The Sentinel of Liberty and I.

After watching Captain America: The First Avenger at the cinema last night – a film I found to be great fun – I thought it would be interesting to look back at my own personal experience with the character, starting as a young British comics fan. I’ll also explain why my fondness for the character has grown, and share five of my favourite moments featuring the Star-Spangled Avenger.

The very first time I can remember seeing the Captain America character was in the pages of a UK reprint of an Avengers comic that I bought on a ferry crossing to Ireland at the beginning of the 90s when I was no more than 7 or 8 years old. I remember very little of the actual story other than it involved hi-tech traps and a villain appearing on a video-screen. And that i struggled to focus on reading it due to motion sickness caused by a particularly rough sea. But to this day I still recall very clearly, the dynamic poses and brightly coloured costumes of both Captain America and Iron Man, despite knowing nothing about them at the time, and it was most likely their images which drew me to the comic in the first place. 

I didn’t buy another comic for some time afterwards but by the age of 12 I had become a full-on comics addict, with the output of Marvel Comics being my drug of choice. The X-Men were my favourite, and I clamoured to buy anything with an X in the title, absorbing vast swathes of information (now long forgotten) about my precious Marvel universe/multiverse. But one hero I had little regard for was Captain America.

He’d popped up as a supporting character in some of the stories i’d followed but I still knew little about him, and I had no interest in learning more, despite the obsessive way I pored over the histories of other some characters. Part of the reason for this was simply the costume. The red, white and blue motif did little to inspire a fanboy from London, and it also reminded me of another all-american hero I ignored at the time – Superman. In my head the image of Captain America was that of another “boy scout” hero in the mould of Superman, something not gritty or cool enough for my 90’s teen self to bother with.

The times I did take a chance on Cap were also less than encouraging. Following the 1996 Onslaught Saga storyline, I bought the first few issues of the relaunched Heroes Reborn:Captain America by artist Rob Liefeld‘s Extreme Studios. For my money I got B-movie dialogue and often confusing artwork so I quickly gave up on the title.

Why is Cap standing like a giant flamingo? and why is that desk so small?

I also stumbled upon a VHS copy of the 1990 Captain America film in a rental shop which I couldn’t help but take out. Starring the son of J.D. Salinger, I remember it being sometimes entertaining but generally poor, although the Red Skull did look suitably creepy.

Years past, I had graduated university and now was living abroad, and although I was still reading comics, my tastes had changed, superheroes had all but disappeared from my horizons. Then I met several avid comic fans from the States who quickly became my good friends. They got me back into reading comics from the Big Two (Marvel and DC) with their contagious enthusiasm for the new storylines, new interpretations of classic characters, and new writing and art talent. They also taught me that there was more to the character of Captain America than I has realised, pointing me in the direction of the following moments that all helped me grow to appreciate the first Avenger. I’m sure there are lots more great moments that a true believer could tell me about, but these are the ones that have left an impression on me from the little I’ve read personally.

1. Alias Vol 1. Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

My reintroduction to Cap came via creative consultant on The First Avenger, Bendis’ first story about washed-up former superhero turned private investigator, Jessica Jones. Jones is on a case to find a client’s estranged sister who turns out to be the secret girlfriend of Captain America. In the process she accidentally films the secret identity of Captain America and ends up embroiled in a massive conspiracy which I won’t ruin for you. A great series with an interesting ‘street level’ view of the marvel universe.

2. Captain America #110,111,113 Stan Lee & Jim Steranko

 

Some of the most spectacular action scenes ever committed to print as Cap takes on Hydra forces in this classic story from 1969. Steranko’s art is amazing and the story shows Cap’s rigid determination as well as touching on his need for balance in his life outside of heroics.

3. Daredevil #233 Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli

Daredevil and Captain America team up to take down a violent psychopath known as Nuke. The government claims he’s a terrorist but Cap is suspicious and discovers that Nuke is actually the product of a US program to create new super-soldiers. Cap confronts his superiors head-on showing them he is more than a patriotic puppet. I wanted to put down Civil War as well but I think that basically it illustrates the same point and I read Daredevil first.

4. Loads of issues co-starring Falcon (not really a moment, I know)

Introduced in 1969, Falcon was the first African-American superhero in mainstream comics. Not an obvious caricature, he is a pretty cool character in his own right and was a partner of Captain America for many years. Far more than a mere sidekick, he shared the title on the front cover of their books. Falcon was a great step forward for minority representation in comics, something the industry still struggles with present day.

5. Ultimates, Mark Millar et al

If it’s too small to read, the above panels read “Surrender??!! You think this letter on my head stands for France?” That pretty much sums up what to expect from the most badass incarnation of Cap, from Marvel’s Ultimate continuity. Millar’s trademark style and humour render Cap as a no-nonsense soldier, ready to hand down a beating to America’s enemies.

 “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world – “No, you move.”

Captain America in Amazing Spider-Man #537, written by JM Straczynski

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