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Words & Pictures – The Captain America Edition

Steve Rogers before exposure to Operation: Rebirth.

Steve Rogers before exposure to Operation: Rebirth.

In the 1940’s Steve Rogers attempts to enlist in the U.S. Army to help fight the war machine that is The Third Reich. Due to a number of physical maladies, Rogers is found unfit for military service. After observing his adamancy to help fight the Nazi’s, Steve is recruited into Operation: Rebirth. Rebirth is a military project to create super soldiers to help the Americans defeat the Axis powers. The process of turning Steve into a superman is successful and he is redubbed as Captain America! Due to the assassination of Dr. Abraham Erskine, Steve becomes the only individual to be privileged with enhanced strength. The stories that ensue are the exploits of Cap and his sidekick and best friend, James “Bucky” Barnes. In the post WWII-era, many superhero comics started to become unpopular, including Cap.

Despite covers depicting Captain America confronting the likes of Hitler and other Axis leaders, he never actually meat these historical in the comics.

Captain America never actually met Hitler or other Axis leaders.

During this time, Captain America graced the silver screen in a number of war oriented serials as a means of garnering support for the Department of War. These films were chalk full of patriotism and bland action sequences that have come to be a staple of period WWII films from that age in cinema. As the war approached its end, we can see a waning interest in the superhero genre in the comics.

 

Eventually his title was cancelled and we wouldn’t see him again until he was brought back in 1964’s fourth issue of The Avengers. Shortly thereafter Captain America proved to be a household commodity. In the Marvel Universe, Rogers assumed the role of leader for The Avengers, as well as an example to people the world over.

Cover art for The Avengers #4

Cover art for The Avengers #4

Over time we saw Rogers go through many transformations beyond that of a political stooge (which he never really was). In the 70’s Rogers abandoned his star spangled persona due to disillusionment and became the superhero known as Nomad. It was a short lived phase of his life as he realized that the stars and stripes (at least for him) symbolized more than just the American dream. We see this in Daredevil issue #233 (published in August 1986, written by Frank Miller), in which Cap helps The Man Without Fear defeat a crazed supervillain known as Nuke. The battle between Nuke and Daredevil was terrible and caused a number of powerful fires throughout Hell’s Kitchen. Captain America leads The Avengers to control the fires and help innocent bystanders who had been caught in the cross fire.

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We can see from Cap’s expression that he is greatly saddened at the anarchy that ensued in the battle; serving as a solid presentation of his value of human life. He didn’t just right into the fray with Nuke, he saw to the victims of collateral damage. Later, Rogers discovers that Nuke was the result of military experimentation and confronts the members of the U.S. military responsible for Nuke’s creation. When his motivations are handed to him as mere platitudes, he clearly states where he stands and what truly motivates him… Freedom.

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Moving into the 90’s Captain America saw a bit of a lull and came to be what many people see him as even to this day, a stereotypical American with an overactive sense of patriotism. A government lap dog in a flashy costume. It was a period where he became that two dimensional character that had formed in the minds of his readers in the post-war era. It is also when Marvel Comics began trying to produce higher end films, the typically ended up being direct to video releases. One of these was 1990’s Captain America. While it was a valiant effort to being Steve Rogers to the movies, the film wasn’t what it could be, and really was just a watered down version of that decade’s drab action films.

To many fans of Captain America, the 2000’s would be no different from what they got in the 90’s. Then everything changed in September of 2001. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Marvel Comics found it’s self in a worrisome position. The world had greatly changed and they couldn’t show Spider-Man punching a Muslim in the face with a catchy one liner. But, unlike many of the characters of the DC Universe, Marvel made its home in New York City. So how could they address the attacks in a respectful way? In a smart move by Marvel, they acknowledge the attacks and adopted them into the mythos of the Marvel Universe. As a natural progression from this move, many people asked, “What does Captain America do when this happens?”

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Click for larger image.

We got our answer in Captain America: The New Deal (Vol. 4 issues #1 – #6, written by John Ney Rieber). The story arch begins at ground zero, where Cap is helping EMS teams to find survivors. When Fury tries to issue new orders to Rogers which would place him in Afghanistan to fight terrorists, Cap refuses and remains in New York to help find survivors. Later in the same issue, Cap prevents a white man who lost a loved one in the attacks from murdering a Muslim man. He explains to the angry, would-be killer that he shouldn’t give into a close minded prejudice that would take him down a dark and hateful path. This presents an often overlooked aspect of Captain America’s inner workings.

