This week I finally got around to seeing the Joss Whedon blockbuster movie, The Avengers. This proved an entertaining distraction from the heat and introduced me to a character that really caught my attention — the character known as Captain America. I had no knowledge of Captain America’s back story before the film and I enjoyed how the other heroes in the movie treated him as an outdated, all-too-wholesome, naively patriotic boy. He is an unquestioning soldier who believes in distinct lines between pure good and evil.
This remnant of WWII comics was striking to me, in an era of hero movies that question who is truly “good.” (I am eagerly looking forward to the new Batman movie.) Captain America took hold of American youth before the U.S. had officially entered WWII, and thus is not the favorite hero of the baby-boomer generation, though immensely popular when he was created.
I decided to read a little about Captain America (and yes, I started with Wikipedia). I read, “For nearly all of the character’s publication history, Captain America was the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a frail young man who was enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental serum in order to aid the United States war effort.” I read the first pages of the premiere comic.The war-mongering vermin – this is how the comic refers to the Nazis – are threatening peace-loving America. Young men volunteer to fight but the Allies need something more … We, along with a FBI agent, are led into a secret laboratory where they inject a special formula into a weak looking young man. That is as far as I could read for free but in case you couldn’t guess, this young man becomes Captain America.
What seems most odd to me about the creation story for this particular super hero is that it is a scientific process aimed at creating a superior and perfect race of humans. Does this sound a bit too similar to the Nazi aim as well? The creation of Captain America has nothing to do with him working through the ranks of the military to become a captain. Nor does something special cause him to gain super human abilities (e.g. a special crop of corn from the heartland causes him to become a super American). It is simply a government experimenting with genetic modification. Wikipedia explicitly says, “Captain America Comics #1 — cover-dated March 1941 and on sale in December 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but a full year into World War II — showed the protagonist punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the jaw; it sold nearly one million copies.” Though the creator of Captain American was certainly opposed to the Third Reich’s practices, he simultaneously created a fairly Aryan superhero who lacks a story that opposes the ideology of a supreme race. While characters like Superman come from another planet, Batman has a lot of fancy gadgets, and X-Men naturally mutate into super heroes, the hero who is invented solely to help the war effort and fight the Nazi Regime is a genetically altered super-human.