Avengers Spotlight: Captain America
In the weeks leading up to the May 4th U.S. release of Marvel’s upcoming Avengers movie, ComicBooked.com will profile the comic book history of the core members from the super team. If you need to catch up, our initial installments have been the Invincible Iron Man and the Mighty Thor. This week, we tackle pop culture iconic Captain America.
SHIELD UNDERGROUND TRAINING ACADEMY
DIRECTOR FURY: “Okay, you pukes. We are going to have a special guest lecturer today. I have had the privilege and the pleasure of serving with him on more combat missions and special ops then I can recall and while I don’t always see eye-to-eye with him, there’s no man with more integrity or no arguing the point that he is the best soldier there has ever been. If you haven’t guessed already…and you don’t look like the brightest group to me…it’s Captain America.”
“That old frozen fossil?!”
FURY: “Who said that?! The whole lot of you numbskulls aren’t good enough to rinse out Cap’s red, white and blue skivvies. He could kick the snot out of you before breakfast and wouldn’t even overcook his three-minute egg. He was single-handedly battling for your freedom before your father was a glimmer in your grandfather’s eye. Even if you know the legend, you don’t know half story about the man. So why don’t you boys and girls sit back and relax while I light up this fine Maduro and spin you a tale of a skinny kid from Brooklyn who became an American icon.”
“Captain America was born in the Golden Age of comics. He first appeared in Timely Comics, the forerunner of Marvel, in Captain America Comics #1, cover dated in March 1941. The date is significant because it was months before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II. The cover art by legendary Jack “King” Kirby clearly pulls no punches, with Cap landing a haymaker on Hitler’s kisser. Created by writer Joe Simon and drawn by Kirby, Captain America Comics #1 tells the story of Steve Rogers, a frail, sickly youth who volunteers to take part in an experiment to create “a corps of super-agents whose mental and physical ability will make them a terror to spies and saboteurs.” The Super Soldier serum works, transforming Rogers into a physical dynamo, but a Nazi spy (later named as Heinz Kruger in Captain America #109) kills Professor Reinstein (aka Dr. Abraham Erskine) and destroys the formula, ensuring that Steve Rogers is the one and only Super Soldier. Cap’s first act is to apprehend the spy, but in the ensuing fight the terrorist stumbles into some laboratory equipment electrocuting himself. The tale has been told and retold by Marvel over the years, adding details and twists.
“In the original Simon story, Private Steve Rogers is stationed with his regiment at Camp Lehigh. One day, while changing out of his Captain America uniform he is discovered by Bucky Barnes, a boy who idolizes Cap. In order to secure his secret, Cap partners with Bucky to fight the ‘vicious elements who seek to overthrow the U.S. government.’
“For 10 cents, Timely Comics would even send you an official badge and membership card to the Sentinels of Liberty, Cap’s fan club.
“The comic was extremely popular and broke new artistic ground by featuring splashy two-page spreads in some stories. The first issue also introduced Cap’s arch-nemesis, the Red Skull. The original Red Skull was not Johann Schmidt, but an American industrialist turned saboteur by the name of George Maxon. Schmidt was introduced as the Red Skull in Captain America Comics #7.
“The end of World War II, however, also spelled trouble for the title. Cap’s popularity waned and Marvel decided to retire him for two decades, except for a brief failed revival in the fifties battling the “communist threat.”
“In Avengers #71, published in 1969, Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema revisited World War II history and created the super team The Invaders to battle the Axis powers, Hydra and Baron Strucker. Besides Cap and Bucky, the team included the Human Torch (despite the name he was an android) and his sidekick, the equally flammable boy Toro and the crotchety king of the sea, Namor, the Sub-Mariner.
“In Avengers #4, published in 1963, Namor is forced to flee to the Arctic after an encounter with the original Avengers. There he encounters a group of Eskimos who seem to be worshipping a mysterious figure encased in a block of ice. In a fit of anger, Namor tosses the block of ice into the sea, setting in motion the discovery and reintroduction of Captain America.
“The Avengers in their submarine discover Cap floating in the Gulf Stream and revive him. Awoken after decades of suspended animation, Cap recounts the last thing he remembers; how he and Bucky tried to stop a drone plane loaded with explosives. While Bucky reaches the plane, Cap doesn’t. The plane explodes and Bucky is seemingly killed and Cap is hurled into the ocean, unconscious.
“The story, written by Stan Lee, illustrated by Kirby and lettered by Art Simek, details Cap’s feeling of disorientation, guilt over Bucky’s death and the feeling of lost purpose. That purpose is rekindled with the opportunity to join the Avengers in a battle in New York City against Namor and his elite Atlantean guard.
“If you want to dig deeper, I would urge you to check out Captain America: A Man Out of Time, published in November 2010. Written by Mark Waid, penciled by Jorge Molina, inked by Karl Kesel and colored by Frank D’Armata, A Man Out of Time explores Cap’s back story and reawakening.
THROUGH THE YEARS
“Cap remains a central figure in the Avengers, as well as partnering with Rick Jones and fellow Avenger, The Falcon, the first African American hero in mainstream comics. Besides the Red Skull, Cap butts heads with M.O.D.O.K., Hydra, AIM, Dr. Faustus and Crossbones, to name a few.
“His on-again, off-again love interest has been S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13 Sharon Carter, the niece of his one-time girlfriend Peggie Carter.
“More recently, Cap was a central figure in Civil War, an epic tale that pits Avenger against Avenger and even husband against wife over the issue of the Superhuman Registration Act. Following the death of hundreds of school children as the result of the rash actions of a group of super-powered wannabe heroes, the government passes the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring folks like the Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four to register with the government for training as public employees.
“Cap comes out squarely against registration, leading a group of Avengers against Iron Man and those in support of registration. On the verge of winning the battle against Iron Man, Cap relinquishes when he realizes that he has lost the support of the common people—the same ones that he risks his life for every day.
“If you have a chance, you should at least pick up the graphic novel Civil War, a compilation of a series written by Mark Millar and penciled by Steven McNiven. There’s also some marvelous variant covers by Michael Turner.
“Civil War ends with Cap incarcerated for his role in leading the anti-registration forces. That leads into Marvel’s headline-grabbing Death of Captain America story line, penned by Eisner-Award-winning writer Ed Brubaker. Now, of course, since Cap is coming here today,…”
CAPTAIN AMERICA: “Fury, don’t you ever shut up? I came here to talk with these fine young men and women, not hear you flap your gums. And get rid of that stogie. I have a couple of Partagas we can smoke later.”
FURY: “Wait a second. You have Cuban cigars? You know Rogers… you have changed.”