After the recent success of movies from Marvel Studios such as the X-Men franchise, Iron Man, and most recently Thor, Marvel are now bringing one of their most human characters to the big screen; Captain America.
Since the comic book series was relaunched in 2005 under the guidance of its writer, Ed Brubaker, it has remained consistently popular. The character even appeared in global news headlines in 2007 after much publicity surrounding the death of Captain America. Although the average person may have a general awareness of Captain America, its likely they won’t be able to tell you much about him. At its core, Captain America is about a man who wants to serve his country and ends up becoming a symbol that inspires others to greatness. But who is the man, Steve Rogers, behind the mask? And what makes him so special?
Captain America was created in 1941 by Joe Casey and Jack Kirby. As a patriotic symbol for America, with a costume inspired by the national flag, he was often shown fighting the Axis powers in World War II and unsurprisingly was extremely popular during that era. After the war ended the character floated in limbo for a while before being revived in the 1960s. He was found floating in a block of ice in suspended animation, was successfully revived and then became a member of the Avengers. Since then Captain America has featured most frequently in the Avengers comic as well and several of his own series.
When people talk about Captain America, they usually mean Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. Several other men have worn the uniform and carried the famous shield when he took a hiatus for whatever reason, but Steve Rogers was the first. The new movie is set in World War II and as well as focusing on the origin of Captain America and his efforts against the Nazis, it is also the origin story of the man.
It’s a very minor spoiler but Steve Rogers was a very skinny and physically unimpressive young man who was rejected numerous times from joining the army. He was determined to fight for his country against the Third Reich but was turned down several times before finally being offered an opportunity to serve in a different way. He volunteered to be a test subject in an experimental project that was designed to improve the physical fitness of its soldiers and create a super-soldier. The serum worked on him much better than anyone could have anticipated and he was transformed from a ninety pound weakling into a man in peak physical condition. The super-soldier project did not continue after Steve Rogers, the reasons for which will be explained in the movie, and he became its only beneficiary.
Unlike other superheroes Captain America does not have any blatant superpowers and all of his skills and abilities were acquired through training. His physical prowess, strength and agility are all within the realms of human possibility (though enhanced by the super-soldier serum) so he cannot fly or shoot webs from his wrists. In some ways this makes him a lot more relatable than other superheroes, as he is not a god, a mutant, or an egomaniacal billionaire arms manufacturer. There is also a tiny seed of hope that with enough hard work and physical training its just conceivable anyone could become a bit like Captain America.
In the comics other people easily relate to him because Steve Rogers is just an ordinary kid from New York who got lucky. His new abilities didn’t change his personality, they didn’t make him arrogant or cruel or reckless, they gave him the opportunity to fulfill the potential that was already there. His powers didn’t make him immortal but they did make him very powerful and he could have used them to take advantage of others, but he never did that because it wasn’t in his nature.
In one of the movie trailers, we see a skinny Steve Rogers dive onto a live grenade to protect his fellow soldiers in training. This selfless act is just one example of the many reasons that he inspires such fierce and loyal followers as a living symbol of America in that era. His friends know that he will do whatever is necessary to get the job done, that he will never stop and never surrender, and they want to be just like him. The super-soldier serum made him physically perfect, but the great man was already there. This is the heart of the character.
The other part of the character, about being a man out of time and whether or not he is still relevant to society in the 21st century, is not something we’ll see explored in the first movie, but it might be part of the story in any potential sequels.
There are some small changes in the movie compared to the comic, but they look slight and at its core the character is the same. Captain America: The First Avenger opens nationwide this week on Friday July 22nd. As mentioned earlier, the Captain America comic book was relaunched a few years ago and in my opinion the series has never been better. If you’ve not read a Captain America comic before then I would recommend seeing the movie and then starting with Captain America: Winter Soldier Book One, the first volume written by Ed Brubaker.