'First Avenger' lifts the best of comics' Captain America

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

 

'First Avenger' lifts the best of comics' Captain America

 

Captain America: The First Avenger, premiering July 22, looks to be the best comics-to-film movie of the summer – which is saying a lot – but is also loaded with fun facts:

 

* This movie is the fifth appearance of the Living Legend of WWII on film, but the only one to be remotely accurate . . . or even good.

 

A 1944 Captain America serial was unlike the comic books of the time, as it depicted Cap with a red star(!) on his chest, no shield, no sidekick and he was, of all things, a stateside district attorney (instead of a U.S. Army private).  

 

Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon aired on CBS in 1979, both starring Reb Brown and jettisoning the World War II connection completely. They were awful.

 

A 1990 Captain America starred Matt Salinger and, of all things, an Italian Red Skull. (He’s a Nazi. His name is Johann Schmidt. He was Hitler’s right-hand man. He’s German!) It was so bad it went straight to VHS.  

 

* Some recent Marvel movies have had oblique references to First Avenger. Partially-constructed shields appear in both Iron Man movies. The Incredible Hulk mentions the wartime Super-Soldier Formula, which is what creates the Star-Spangled Avenger.

 

* This movie returns the favor. The subtitle The First Avenger is a hint to where all these movies are heading: The Avengers in 2012. Also, Howard Stark – Tony Stark’s father, who was significant in Iron Man II – is part of the Super-Soldier science team in First Avenger.

 

* Incidentally, The First Avenger subtitle was added to become the whole title when the movie was distributed in areas where America isn’t particularly popular. But it turns out that even countries like France wanted the full title, because Captain America is such a well-known brand. Now the Captain America part will be dropped from the title in only three countries: Russia, Ukraine and, oddly, South Korea.

 

* In the comics, sidekick James “Bucky” Barnes was a teenager in the war (albeit a lethal, highly trained one). In the movie he appears to be old enough to volunteer for service. To my mind that’s an improvement, since the “child endangerment” aspect of Robin-like sidekicks always bugged me.

 

 

* Beginning in 1963, Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos told the tales of a fictional U.S. Ranger group in World War II. To explain how Nick Fury could remain active into the 21st century, Marvel has explained that his aging has been scientifically retarded. However, the movie version of Fury, played by Sam Jackson, will sidestep the aging question entirely by Fury not appearing in World War II in First Avenger, although the Howling Commandos will.

 

Speaking of the Howlers, it appears Captain America and Bucky will lead them. Of the comic-book squad, only two appear in the movie: Cpl. Timothy Aloysius “Dum Dum” Dugan, a huge Irishman, and Gabe Jones, an African-American trumpet player. The team is fleshed out by a Japanese-American, Jim Morita; an Englishman, Montgomery Falsworth; and a Frenchman, Jacques Dernier. All three have their roots in the comics as well.

 

Stan Lee created Morita and his Nisei (American-born Japanese) squad in a 1967 Sgt. Fury to recognize the efforts of patriotic Japanese-Americans in WWII. Falsworth was the wartime Union Jack, England’s answer to Captain America, created in a 1976 Invaders, another title set during the war. Dernier first appeared in a 1965 Sgt. Fury as the French Resistance liaison for the Howlers.

* Cap’s wartime sweetheart was French Resistance fighter Peggy Carter, who will be played by Hayley Atwell as a conflation of various female characters. Their bittersweet romance probably won’t leave a dry eye in the house.

 

* One surprise is Arnim Zola, a Skull henchman and Nazi scientist who eventually transfers his consciousness to a robot. Another is the appearance of a Cosmic Cube (hinted at in Thor), a weapon that didn’t exist in the comics until 1967. I suspect it will play a role in Avengers, too.

 

* Hydra, a nation-less terrorist organization, predated al-Qaida by decades with its first comic-book appearance in 1965. In the comics, Hydra was founded by surviving Axis players near the end of World War II, which makes their appearance in the movie in conjunction with the Red Skull entirely consistent. Their creed is eerily modern: “Hail Hydra! Immortal Hydra! We shall never be destroyed! Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place!”

 

Art above:

1. Chris Evans plays Captain America in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. He is seen here in full combat regalia. Photo credit: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

2. Dominic Cooper plays Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. In both the comics and the movies, Howard Stark is based loosley on Howard Hughes and Walt Disney. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

3. Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers (center) with the Howling Commandos, who are somewhat different from the comics version of the First Ranger Attack Squad. Bruno Ricci plays Jacques Dernier (third left from center), Kenneth Choi plays Jim Morita (second left from center), Neal McDonough plays Dum Dum Dugan (first right from center), Sebastian Stan plays James "Bucky" Barnes (second right from center), JJ Feild plays Montgomery Falsworth (third right from center), and Derek Luke plays Gabe Jones (fifth right from center) - in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

4. Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, center, in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Peggy is a U.S. Army officer present at Captain America's birth and is, as they said in the 1940s, both a tomato and a tough broad. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

 


Hugo Weaving plays Red Skull in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Photo credit: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

 


Stanley Tucci plays Dr. Abraham Erskine in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. In the comics, Erskine is a Jewish scientist smuggled out of Germany during the pogroms, and is based loosely on Albert Einstein. In fact, in the comics, his security codename is "Reinstein." Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


At left, Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. In this scene, Evans poses in a position lifted straight from the comics. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved. At right, Steve Rogers staring in disbelief at his new body is a familiar scene in such comics as "Tales of Suspense" #63. Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

 

Views: 1159

Comment by Andrew Horn on July 22, 2011 at 3:23am

I saw it. It was surprisingly good. It's hard to say whether I thought it was truly great or just actively relieved that it didn't suck. Like Thor, there were so many was it could have gone wrong, and it totally didn't. I have to say I was very skeptical about the pictures I had seen of the costume but I have to say in the movie it looked good and I appreciated that they made fun of what could have happened if they had literally recreated the costume. I did miss the chain mail though but possibly this will come into play when the stories play in the present and his costume gets an update (if indeed it does). That all being said, the shield TOTALLY works!  More please.

