Anyone who’s been paying attention to movie trailers or the new products at Dunkin’ Donuts is well aware of Marvel Studio’s newest summer blockbuster: Captain America: The First Avenger. I saw the movie this past weekend with a few friends, and felt that this week I’d take the liberty of doing a double-header review of both the film and a fairly recent Eisner award-winning trade paperback, The Death of Captain America: The Man Who Bought America. Captain America has been one of my favorite superheroes since my youth, so I was really excited to see the film and read about some of Cap’s newer adventures.
For those that don’t know, the character of Captain America was created back in the 1940s by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two pioneers of what is known as the “Golden Age of Comics.” He quickly grew in fame and popularity during the Second World War, though afterwards interest in this Nazi-puncher waned until eventually he vanished from the comic scene for over a decade.
A good character, however, can never disappear forever, and eventually Cap was brought back to fight a new foe: those no-good Soviets. Ever since, Captain America has fought against enemies of the US of A from without and within, constantly clashing with his archenemy, the dastardly Red Skull who always seems to ally with whoever it is Cap is against. The character has survived into the modern era, and so today I’ll explore two recent perspectives on Captain America.
Judge already reviewed Captain America: The First Avenger, but I’ll share with my thoughts on the film as well. Captain America: The First Avenger is an excellent movie, and arguably the best of this summer’s four superhero flicks (the others being Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Green Lantern, all of which I saw and enjoyed to differing degrees). The movie follows Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid from Brooklyn with big dreams of serving his country in WWII despite his horrendous medical records.
After constant attempts (and failures) to join the service, he is approached by Dr. Erskine, a German ex-patriot who has created a super-soldier serum that he hopes will help America take down the tyranny of the Nazi regime. Ultimately, Steve is chosen as the test subject and becomes Captain America. Before he knows it, this young man is thrown headfirst into a war filled with conspiracies, fear, and a skeletal figure obsessed with claiming “the power of the gods.”
The plot of First Avenger is well-executed, telling Cap’s origin story in a way that can inform those with little to no knowledge of the character while simultaneously offering a creative perspective that still intrigues long-time fans. The tale is also reinforced by the amazing special effects and acting. Chris Evans’s astounding acting really led the show, and I really believed him as both Steve Rogers and Captain America. Hugo Weaving, always a perfect choice for a villain, portrayed the Red Skull expertly, weaving both insanity and cunning in this frightening figure. Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell, as Cap’s commander and love interest, respectively, also played their parts well and added to the overall narrative. Credit must also be given to Dominic Cooper, playing Howard Stark, father of Iron Man; he seemed exactly like a 1940s version of his son, and that added real depth and believability to the character despite his lack of screen time.
I also felt the film did a great job of exploring the time period; my favorite scene involved a cheesy choreographed stage show where Cap attempts to sell war-bonds to a star-struck crowd. The only place where the film falls short is perhaps the pacing, as there were a few scenes here and there that felt a little slow, but even these moments were brief and barely affected the cinematic experience. I have to say this film is great, and is a must see, even if you aren’t a fan of comics or comic book movies. I look forward to the Avengers movie which will bring back Captain America alongside Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye; look for it in theaters in May 2012!
The Death of Captain America: The Man Who Bought America, however, did not even remotely reach the film’s excellence. Back in 2007, Marvel killed off Captain America following the world-dividing event, Civil War. At the time, I did not follow comics as much as I do now, but I still picked up the issue. Though I knew, like most people, that this “death” was far from permanent, it still made me feel somewhat sad to see one of my favorite childhood heroes laid low. At the time, I did not follow up the story beyond a few issues, and so never saw its conclusion. Bought America, however, is that conclusion.
Bought America focuses on Bucky, Captain America’s former sidekick who took up the shield and mantle of Steve Rogers after his mentor’s death. Bucky is joined by the Falcon in his quest to take on the Red Skull, who along with a mad Russian Scientist, Doctor Faustus, has installed a candidate for the US Presidency in hopes of taking over America. Meanwhile, Rogers’s former girlfriend, Sharon Carter, is a prisoner of the Red Skull, and hopes to free herself and avenge her fallen lover. Meanwhile, another Captain America appears claiming to be Steve Rogers…but is he really?
The plot of Bought America, as you can see above, is fairly standard Captain America fare: the Red Skull has a big evil plan to rule the world and Captain America takes him on and stops him. Though most superhero stories do follow a formula, this one felt almost too formulaic. There was nothing nuanced or surprising about the story, and I found myself wanting more at the conclusion. The idea of paralleling the 2008 US Presidential election is interesting, but it seemed almost too small for the Red Skull who in the past has commanded armies and made the entire world tremble; perhaps it was Ed Brubaker’s intention to show how far this villain has fallen, but I personally am surprised this book won an Eisner Award for Best Writer.
The artwork in Bought America is decent, with well executed character designs that look realistic enough to be believable but still hold that sense of comic-book fantasy. I must say, however, that I was not fond of the coloring: most of the scenes were very dark, and while this artistic choice made things appear “gritty,” this style did make it difficult to see what happens on a page. The amount of shadowing in a lot of scenes seemed unnecessary, almost as if the artist hoped to save time by simply coloring in the majority of things black or dark gray. Again, this may just be an artistic choice that I do not understand or appreciate, but ultimately I felt it detracted from the comic.
Overall, The Death of Captain America: The Man Who Bought America is not a bad a read but did nothing to inspire, surprise, or excite me. I’d say that hardcore Captain America fans may like it, but I think most people would not enjoy it. It’s a shame, too, because I remember Cap’s death comic as a powerful, interesting tale. Either way, I’d suggest checking out some of Captain America’s older issues rather than this one if you’re looking for a riveting tale of the Star Spangled Man.
From Cap’s origin to the aftermath of his death, the two mediums explore periods in the story of Captain America that are as far apart in years as they are in content and quality. I do have to say, however, that both the comic and the film do an interesting job of changing Bucky from a simple sidekick into a tough man who strives to support his best friend, Steve Rogers, and honor his wishes and memory. The only thing the two have in common are some of the characters used, but other than that the two are as different as their presentations. Ultimately, I pick the film as my favorite of the two, and highly recommend it over the trade paperback.
Until next week everyone, stay well!
Brett Simon is a twenty-one year old recent reconvert to the world of comics. He’s currently feeling very patriotic.
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