I love Captain America. For many years he has jockeyed with Spider-Man for the number one slot on my list of favorite comic book heroes. Here is one of my favorite comic book covers of Captain America:

I had this as a poster hanging on my wall in my younger days. The artist is Mike Zeck.

Captain America/Steve Rogers was fighting for the U.S. In WWII before the U.S. was actually in the war. He debuted in Captain America Comics #1 in December 1940 (dated March 1941). The cover of that first issue famously shows Cap socking Hitler in the jaw. That image aided in politicizing the character for obvious and much-intended reasons.

Throughout the war, Captain America was shown fighting the enemies of America, Germany and Japan. Each side was villainized and demonized through characters and caricatures. Certainly, Marvel (then Timely) wasn’t the only one churning out what could easily be considered a form propaganda. Over at DC, Superman, Batman and Robin were all doing their parts.

When the war ended and Captain America’s popularity waned, they stopped publishing the book. The last issue of Captain America Comics was published in 1950. He was “revived” 14 years later in Avengers #4. The book explained how he was thrown into the waters of the North Atlantic while trying to save the world, was frozen, found years later and revived by the Avengers (a group with which we’re all becoming more and more familiar.)

Continuously rewritten continuities and the inevitable march of time makes it impossible to actually discern a linear path, but at his core, the post-Golden Age Captain America is a man out of time. He went to sleep thinking the world and the United States was one thing and when he woke up, it’s something different. That’s what I find most intriguing. Since 1964 the character has been used to address the America of the time. The Captain America stories of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc. were reflective of America at the time. I’ve always found that intriguing.

How do you fight for America when you aren’t really sure what it is anymore?

That’s a snake pit. One that writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely and director Joe Johnston masterfully negotiated. They removed the uber-patriot from the equation and, if anything, poked fun at it and used it to give the character more depth and greater purpose. It’s not standing for patriotism. He’s standing for right.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) was a weak, scrawny kid from Brooklyn. He sees all his friends going off to fight in the war, including his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). He just wanted to do his part. Not because he was feeling extremely patriotic, but because it was the right thing to do. Hitler was a bully and he “doesn’t like bullies, no matter where their from.”

It was that heart and sentiment that lead Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to select him for a secret government project headed by Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and funded by Senator Brandt (Michael Brandon). Working with Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Dr. Erskine developed a serum and a process that transforms Steve into a super soldier.

Awesome. That worked. Let’s make a lot more of those guys… Not so fast. An assassin working for Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), the Red Skull, infiltrated the project, killed Erskine and destroyed the possibility of more super soldiers. Steve would be the only one.

You’d think that Captain America in all his star-spangled regalia would be parachuting in to Berlin to sock Hitler in the jaw. Not so fast. Phillips wants to ship Rogers off to a testing facility, not the front lines. Steve doesn’t want to be a lab rat, so he opts to help the war effort by taking up an offer from Senator Brandt.

Steve Rogers first becomes dons the stars and stripes of Captain America to sell war bonds. He hops around the country with a squad of dancing girls riling up audiences to support the war effort. He’s signing autographs and kissing babies. The costume he wears is dead-on for the comic book… and it looks completely ridiculous. It’s a perfect example of how exact translations from page to screen don’t work. They even slip in that famous cover of Captain America #1 as excited little boys paw at a stack of comic books.

Absolutely perfect.

Steve finds himself in Italy, performing for actual soldiers fighting the fight and is not met with the normal warm reception he finds in the states, he questions what he’s doing. Yeah, he’s helping the war effort. But, he’s not out there fighting. He’s not getting his hands dirty. He’s not honoring the other men out there fighting if he can’t fight along side them.

When he learns that men from Bucky’s  107th have been captured by Schmidt’s Nazi spinoff HYDRA, he disobeys orders and goes in to get them out.

That’s when Captain America becomes Captain America. And he’s not just pounding Nazi chumps. That would be too easy. Cap is going after the Red Skull, who has harnessed the power of the cosmic cube. You won’t know it’s the cosmic cube, but it is. It’s this crazy, glowing cube that you saw in Thor and is rumored to be at the center of story for the Avengers movie. Anyway, the Red Skull is using the power of the cube to create WMDs to put in the hands of his HYDRA soldiers.

Cap, along with the Howling Commandos, marches across Europe stomping out HYDRA and driving back the Red Skull and his plan for world domination.

YES! That’s what it’s about. I know I started by overly romanticizing Captain America, but I do that. I mean, he’s been a part of our culture for over 70 years and an accessory to my life for many, many years. Some time I forget to mention, it’s so much fun! It’s comic books. And, while there’s right measure of heart and very smart storytelling, there’s also a tremendous amount of energy and excitement.

When Cap really gets going, it’s a fantastically fun adventure movie. I got a twinge of Indiana Jones in parts. It wasn’t direct or right there on the surface as obvious homage, but it was certainly there, a familiar feeling. It was a romp and enormously enjoyable.

Where Transformers was an assault on the senses and almost abusive, Captain America: The First Avenger was engaging and edge of your seat-y. Spectacular.

I never doubted Chris Evans. I’ve always enjoyed him in movies purely for his Chris Evans-ness. He’s usually light and jokey, very Johnny Storm. However, if you see him in Sunshine (which you should see him in Sunshine), you’ll know he has the chops to carry the meatier stuff and more serious aspects of Captain America.

See it in 2D. I’m a little 3D’d out and some movies do it well and others don’t. The 3D in Cap wasn’t particularly useful. It didn’t add to anything and periodically I caught myself thinking, “I hate wearing these glasses.” In my head I said glasses like Velma in Scooby Doo.

The best thing about Captain American: The First Avenger is that you see it setting the foundation and pulling together the other Marvel movies in preparation for the Avengers movie. It reaches out and grabs Iron Man and Thor. It points you ahead to what’s to come. Even without seeing the post-trailer teases, it’s so exciting. Comic book geeks aren’t alone in this anymore. We’re all together. Are you excited? I’m excited.

Here’s another one of my favorites. It’s from an issue of The Uncanny X-Men. The artist is Jim Lee.

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