Friday, December 16, 2011

The Face of Heroism: Great Captain America Moments

With the unfortunate but not really surprising passing of Captain America co-creator Joe Simon at age 98, it has been an unusually somber last couple of weeks for lovers of the Silver Age of comic books. Jerry Robinson, creator of the Joker (among other characters), passed last week, and in memoriam of his contribution to comics, I listed off some of my favorite moments involving the Joker.

In the same vein, I would like to recap some of my personal favorite moments from the lore that has developed around Simon's most prominent co-creation, Captain America.

Captain America is one of the first comic book figures I remember hearing about as a little kid, long before I developed a serious interest in comic books. He was a banner of good, a helpful hero who always fought to the last for what was right, no matter the odds. As I got into comics and read some of his more significant storylines, he struck me as a man who embodies the concept of personal self-sacrifice, as well as service to an ideal and a country.

He was also a more complex character than that, though: he lost friends in World War II, emerged from a frozen block into a future he didn't know, and then lost more friends as the leader of the Avengers. He's had to make unpopular decisions in times of war, lose the faith of his teammates, and, in one case, die for his ideals. Like all good comic characters, his life has not been an easy one, but worthwhile. He's one of my favorite characters, and has a uniquely unassailable place in comics as a man of valor, integrity, and goodwill.

Again, off the top of my head, here are some of my favorite moments the Star-Spangled Avenger has had, from various comics and other media:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger -- Oh, how I adore this movie. My favorite moment from it happens before he ever puts on the uniform or gets his first dose of the Super Soldier Serum that makes him so strong. Having unsuccessfully tried many times to enlist into the armed forces for the war, Steve Rogers is approached by Dr. Abraham Erskine, who asks him, "So, you want to kill Nazis, do you?" Rogers's reply is classic Captain America: "Not particularly. I just don't like bullies. No matter where they're from." In that moment you see the heart of this character, that he is, more than anything else, a good man who simply wants to do what he feels is right.

  • Captain America Comics #1 -- Okay. I've never actually read this comic, but look at this cover! Wow, what an introduction! Months before Pearl Harbor ever happens, we see the Star-Spangled Avenger in what has become one of comics' most famous covers, punching out Adolf Hitler! I usually don't form opinions of heroes based on a cover, but I can only imagine how much of a hit this comic was when it originally made the newsstands! Very iconic imagery, and a promising start to the character's now sterling career.
  • Marvel: Ultimate Alliance -- One of my favorite console games of all time (just ask any of my friends), this brilliant blend of action and roleplaying elements with Marvel superheroes in a titanic battle against Dr. Doom features a prominent role for Captain America, who is in a significant portion of the cinematic cut-scenes. He is also a great playable character, whose shield throw proves to be one of the most useful and popular skills in the game. In the opening scene, you also get to see him take down several armored robotic opponents with just his shield and a determination to win the fight, simultaneously saving Spider-Man from an attack as well. This was a good game for this character, and he figures prominently into it for anyone who wanted to put a good strike team together.
  • The Ultimates -- This group of Avengers from Marvel's Ultimate universe was darker, more flawed, and less noble than their "regular" counterparts, but Captain America was essentially the same as he always was--which made the adjustment to the present for him all the more difficult. And he's still as bad-ass as ever: when he learns how abusive Hank Pym (aka Giant Man) is towards his wife Janet (aka the Wasp), he tracks Pym down in Chicago, goads him into growing to giant size, and proceeds to still kick the crap out of a several stories high Giant Man. If that's not bad-ass, I don't know what is.
  • Civil War -- ... or rather, the aftermath. Not only does Tony Stark and his Pro-Registration side win the Civil War, but Cap, the leader of the Anti-Registration heroes, is gunned down on the way to his trial after he surrenders. I was livid for both of those reasons, but you couldn't deny the storytelling was amazing. Eventually, Steve Rogers would be brought back to life--comic book characters rarely stay dead--but this event capped the Civil War arc definitively and ensured that things would never quite be the same in the Marvel universe.
So, there you have it. My impressions of some of Cap's most significant moments. Many of them are very recent, and I'm sure there are others more expert on Cap than me, so feel free to share any of your thoughts on this matter. What do you think some of Captain America's most significant moments are?

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