 

In the volume that follows, Captain America discovers rogue elements of the American government aiding terrorists. It becomes a new era for this character as he has to truly fight the government that created him because it opposes everything he stands for.

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Click for larger image.

Steve Rogers is a character who values human life and doesn’t like the prospect of killing. It is revealed that during WWII, Captain America decided he would not longer kill enemy soldiers. He would simply take them prisoner and hand them over to the appropriate authorities for judgment. During the story arc that follows The New Deal, we learn that his desire to do what is right, overrode his sense of nationalism and this greatly troubled his superiors back in the U.S., it was then decided they needed to remove the Captain from the picture, otherwise it might lead other Americans to question their leadership as well.

Yes, the U.S. Government is believed to have attempted to kill Cap and Bucky, because Steve’s conviction was not convenient. The result was that Steve fell into the Atlantic Ocean and was frozen for decades. In the years that would follow these stories, Cap continued to become even more complex as he lead one said of a superhuman civil war on U.S. soil. At this point, Ironman was moving into production, but was still a way off; its potential success an unknown. Civil War shows us another side of Captain America when he challenges a new law that would require all superhuman to reveal their identity and register with the government. Cap was opposed to the Registration Act, and even warned Tony Stark who believed that it needed to happen. The fighting that followed was intense and lead to the deaths of several characters in the Marvel Universe.

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After months of fighting, Captain America sees the horror of what they’ve done. In the end, Captain America surrenders. He realizes they were fighting but couldn’t see the forest for the trees anymore. He gives up his fight for freedom for something human life. It was a reward to all of us who had read comics that featured Cap as kids. We saw that sometimes, winning isn’t what is important. It’s the lives and feelings of others that are meaningful.

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Captain America again went through a period of transformation in the decade that followed. He gave up his title. Steve Rogers became a secret agent, and even ended up being a legitimate time traveler as he explored the past.

We also saw the success of Ironman and learned of the intention to make an adaptation of The Avengers. It was a certainty we would get a movie about Captain America. And we did.

Chris Evens took up the stars, strips, and shield to give us a pulpy adventure film set almost entirely during WWII. With the help of veteran director, Joe Johnston, Captain America: The First Avenger introduced to Captain America who was true to the core of the Captain America people such as myself had grown up with. He didn’t want to kill anyone, but he respected the men who were fighting to keep the world free of tyranny. We see that in the end, Steve doesn’t like bullies, and that was why he saw the need to fight.

"I don't want to kill anyone. I just don't like bullies." - Steve Rogers, Captain America: The First Avenger

“I don’t want to kill anyone. I just don’t like bullies.” – Steve Rogers, Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America was finally more than a boy scout. He was someone who wanted everyone to have a fair crack at life. If anyone reading this hasn’t seen the first phase of Marvel films. I’ll say nothing more about the movies other than you should see them. They really are quite good. If you haven’t read any Captain America comics, I suggest you do. Ed Brubaker has written some amazing stories.

At this juncture, I’m reminded of why my wife likes Captain America. She likes him because he is Steve Rogers. Mask or no mask, he is the same person as his heroic persona. He always tries to be a good person and do what is right. He is a truly neutral character who simply wants to help others and do good. He shows us that we can do good as well, even if it might cost us dearly.

Now, to end an up note! I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Captain America moments.

Steve Teaches Hank Pym a Lesson

This takes place in Ultimates #9, directly after Hank Pym beats his wife to a pulp and flees from the scene of the crime. While I’m not a huge fan of Mark Millar’s Captain America, I did enjoy the sequence quite a bit. It is worth mentioning that Steve told Hank to grow, simply because it wouldn’t be fair otherwise.

Steve Rogers... Doesn't like bullies.

Steve Rogers… Doesn’t like bullies.

Captain America Takes Responsibility

This is a page from The New Deal. An excellent story arc when combined with The Extremists and is totally worth reading.

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Cap Gets His Shield

Just a good ol’ 1940’s fun!

Captain America Lays Down a Plan

There are no words…. Other than the ones in this scene.

Here’s hoping for another movie and decade of Captain America comics full of honor, conviction, and conscience!

A Special Edition of Words & Pictures

 

With the U.S. premiere of Captain America: The Winter Soldier coming up this week, I thought it would be a great chance to explore this iconic (and sometimes controversial) transition from the pages of decades of comic books to the silver screen.

But not today! I post on Thursdays, remember?

So check back tomorrow, my esteemed readers and I’ll do my best to help many of you understand the Sentinel of Liberty for the character that he is instead of the ‘Merca-monger he is often misconceived as by both the average public and even the people responsible for telling many of Captain America’s stories!

