the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his minions who want to rule the world alongside the Nazis.
Along with the Iron Man films and Thor movie earlier this year, this big screen version of Captain America is part of the foundation for the upcoming The Avengers movie due out next year. So, is Captain America: The First Avenger just a prequel to The Avengers, hence the title, and not a movie that can be enjoyed on its own? Let's hope not.