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A Quick Cap Recap: Your Cheat Sheet To The Man, The Myth, & The Mighty Shield

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
July 20, 2011

So by now you’ve heard that Captain America: The First Avenger is headed to your local cineplex this weekend. Looking to get up to speed on Ol’ Winghead? Wondering what makes him tick, what drives him to pound Ratzis and fight for what’s right?

Here’s the patriotic precis on the Star-Spangled Avenger.

ALTER EGO: Steve Rogers. Well, largely. It’s complicated.

FIRST APPEARANCE: Captain America Comics #1 (less complicated!), March 1941.

SCHTICK: Um. Do you … do you mean “powers,” there? Because if you mean “powers” you should just say “powers” and ease up on the “schtick” talk.

No, yeah, I know it’s Yiddish, but it still sort of sounds German, and, really: Ix-nein on the erman-Gein around this guy. Sets him off.

Fine, whatever, POWERS: That’s better! Well, he’s a super-soldier, isn’t he?

Not literally super, in the sense of superhuman strength or speed. No, he’s just … the best. The best, strongest, fastest, toughest human there is.

ACCOUTREMENTS: …. Okay, I’m sorry, but French, now? You get that this guy’s Captain America, yes? Just … talk American, okay?

(Sigh.) EQUIPMENT: “When Captain America throws his mighty shieeeeeeeld!/All those who choose to oppose his shield must yieeeeeeeeeeld!” Heh heh. Right?

…. LOOK, IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER…: I do! That was it! It’s from his theme song in the 60s cartoon, and –

EQUIPMENT!!: Ok, ok. By the book, then? Fine: So he’s got a round shield made of the indestructible metal vibranium, which he can throw with pinpoint accuracy to take out the bad guys.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Indestructible metal edge + round whizzing shield = Whole Lotta Decapitatin’ Goin’ On. But that’s not how Cap rolls. It just sort of … bongs against the bad guy’s craniums, knocking them out, and then boomerangs back to him.

ORIGIN: Well, this’ll be covered in the film, but okay.

The year is 1941. “As the ruthless war-mongers of Europe focus their eyes on peace-loving America, the youth of our country heed the call to arm for defense.” You know! To take it to those dirty, rotten mongers!

One such youth: 98-pound weakling Steve Rogers, who is promptly denied enlistment due to his “unfit condition.” But thanks to a super-secret government project, he’s afforded a second chance: Inoculated with a “strange seething liquid” (combined, in later versions of the origin, with mysterious “Vita-rays”), Rogers’ body and intelligence grow in a matter of seconds to the very peak of human condition.

He is meant to be a test case — the first of an army of US super-soldiers — but alas, it is not to be. One of the “high government officials” witnessing the transformation reaches for a pistol and shoots the project’s head scientist (with a Luger, while shouting “Death to the dogs of democracy!”, not to put too fine a point on it).

Alas! The scientist dies, and the secret formula for super-soldier serum dies with him! O wicked fate! And thus our man Rogers assumes the role of sole champion: Captain America.

And gets promptly to work kickin’ Ratzi arsch. Not even half a page later in his slim, 8-page origin story, written by Joe Simon and illustrated by Jack Kirby, “A whole nation thrills to his daring exploits! His name becomes a symbol of courage to millions of Americans … and a by-word of terror in the shadow-world of spies!”

PLUCKY KID SIDEKICK: That’d be young Bucky Barnes, the “mascot” of the army camp where Private Steve Rogers is stationed.

We meet Bucky on page 7 of Cap’s 1941 origin; barely two panels later he’s walking into Steve’s tent while Steve’s changing into (out of?) Captain America’s costume.

Quoth Steve: “You little rascal! I oughta tan your hide! I guess you got me dead to rights — I am Captain America!”

Bucky: “Gosh … Gee whiz … Golly … I… I never thought…”

Steve: “From now on we must both share the secret together. That makes you my partner, Bucky!”

Look, yes, fine: There are overtones, duly creepy overtones, but ignore ‘em. The point is: A spy-bustin’ team was born that day, ready to give Shicklgruber the ol’ what-for. Captain America and Bucky!

ENEMIES: The Red Skull, your basic Nazi (and subsequently Communist) evil-doer, who spends his days trying to take over the world, narf. He’s been several different guys, over the years, but they all order off the same world-domination menu. Look for his signature weapon, a fake cigarette that fires a “Dust of Death” toward his victims, leaving them looking sort of like him.

The Skull’s right-hand mann, biochemist/geneticist/mad scientist Dr. Arnim Zola might crop up in the film as well. His character came along much later (Kirby created him in the 70s) but was promptly retconned into the Marvel Universe’s WWII continuity.

Also HYDRA, a criminal organization devoted to world domination. Not technically Nazis, but run by them.

AFFILIATED GROUP: The Avengers, a team of modern-day Marvel heroes who discovered Cap’s body frozen in the ice of the North Atlantic. It seems the experimental plane he was flying crashed there in 1945, placing him in suspended animation until they defrosted him.

Thus began his tenure as the Marvel Universe’s man-out-of time. That’s been his defining characteristic for years — his old school sense of right and wrong continually clashing with the moral relativism of the modern age. It’s gotten him into more than a few scrapes.

WHAT ABOUT HIS TEAM-UP WITH THE FALCON? AND HIS PERIODIC DISILLUSIONMENT WITH THE COUNTRY’S DIRECTION, WHICH HAS CAUSED HIM TO ABANDON THE ROLE OF CAPTAIN AMERICA TO BECOME NOMAD, AND LATER SIMPLY ‘THE CAPTAIN’? AND THAT TIME HE LOST HIS POWERS AND HAD TO RELY ON AN EXOSKELETON? AND WHEN HE DISCOVERED THAT LONG-THOUGHT-DEAD BUCKY WAS ALIVE AND WELL AND WORKING FOR THE RUSSKIES? REMEMBER THAT? AND CIVIL WAR? AND THAT TIME HE CAME OVER ALL DEAD, BRIEFLY? AND THEN WHEN HE ASKED BUCKY TO TAKE OVER THE ROLE OF CAPTAIN AMERICA?: Those are all things that happened.

OH COME ON: Sorry, all that stuff is part of the character’s history, but it won’t help folk going to see the movie this weekend.

All they need to know is: Scrawny kid. Super-soldier serum. Fightin’ Nazis, the Red Skull, Hydra.

And — given that Cap will appear in the upcoming Avengers movie — it’s a safe bet that somewhere in the last reel, the guy’s due for a serious case of freezer burn. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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