When one thinks of superheroes, especially who represent the USA, DC Comics’ Superman and Wonder Woman pop into mind. However, when Superman began in June 1938 he was a fitting symbol of truth, justice and the American way. It did not seem to make a difference to the reading public that Superman was an alien from a different planet.
When Wonder Woman first appeared in December 1941 with her American flag costume she was readily accepted as the female counterpart to Superman. Her Greek origins did not seem to matter to the reading public.
In March 1941 Marvel Comics introduced Captain America. Steve Rogers was no one’s idea of a hero, especially a superhero. He was a frail young man from New York City. Perhaps, creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby wanted to represent an emerging USA from the Great Depression. To all appearances the USA was in no shape to fight another world war across the ocean.
In 1944 the Captain America movie serial hit the silver screens. This Republic Pictures serial was very costly and deviated greatly from the comic books. There were no Nazis. No Axis of Evil. No US Army. The main villain was The Scarab.
In many ways Steve Rogers represented what science could do for a human. With the super serum this frail boy was turned into a superhero representing the apex of human evolution with a lot of help from the scientific community who seemed to work hand in hand with the government.
It is this alliance between science and military which has produced weapons of mass destruction since the 1940s. Science, once heralded as the new saviour of the human race, has also become the agent of its destruction. Nuclear and biological weapons could release a nightmare changing this living ecosystem into a shadowy world of endless night and sub-zero temperatures with altering genetic strands of unimaginable horrors.
Perhaps superheroes like Captain America were created to alleviate the growing fears among the public that the science of weaponry was racing faster than the collected wisdom of those using it. In comic magazines the hero was true and just and the villain pure evil—intent on enslaving the world.
The newest incarnation of Captain America playing in the cinema takes the fight back to the Nazis and his true origins as an average American kid with untapped potential. Perhaps, with the current American economic crisis Captain America can remind a new generation that there was a time when the USA was the world’s last hope, and perhaps, however remote, it may be again in 2012.
G. D. Williams © 2011
Captain America: First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Solider