Photo credit: marveltoynews.com

Photo credit: marveltoynews.com

 

The Importance Of: Adaptations

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If we look at the slew of blockbusters that have come out in the last decade we can see that many of them are adaptations. Though, this is nothing new. A quick search on Google will show that adaptations have been an integral part of cinema, well before the Katniss’ and Muad’Dib’s of recent films. Wonderful examples of this are Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 masterpiece, Greed, which was based upon the 1899 Frank Norris novel, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco and the 1912 adaptation of The Last of The Mohicans, starring James Cruze.

Why then, after such a long history of adaptation from the literary medium to film, is there so much contention between the people who love these things?

In my house, the line is clearly divided between these two camps. My wife is frequently disappointed that films generally incorporate so few of the details that she feels are vital to the story in the books, while I feel that it is impractical to worry about minor details when it’s more important to focus on moving the plot along with fluidity and trying to maintain the spirit of the source material. After all, unlike with a book, you only get your audience for three hours at best.

I think, as they say, the devil is in the details. It’s not a matter of who is right or wrong. It is a matter of depicting these beloved and powerfully moving stories. After all, it’s the tale itself that we are all interested in. I have found myself to be in the minority when discussing a recent adaptation and that nature of its ending. If any of you who are reading this have somehow managed to not see 2013’s Man of Steel, read no further.

I’m about to spoil something for you.

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Superman kills Zod.

Famed comic book writer Mark Waid was livid about this ending. He posted a thorough and intense review of the film to his blog. And while many people feel that he has some right to complain about this decision (Waid has a great history writing some outstanding Superman comics,) he still manages to get a bit off track in the end. Man of Steel was a grand “first contact” film in which the world’s first superhero must make an unthinkable sacrifice to safe both the earth as we know it and the human race. Through this action Superman becomes an approachable character that we can relate to, and thus is able to grow into a role model who will show humanity how to try to be better than their baser elements, no matter where we come from or what race we might be.

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Fans of many book series, television programs, and comic books get so hung up on the minutia of a characters makeup that they fail to see that the character reflects who mankind is collectively, so we can share in another human’s experience. It’s how we determine what we think and who we are. Every hero and villain serves as a guide through human experience and has the potential to shed light on what it means to suffer or triumph.

To see the importance of great divergence from an adaptations source material, we simply need to look at Barry Lyndon. Many people consider this to be the greatest film ever made. Yet the film and the novel differ in so many ways, such as tone and comedic overture (or undercurrent in the case of the film). Yet, rarely does one have a negative thing to say about the film in comparison to The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon. It is, clearly, a masterful translation from page to screen is of great importance.

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Kubrick does what many cinephiles, film makers and film critics consider a perfect job of turning a novel with a highly subjective method of narration into a film that that takes a hard turn at objective narration. The novel is considered largely a comedy, yet Kubrick manages to turn it into a somewhat tragic tale with an underpinning of his signature satire and thoughtfulness.

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While these two examples are very different movies, they both manage to teach us some important lessons.

Firstly, by getting caught up on mundane details such as a characters eye color, or the style of their costumes; we ultimately miss the point of their story which is a journey of growth and emotion. The chance to grow as a person and escape the tedium of our lives is missed. We are only left with undue negative feelings.

Secondly, if a director and his crew are given true freedom with the adaptive process; we could get something really special. We get the chance to experience another person’s perspective on something we already love. Barry Lyndon is a prime example of this. Kubrick’s view of Barry’s tale is darker and much more human than that of its literary counterpart. Yet, it manifests its protagonist in form of the antihero, or even as not a hero or villain at all, but simply a human being. And as any good story lover knows, those are the best heroes and villains.

They’re the best type of character because they are real and reflect who we are back at us like some kind of fantastic mirror.

So if a small detail here or there has to be skipped over, so be it! It is better to focus on getting the message and spirit of that story out into the public so that it can start to have an impact on others and move them towards seeing things from another person’s world view.

When you find yourself on the business end of a rant about a film adaptation of Holes and how Stanley Yelnats is too skinney… Why not try to politely point out to this person the great things Andrew Davis did with the film and that the author of the book is the one who wrote the screenplay? The film was good. It shows us that bibliophiles and cinephiles can be friends. Which is what adaptations really do; they bring people together.

That is the importance of adaptations.

Blockbuster Video, located in Big Bear Lake, CA.

Do we still need the video store?

