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Captain America's Hidden History

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by David Vincent (subscribe)
Occasional blogger and sometimes freelance writer, hammering away in the West Midlands.
Published April 4th 2014
Looking back at a hero's past cinema adventures
Actor Chris Evans made his screen debut as Captain America in 2011's The First Avenger. He's subsequently re-donned the distinctive red, white and blue garb, and circular shield, for 2012's Avengers Assemble and now The Winter Solider - a film inspired by comic book scribe Ed Brubaker's phenomenal and character defining run.

But Evan's isn't the first thespian to take on the mantle of the star-spangled Avenger, as we shall reveal ...

The True Origins Of Captain America

Cap' first appeared way back in 1941. Created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the character was a hit with US kids and it was just three years before the character was deemed popular enough to warrant a cinema outing.

Incidentally, Kirby later went on to define the Marvel universe in the '60s by co-creating such enduring characters as The Fantastic Four, SHIELD, X-Men, Hulk and Thor.

The First Captain America

Captain America
Opening title card of Republic's 15 episode Captain America serial.


In 1944, Captain America made his first, live-action, cinematic appearance. Actor Dick Purcell starred in the 15-part weekly serial produced by Republic, who'd previously adapted Dick Tracy, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, Fu Manchu and (notably) Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel, to the format.

Sadly, other than the costume, the serial writers seemed to have completely ignored the comic book and created their own backstory as District Attorney Grant Gardner (aka Cap) battled the nefarious Scarab.

The result is a decent rip-roaring serial, complete with cliff-hanger endings, typical of the period ... though it's hardly Captain America!

Incidentally, Purcell died of a heart-attack not long after filming, and it would be over 30 years before another Marvel character hit the big screens (and that was Spider-Man).

The Star-Spangled Avenger's Slight Return

Cap' made several appearances on the small screen during the '60s and '70s, including an animated TV series (that seemingly used traced panels from comic books) and two live-action TV movies.

Starring Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, these featured Cap on a rocket-powered motorbike and a distinctive bike helmet, taking a similar approach to adapting the character to the small screen as other Marvel hits, Spider-Man and Hulk.

Not very loyal to the comics. And not really very good.

> Watch Reb Brown as Captain America on YouTube.

Cap's back On The Big Screen

It's Matt Salinger as Captain America (present DVD cover release)


With Tim Burton's take on DC's Batman a huge box office hit, Captain America's return to cinemas in 1990 was (in some circles it must be said) much anticipated.

Actor Matt Salinger took the lead role, and the film thankfully retained many of the Captain America story elements for the first time.

These included weedy Steve Rogers, the power-boosting super-solider serum, the World War II origins, and The Red Skull. Cap was even frozen in ice in the '40s, only to re-awake in the modern day, a leap he struggles to come to terms with.

So far, so promising,

However, the plot, which finds the US President kidnapped by The Red Skull, isn't great, with The Red Skull transformed from Nazi super villain to Italian mobster-type character. And let's not talk about the Southside Johnny power ballad...

Don't be fooled by recent DVD releases which make the film look like an action-packed romp to rival Chris Evans. Because it's not very good. Not as bad as David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury agent of Shield. But still not very good.

> Watch Southside Johnny's Memories Of You from Captain America.

> Watch Captain America 1990 trailer.

Chris Evans Is Captain America

Finally ... someone had the idea to create a Captain America film that actually took more than just a few vague ideas from the comic books!

When you have a character who's been successfully selling comics for over 60 years ... why would you want to reinvent him completely? You shouldn't! If it's not broke ... why 'fix' it?

So far it's so good for Marvel's WWII hero. Let's hope filmmakers stick to the printed pages for inspiration ...

> Captain America: The Winter Solider is out now at cinema's worldwide. Read the Weekend Notes review here.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (pic: www.marvel.com/captainamerica)
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