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:
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!”
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.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.