Saturday, August 27, 2011

Captain America (Rhoades)

“Captain America” Wins the War
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Hey, kids, I know Joe Simon, the legendary comic book creator who along with Jack “The King” Kirby created Captain America back in 1941. I even have a signed limited-edition Captain America poster that Joe personally dropped off at my office when I was publisher of Marvel Comics back in the day.
Joe is a big guy, tall, almost as large as his iconic superhero. Still going strong at 98, he’s as miraculous as his comic book characters.

“Creating a patriotic hero was a natural thing to do,” says Joe Simon. America was at war at the time. “Back then we had the Nazis coming after us for what we did to their Fuhrer, but the world is an even more dangerous place today, with the weapons out there and the threat of terrorism. So Cap is more important than ever, and the readers need him more than ever. They need a hero they can count on to do the right thing.”
Cap started off as a scrawny wannabe soldier – that is, until the military decided to test is its secret serum on him, turning him into a Super Soldier. Bigger, quicker, stronger.

In the new “Captain America: The First Avenger” movie – likely to be the biggest comic book blockbuster of the summer – we meet Steve Rogers (played by a skinny guy with star Chris Evans’s face digitally imposed) who wants to do his part for the war effort. But he’s not exactly combat material – until he gets that high-test ejection concocted by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Then, Steve transforms into a pumped-up version of himself that looks like real-life Chris Evans.

True to its origins, the setting of the film is World War II. That long-ago origin of Cap didn’t bother us at Marvel. We merely had him cryogenically frozen in an iceberg until modern times, allowing him to join today’s Avengers (as you’ll see in the upcoming “Avengers” movie, scheduled for May 2012).

But first, “Captain America: The First Avenger” – which is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Here, the so-called Sentinel of Liberty dons a red-white-and-blue suit, hefts a shield made of an impermeable Vibranium-steel alloy, and plunges head-first into battle for the good ol’ U. S. of A. Pistol blazing, he faces off against Johann Schmidt (movie baddie Hugo Weaving), who happens to be a Nazi kingpin known as the Red Skull. He wears a crimson death mask to prove his supervillain identity.

Sure, we know how World War II turns out – thanks to Captain Americas, if you live in the Marvel Universe.

And the movie is true to the comic book storyline.

“Cap could be our best movie to date,” Marvel’s editor-in-chief Joe Quesada told me this week. “While everyone has come to expect incredible characters and mindbending wall-to-wall action in all our Marvel movies, Cap really hits a very big emotional chord for me. From 90 lbs. weakling, kid from Brooklyn to iconic super soldier, you can’t help but fall in love with and root for Steve Rogers.”

Cap’s transformation is reminiscent of those Charles Atlas ads you used to see on the back cover of comic books where a bully kicks sand in a nerd’s face until he pumps up with an exercise program and becomes “the hero of the beach.”

Some fanboys like to say Captain America had no superpowers (no, he couldn’t fly) but his enhanced abilities put him ahead of those other grunts. And ahead of his nemesis, the Red Skull.

The character first appeared in “Captain America Comics #1” in March 1941. Back then, Marvel Comics was known as Timely and Stan Lee was merely the publisher’s cousin who fetched coffee for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

While Joe Simon and the late Jack Kirby created many characters for comics over the years (e.g. Sandy the Golden Boy, Fiery Mask, Manhunter, Fighting American), none ever caught on like Captain America. Until Spider-Man, Cap was Top Dog in the Marvel kennel. (Note: Along with Stan Lee, Kirby created such stalwarts as the X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and The Hulk. And some historians claim Spider-Man was based on a Joe Simon creation called The Fly.)

You may not recognize him without flames spouting from his epidermis, but you’ve seen the film’s star Chris Evans before – as The Human Torch in Marvel’s earlier “Fantastic Four” movies. Hugo Weaving you’ll remember as Agent Smith in the “Matrix” trilogy and the voice of Megatron in the recent “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Also on board are Tommy Lee Jones (“Men in Black, “No Country for Old Men”) as Col. Phillips and Sebastian Stan (“Hot Tub Time Machine,” TV’s “Gossip Girl”) as Cap’s sidekick Bucky Barnes.

And, yes, my ol’ pal Stan Lee does his customary cameo in the film.

Director Joe Johnson (“The Rocketeer,” “Jurassic Park III”) delivers a faithful starting point that will likely lead in new, original directions. Sometimes-comic-book-scripter Joss Whedon (creator of “Buffy the Vampire Killer” and co-writer of “Toy Story”) will keep the narrative true enough to the sacred Marvel canon.

The trick here is how this movie connects to the greater whole. After all, “Thor,” “Iron Man,” “The Hulk,” aren’t just stand-alone movies. They are like comic book series leading up to a Big Event – the “Avengers” movie. You’d know that if you sat through those films’ end credits where little codas hint at things to come.
Joe Simon says he’s happy with the movie version. “Jack Kirby actually came back to the character years later, first with Stan Lee and then on his own, so I think he would have been especially thrilled, and so happy to see that they’re crediting us with what we did in creating the character and producing his origin.”
[from Solares Hill]

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