Thursday, July 7, 2011

Deconstructing Captain America

It is only a few weeks until Captain America will make his major motion picture debut! I know there was an earlier movie, a TV pilot, The Merry Marching Marvel Society and various animated appearances but THIS is the big time. An “A” list picture with all the fanfare that goes with it.

I’ve enjoyed Thor and Green Lantern this summer but THIS is the one I’ve been waiting for. My hope is that Cap will have the sort of debut that Superman had back when Chris Reeve first authored the part.

The early buzz is certainly encouraging, and every trailer I’ve seen sucks you right in!

As is the case with every major Superhero movie, interest in the character goes up as we get closer to the release date. With that in mind I thought I might take a swing at deconstructing captain America for those of you who may be new to the character. Bear in mind that this is only MY take on Cap.
To understand the essential core of the character it is important to have a feel for the time in which he was created. Cap first saw print as we were about to enter WWII.

It is easy today to overlook the fact that, in 1941, there was a real sense that The Third Reich would indeed last 1000 years. Hitler’s Germany had already conquered most of Europe, forged an alliance with Imperial Japan and a non-aggression pact (that they would eventually violate) with Russia. There seemed to be little that would even slow down the Nazi juggernaut. It was this threat that slowly pulled the United States from it Post WWI isolationist stance and transformed us into a player on the world stage. Part of that transformation required…symbols. Iconography for people to rally around. Patriotic songs, films, frankly racist imagery portraying the enemy as sub human and close censorship were all vital parts of that propaganda machine.

What better iconography could there be than a red, white and blue avenger decked out in the American Flag, socking the Nazi paper hanger square on the jaw? Thus was born Captain America. At his core Cap is the idolized image of America’s ultimate protector.

In all the years since his debut that essential fact has not changed.

Cap remains the protector of the American Idea.

HOW he protects it has changed many times.

During WWII he was the physical antithesis of the Nazi Ubermensch.

In the early 50’s it was Captain America “Commie Hunter”

During the Viet Nam Era it was Captain America as a man out of his time still fighting the good fight.

POST Viet Nam Cap articulates for the first time that he is not the protector of any single administration, party or political belief. He is instead the protector of the core IDEA that the Founding Fathers based this country on…liberty for all people. This revelation comes at a time when, so disillusioned by the corruption in government, Cap drops his red white and blue trappings for the personality of Nomad.

Most recently, Cap has been out of uniform filling the shoes of Nick Fury but that has not felt right either to Cap or anyone else.

In the latest issue of Fear Itself, Cap dons his uniform again and is simply, Captain America protector of THE PEOPLE.

In all of his incarnations going back some seven decades Captain America has been the idolized icon of American strength and virtue. He has at times reflected the extreme jingoism that periodically sweeps any nation. At other times he has been a counter culture champion.

His very iconography, the American Flag, labels him to friends AND enemies of America so he is by definition polarizing.

All of these facets make Cap endlessly fascinating to read and I imagine, fascinating to create.

For all of these things though, it important to remember one thing…

Cap is the hero by which all other Marvel heroes are measured. He is the example.

Captain America….HERO.

That’s 30!


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