Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Captain! My Captain!

The month of March marks the 71st anniversary of Captain America Comics #1, and the debut of the magazine’s red, white, and blue title character, published Timely Comics (predecessor of Marvel Comics). Created by writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby, Captain America springs to life after a patriotic young man named Steve Rogers volunteers to be a test subject for a super solider serum that enhances his underdeveloped body to the peak of physical perfection. Armed with his newly acquired strength and nearly indestructible shield, Rogers soon finds himself battling costumed thugs and Nazi villains including the Red Skull, who would become his arch nemesis for decades. As a founding member of the superhero group the Invaders, Cap and his sidekick Bucky battled along side the Sub Mariner from Atlantis and the original Human Torch against other Nazi baddies like the vampire Baron Blood and Master Man (a Nazi version of himself). Near the war’s end, Cap became frozen in ice in the North Atlantic only to be revived years later by the superhero team the Avengers, which he would go on to lead. He remains one of the pillars of the Marvel Universe and a champion of truth and justice.

Given Cap’s long history, it may not be surprising to learn that he was the first character from Marvel stable to receive a live-action treatment. The 15-chapter serial Captain America, from Republic Pictures, features Dick Purcell as the eponymous hero who goes up against the revenge seeking Scarab. Much to Timely’s dismay, Republic took huge liberties with the character including changing his alter ego to Grant Gardener and giving him a gun instead of a shield. The 35-year-old Purcell died a few weeks after filming was completed.

Cap made an unauthorized appearance in 3 Dev Adam, a 1973 Turkish action film which also includes knockoffs of Spider-Man and Mexican wrestler Santo. Six years later, CBS aired two television movies starring Reb Brown as the hero in contemporary times: Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Both films were recenlty released on DVDIn 1990, Matt Salinger donned the costume for Captain America, in which he squared off against an Italian Red Skull.

Chris Evans helmed the role in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie focuses on Cap’s origin and his wartime battle with the Red Skull before concluding with a lead-in for the soon-to-be-released The Avengers. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but you certainly can’t keep a good man down.

(Images, top to bottom: Dick Purcell as Captain America in the 1944 Republic Pictures serial Captain America; Chris Evans as Steve Rogers and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in the upcoming film The Avengers, Marvel Studios)

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