Primer: Captain America

As the Captain America movie opens on Friday, I thought I’d break down the most important aspects of the comic book character, and what we can hope to expect from the film.

How long has Captain America been around?

Captain America was co-created in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, prior to the United States entry into World War II. Immediately popular in the ultrapatriotic (and sometimes jingoistic) times leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While the US official policy at the time was that of neutrality, Captain America took no prisoners, punching Hitler in the mouth on the cover of his first issue.

Captain America Comics remained popular throughout the war and into the late 1940’s. There were attempts of continuing the character into the 1950s, but like all superhero comics, the character took a backseat to horror, romance, sci-fi, and other genres.

Josh Flanagan wrote an amazing piece which captures what makes the character so special.

Cap looks pretty buff there, but the previews show him as really thin and short.

In his origin, Steve Rogers is just a super-scrawny kid from New York, wanting to enlist for his country, but is rejected for not being strong enough. However, Col. Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones in the film) invites him to Operation: Rebirth, a top secret testing of a serum to create an army of ‘super soldiers’ for the United States. Leading this project is Dr. Abraham Erksine (Stanley Tucci!), a defector from the Third Reich. The movie version seems to add Howard Stark (Iron Man’s dad!) to the mix as well.

Super Soldier? What are his powers?

He doesn’t have any super powers like Superman or Green Lantern, but he’s not just a regular guy, either. Basically, imagine an Olympic athlete at the top of his game (Jesse Owens, maybe?) and increase his speed, strength, and stamina by 25-50%. Cap also uses his shield as his main ‘weapon.’

This was highly symbolic originally, as a representation of US power, Captain America used a shield, a defensive item. This represented the view of America protecting the weak, and acting out of defense, not of aggression like the Axis.

Who are the other people on the poster?

The guy immediately to the left of Cap’s left hand, is James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, his World War II sidekick. Originally used as a symbol to rally America’s youth, Bucky joined Cap after discovering his identity. Believed dead for a long time, he recently reappeared as the Winter Soldier (more on that later).

The rest of the crew around him are the Howling Commandos, an elite crack squad designated to take on the toughest missions. In the comics, their leader is Sgt. Nick Fury, who has been seen in the present day in the Iron Man film and Thor.

Behind and to the right is Cap’s eternal nemesis the Nazi Johann Schmidt, better known as Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), the leader of the Nazi terrorist and sabotage group. He survives into the present day, and continues to attempt to destroy the United States.

In the comics, doesn’t he end up fighting alongside Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk? How does he get to the present day?

In the comics, Captain America and Bucky attempt to thwart a plot by another Nazi villain, Baron Zemo, by trying to diffuse a bomb on an experimental plane. The bomb explodes, Bucky is (presumably) killed, and Steve Rogers is frozen beneath the Atlantic Ocean until he is discovered by the Avengers in the present day (which was then 1964).

Want to know more?

That basically covers the character’s origin. If you want to know more, the awesome comic book website IFanboy has dedicated two of their video podcasts to Captain America. One focusing on the characters history, and the newest one is more of a preview of the film.

Reading recommendation:

Being more of a DC guy, I haven’t read much Captain America, but I highly recommend the beginning of Ed Brubaker’s current run on the character. It’s been collected into story arcs, and the first one is called Winter Solder, and the second is Red Menace (each well under $20 from Amazon right now! A steal for this many comics!). While they take place in the present day, they both feature plenty of flashbacks to WWII, international intrigue, and a nefarious plot by Red Skull. And the writing is great. One of the high watermarks of superhero comics in the last 10 years.

If that’s not enough, iFanboy writer Chris Arrant has some more suggestions.

I can’t wait for the film, check back here for our review Monday!