Last year, one of my three favorite places in my home town closed down. It was not a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Nor was it an old baseball diamond that was being bulldozed to make room for a new park or parking lot. No, it was Blockbuster Video. It broke my heart to see a video store that I had not only spent a great deal of time in as a customer, but also as a former employee, closing.

I started working in the mom-and-pop-owned franchise store when I had come to hate the art form I loved so much. I had dedicated so much of my energy and adult life to loving and studying film that I was able to rekindle that love by sharing it with others.

Blockbuster Video, located in Big Bear Lake, CA.When I came home to see the yellow banner sprawled across the store front, my jaw dropped. The video store had managed to hang in there after losing customers to both Redbox and Netflix. In the defense of the owners, they acquitted themselves honorably when their new opponents practically invaded our community (This is no exaggeration. I live in a rural community that is about 12 miles long and is home to five Redbox kiosks). They dropped prices, focused on used DVD and video game promotions, and even offered free rentals with purchase of a new release. In the end, it just wasn’t enough.

When I think back on how many teenagers I was able to turn away from the plethora of horror, rom-coms, and terrible franchise films, I realize that the importance of a video store lies not in the titles they have for selection or the prices of said titles. It lies in the fact that in every video store’s staff, there exists a hidden gem; the cinephile.

I feel I should elaborate on this statement. In my experience, both as consumer and employee, most video store employees are townies, burnouts, or high school/college students who are just killing time until they graduate. However, there has always been that one person; the one who clearly loves movies and wants to help other people come to love movies as much as they do.

In 2008, after moving back to my little town, I was that person. More importantly, I was able to teach everything I knew about film (which some have said is almost everything there is to know) to the younger staff members with whom I worked.

I remember putting Seven Samurai on the DVD player so it could play on every TV in the store, the audio filling the stores ample surround-sound system with the sounds of flowing Japanese. There was just a teenaged clerk and myself manning the store that slow mid-week night. I can recall the shocked look on his face when Kyuzo was shot, and cast his sword aside. It was priceless! He looked at me and simply asked, “What? Why?!” I explained that while Kyuzo’s death wasn’t predictable like character death might be in more recent films, it was an appropriate symbol of the sad futility of tradition struggling against modern advancement.

When Seven Samurai was over, I suggested he watch The Magnificent Seven. He told me that he was a huge fan of Westerns and owned it. Again I told him to watch it. When we both worked together later that week he explained he had never realized they were so similar. He thanked me for showing him my favorite Kurosawa movie (other than Yojimbo).

This is a key example of how a video store can be a place where stories can be made. I find that a fitting idea, since I have seen young couples laugh, argue, and even break up in the middle of video stores. Once, I even saw a lovely brunette women looking through a table of DVD’s for sale and asked if she was looking for anything in particular.

“Something amazing.” She responded.

I was done for as soon as the words left her mouth.

“Well… What do you think is amazing?” I asked her, my heart skipping a beat.

“Well, I have La Cage aux Folles (1978) at home. Have you seen it?” She asked me in response.

I told her I had and suggested a few films from our inventory. Among them were The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) and Smart People (2008). She pleaded with her boyfriend to buy them for her. He made a face, but gave in.

The girl continued to come back…

The boyfriend didn’t.

I married that lovely brunette, and recognize if I had not had that first conversation with her, the numerous conversations, dates, and movie rentals thereafter would have never happened. I would be in a very different place today.

These are just a couple of the numerous encounters that allowed me to share my love of cinema with others.

So yes, video stores do something that Netflix, Redbox, and all the other new services out there can never do. They allow for a genuine human experience, if only for a few minutes. The video store is a place where people can contribute to their local economy while also sharing a love of movies, or discovering that they love movies if they didn’t already know that. These little brick and mortar sanctuaries of moving pictures are a place where cinephiles like us can truly share our love of movies, and don’t need no stinkin’ degree to do so.

What saddens me the most is that so many potential stories are not going to be written now. All the romances, friendships, and potential film makers might not exist now. Of course, you likely think I am being melodramatic. However, let us not forget that Quentin Tarantino received his film education at the store Video Archives, located in Manhattan Beach. The now world renown director didn’t even go to film school.

I also want to say I don’t think any less of a person who is on a budget and loves movies or the person who loves movies but is very busy. I can sympathize! Thanks to these services we now have more convenience and lower prices. I will concede that point. In the end, the automated services that exist today fill a need many people have. With a lack of a video store in my community, even I have been forced to use these services.

However, what do we get for our convenience and savings? Not much more than that; since the human element has been all but removed.

What we lose, on the other hand, is much more valuable.