Today is a very big day for me, both as a fan of my childhood memories, my admittedly naïve point of view of patriotism, and my love of cinematic artistry. Yes, today is a big day because this is the opening day for the new film by Marvel Studios, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER!
To most of you reading this blog, your first thought is probably “WTH??? It’s just the latest in a long line of ongoing movies based on some funny book character, probably silly and aimed at kids. What’s the big deal?”
To fully explain why I feel this way, travel with me for a moment to 1966. I was only seven years old and was just becoming comfortable with reading. Still, books with pictures made reading easier, and comics were the perfect venue to feed my growing thirst for adventure in reading. I’ve written before in this blog about my view of the 60s from my childhood, Colquitt County, GA perspective. All the adults in my world were survivors of WWII and/or Korea, and patriotism ran high. I ALWAYS had a very strong love for our flag and the freedom it represented, so when I walked into Mrs. Walker’s newsstand with my quarter in hand, I fully intended to buy 2-comics (12-cents each), probably Batman and Spider-Man. But as soon as I saw Captain America on the cover of Tales of Suspense (ToS) #86, my decision was made. And it has been a love affair ever since.
From the pages of ToS and into other titles where Captain America appeared (The Avengers, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD or SGT Fury and his Howling Commandos) and cartoons, I loved Captain America.
I saved my pennies to buy any and everything I could find with his image on it, from coloring books to model kits to the classic Captain Action “action figure.” Some of you may not remember Captain Action. In a day when G.I. Joe was a 12” figure patterned after the actual military, Captain Action was a superhero with interchangeable costumes. In addition to being CPT Action, costumes of 24 other heroes could be purchased to allow him to be any of those characters as well. Among such well-known names as Batman and Superman were Lone Ranger, Phantom, Green Hornet and, of course, Captain America!
I added buttons, puzzles, and a pretty adult-oriented paperback to my collection as I grew older. To me, Captain America was the spirit of freedom in a world oppressed by the threat of communism, nuclear holocaust, and Mideast turmoil.
For those of you not familiar with the classic origin of Cap (cool kids in the know call him “Cap”), he was young Steve Rogers when WWII erupted. Rogers was too small and physically inept for military service, but although he was rejected time and again for the Army, he was chosen to be an experimental guinea pig for a process called PROJECT SUPER SOLDIER. The experiment turned him into a super soldier indeed, the planned first of many, but a Nazi terrorist killed the doctor, erasing any chance of others receiving the serum. Avenging the doctor’s death, Steve Rogers became America’s symbol of freedom and liberty.
Created by the legendary team of Jack “King” Kirby and Joe Simon in 1940, issue #1 appeared a full year ahead of Pearl Harbor. Thus, this cover, depicting Cap smashing Adolph Hitler, adorned newsstands 12-months BEFORE the USA entered the war. Pretty cool, huh?
With Batman scoring huge sales with his teenage sidekick, Robin, other comic characters sported sidekicks as well. Cap’s was Bucky Barnes, an orphan who joined Cap in his battle against the Nazis and the nefarious Red Skull! (One of the most evil and visually stunning villains in comic history).
When WWII ended, sales in comics in general and Captain America in particular waned. He fell into obscurity despite a failed comeback in the 50s, returning under the genius of Stan Lee in 1962 as Marvel Comics exploded across the world. In Stan’s version, Cap had been thought killed in 1945 when he and Bucky attempted to thwart a Nazi bomb high above the English Channel. Bucky indeed was killed, but Cap survived, frozen in ice in suspended animation for 20 years, revived in 1965 to fight the new wave of Nazi oppression, the sinister Hydra! It was about this time that I “discovered” Cap.
Now, roughly 45 years later, the world of my 1966 youth no longer exists. But my love for this great icon of what America COULD be remains strong. I have survived some putrid movies (a couple of TV stinkers and a 1989 video) to get to this point. The makers of this film say they have “toned down” the patriotic theme of Cap to make this movie appeal to ALL people worldwide. What a shame!
Captain America represents an era when our flag really meant something to EVERYONE worldwide, and it’s what it still means to me today. One look at Old Glory waving in the brisk morning dawn reminds me that freedom still exists, a freedom purchased by the blood of patriots who saw that flag as meaning something greater than the sum total of her parts. Captain America corny? Outdated? Not to me. This weekend, he will FINALLY get the big screen attention he deserves. I just hope the makers of this film know what they have in their hands and don’t lose sight of what this great character represents. He’s far from “just another character from the funny books” to me.
In an age when I was so young that I didn’t really know anything about history or why it was important, Captain America was a visual that said, “Show some respect, kid! These colors represent all that’s good in your world!” And I still believe it!
Here’s a look at the trailer for the film, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER! Check it out. I’ll see you at the movies!