Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #12: Captain America

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Marvel) (2009) 
Real Name: Steve Rogers
First Appearance: Captain America Comics #1 (March, 1941)
Group Affiliation: Secret Avengers, Invaders (former)
Gaming Credentials: Spider-man & Captain America in Dr. Doom's Revenge (1989); Captain America and the Avengers (1991); Maximum Carnage (1994); Marvel Super Heroes (1995); Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems (1996); Marvel vs Capcom 2 (2000); Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (2005)Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006); Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009); Marvel Super Hero Squad (2009); The First Avenger: Captain America (TBA)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #7

By now, it almost certainly can't have escaped your attention that Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie, Cellular, Push) -- also known as the live-action Fantastic Four's Human Torch -- has been cast as yet another of Marvel Comics' most enduring characters, Captain America.

Cap; well known to fans of comics and video games as the leader of the Avengers; is slated to make his debut in 2011 in a solo film set during the Second World War, The First Avenger: Captain America. This allows the Marvel film franchises to dovetail into an all-in all-star Avengers film, set to also feature Robert Downey Jr's immensely popular Iron Man, along with other heroes from the Marvel Films, such as Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), and possibly Hulk cast members, William Hurt (Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross) and Edward Norton (Bruce Banner).

Like so many of comics' greatest heroes, Captain America owes his origins to the 1940s comics of the Golden Age, emerging as one of the earliest characters to eventually become part of the Marvel superhero pantheon. The Captain has been responsible for decking Hitler with a cross hook, all the way up to fighting for civil liberties of vigilantes in the 2006 comic book epic, Civil War, which spun out of post-9/11 political climates and security in the United States. The character is equal parts superhero power fantasy and aspirational icon, often representing the ideals of what America stands for, whilst standing against the harsh realities of the modern world power.

There's an interesting dichotomy to the character of Captain America that's immediately captured by the cast of Chris Evans. While the shorthand of comic book imagery depicts this revered hero with the stature of a battle-hardened and mature warrior, the timeline of the fiction actually makes him much younger than you might otherwise realise.

Captain America's origins lie in an experimental serum used during World War II to transform a frail youngman into a Super-Soldier at the peak of human physical excellence. Early issues of the WWII inspired comic place Steve Rogers somewhere around the age of twenty-four when he undergoes the experiment that transforms him into America's sentinel of liberty, allowing for only a year or two before the character was frozen in ice, his physical form placed in effective suspended animation to be thawed out in the "modern age" of the 1960s (by the Avengers).

So, while Chris Evans lacks the immediate cartoon authority of the character he is set to portray, there's a somewhat literal accuracy to the youthful twenty-eight year old actor stepping into the red, white, and blue. Whether or not that's something that will clash when he's placed opposite matured icons like Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), and possibly Hugo Weaving (Red Skull), remains to be seen. Criticism of the decision is certainly not misplaced or without logical grounding.

Evans remains particularly well known for his portrayal of Johnny Storm (aka; the Human Torch) in the infamous 2005 Fantastic Four and it's 2007 sequel. While the films themselves were artistically mediocre, Evans was memorable as the traditionally exuberant youngster of the group, raising the fair question of whether or not actors should double-up on roles sourced from the same material group. Others have already taken multiple comic book roles -- ie; Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four, Sin City), Jon Favreau (Daredevil, Iron Man) -- but this is the first time such a significant clash has occurred with two characters from the same stable. It's fair to say that any actor carries a certain amount of baggage with them based upon the roles they play, and given that the prominent Human Torch is similar to many other roles in Evans' body of work, and poses such a stark contrast to Captain America, is reason enough to have doubts. Certainly moreso than any reservations that might have been expressed about Heath Ledger's Joker, or even Christian Bale's Batman, both of which were never likely to ruin what happily turned out to be master works.

The scrutiny already surrounding Captain America's casting speaks to the weight of the role, which not only furthers Marvel's share of the cinematic landscape, but also continues efforts to elevate certain properties to a higher standing. It's fair to say that not too many years ago, Captain America had fallen into some degree of obscurity, far less noteworthy than cartoon favourites like Iron Man and Fantastic Four, who themselves have received a boost in the cultural mainstream through movies.

On the comics side of things, Captain America gained widespread coverage in 2007 for the story telling of his apparent death. Last year's HOTW featured the announcement of Cap's return, which has long since occurred, returning the iconic hero to the thick of the action with Marvel's Avengers properties and their Siege event. Captain America himself reprises the role of catalyst in dethroning villainous overlord, Norman Osborn, who jockeyed his way into power during Cap's absence which itself was a catalytic role, bleeding out from the 2006 Marvel Civil War. It was the latter event that also inspired the video game sequel, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, building upon the Captain America brand that was established through the Marvel vs Capcom series, and previous Ultimate Alliance.

Suffice to say, Captain America is a character to watch in 2010 and beyond!
As part of the reunited trio of classic Avengers, along with Thor and Iron Man, Cap will be part of instituting Marvel's Heroic Age, bursting out of the events of Siege and New Avengers! As always, you'll find more information on those titles at!

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