My one disappointment - and I can't blame this on the film, they (and we) were already stuck with it - is that by making Samuel Jackson Nick Fury, they burned Sgt Fury and the Howling Commandos. That being said, the Howlers that did make it into the movie were really good and while my feeling was that they should play down all that  Wahooo! stuff, when Dum Dum did do it, it actually worked! Could have had more. Dum Dum was great, as was the Japanese guy (who I guess was in the comics but I don't really remember him all that well), and Gabe probably would have been if he had more to do. I have to say I missed Percy Pinkerton bonking Jerries with his umbrella as well as all the other guys, as cliched as they are in hindsight. In general it made remember how much I did actually like the "war comic for people who hate war comics" and I'm sorry there doesn't seem to be a way to deal with it in a movie now. Tommy Lee Jones was much better than he looked like he was going to be from the trailer and I guess he was to some degree Happy Sam. I'm just hoping that Dum Dum and Gabe make it into the future as Shield operatives. It does to some degree make me wonder how they are going to approach the whole Shield story without the ex- Howler Nick Fury. Seeing the Steranko Fury would have been great (particularly as they even threw in the prototype of the flying car from the first Strange Tales story).

In light of the above, I have to say I was a bit surprised how little it disturbed me actually watching the movie all the things that I knew that they changed. It basically worked within the movie. The ending was a bit disappointing but I can't say how much of that was just because we knew it was coming. Maybe that was it - they tried to make a surprise out of something that's no surprise at all. That was weird. But frankly it was too late in the game to do much damage.

I could probably make a list of all the things I thought could have been improved but I have to say all in all that Marvel is really doing a good job of making sure that their stuff is well taken care of. As opposed to DC who somehow doesn't seem to get it. Go figure.

Andy

 

Comment by Captain Comics on July 23, 2011 at 12:09am
As I type this, it's 11:07 on premiere night for 'Captain America,' and I have yet to see a negative tweet. Scratch that, I have yet to see anything but an ecstatic tweet. I can't see it until Sunday (July 24), and I have to say I'm more impatient than a man my age should be!
Comment by George on July 23, 2011 at 2:07am

rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110720/REVIEWS/110729997

 

Roger Ebert gave it three stars, and praised it as "a real movie, instead of a noisy assembly of incomprehensible special effects." I won't have time to see it until Tuesday, darn it.

Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 23, 2011 at 10:54am

In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man Lon Chaney, Jr. finds the Frankenstein monster frozen in a block of ice. In House of Frankenstein Boris Karloff finds the monster and the Wolfman frozen in blocks of ice. I wonder if one or the other of these sequences lies behind the way the revival of Captain America was depicted in Avengers #4. Come to think of it, Bruce Banner's fear of his other identity is not unlike Chaney's character's.

Comment by Captain Comics on July 23, 2011 at 11:25am
The latter isn't surprising, as both Lee and Kirby have stated that their starting concept for the Hulk was a cross between Frankenstein and Jekyll/Hyde. I know you're referring to The Wolfman, but I always thought of HIM as being inspired by Jekyll/Hyde.
Comment by Philip Portelli on July 23, 2011 at 2:42pm
In The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series, SHIELD's Nick Fury is said to be the son or grandson of WWII's Sgt. Fury. A way to go in the comics, perhaps, if Marvel ever goes the DC Reboot route!
Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 23, 2011 at 3:00pm
There's no need for a reboot. Isn't Nick Fury now portrayed as physically really old? All Marvel would have to do is introduce the younger Fury, perhaps as his great nephew or whatever if it it didn't want to come up with some explanation of why we've never heard of him before.
Comment by Captain Comics on July 23, 2011 at 5:03pm
In A:EMH, Nick Fury is Jack's son, and Jack was the leader of the Howling Commandos in WWII. Given that both are African-American, and the Howlers all white, that's virtually impossible -- the U.S. military wasn't integrated until much later -- but it does mostly settle the age issue there (for now).

And in Marvel proper, at least three sons o' Fury have been mentioned in Hickman's Secret Warriors, although at least one of them has died. I think. (With this series in particular, things are not always what they seem.) Anyway, it's entirely plausible that -- given Fury's longevity -- he has entire generations of descendants. Surely at least one of them is named Nicholas! (But what would be cool would be Nicola.)
Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on July 28, 2011 at 9:28am
I think that, in the Marvel Simon-Kirby version of WW II, FDR integrated the armed forces long before Truman did. I LOVED this movie.  It now falls just behind 1978's Superman as my favorite superhero film.
Comment by Captain Comics on July 28, 2011 at 10:40am
The more I think about it, the more I love it, too. They absolutely nailed the vibe of 1930s-'40s movies.

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