x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The long and winding road for Captain America

The comic book hero Captain America has been around for 70 years now, but here are 10 things you probably don't know about him.

A scene from Captain America: The First Avenger.
A scene from Captain America: The First Avenger.

He may not have had the box office punch of fellow Golden Age heroes Superman and Batman, but things are finally looking-up for the Second World War's most iconic comic book character.

The newly released film Captain America: The First Avenger has earned overwhelming critical praise and arrives on the back of an estimated 210 million comics sold. So why is this red, white and blue champion - originally created to drum-up anti-Nazi sentiment prior to the US's entry into the war - still striking a chord with audiences today?

The set-up is, frankly, rather corny. Captain America begins life as a sickly but spirited Brooklynite, Steve Rogers, who is given a chance to serve his country after receiving an experimental super-soldier serum. But despite starting out as a one-note character, Cap's colossal 71-year career has seen more twists and turns than perhaps any of his crime-fighting rivals.

With that, here are 10 things you probably didn't know about Captain America:

He may have helped draw the US into WWII

Dreamt-up by Jewish-American comics writers Joe Simon and Jack Kirby - both morally outraged by the actions of Nazi Germany - Captain America Comics #1 arrived on newsstands in December, 1940, with a cover depicting the hero knocking-out the Führer.

With his trademark suit, bullet-proof shield and teenage sidekick Bucky Barnes, he was every inch the patriotic hero. The comic sold a million copies and in less than a year, the US had declared war.

"The opponents to the war were all quite well organised. We wanted to have our say, too," said Simon years later.

Unsurprisingly, Captain A's popularity waned after the Nazis were defeated. The comic was cancelled in 1954.

He came to represent a divided America

After being revived by Marvel Comics' most famous talent, Stan Lee, in 1963 (with the character unthawed from the Arctic ice), Captain America was quickly made the leader of heroic supergroup, The Avengers.

He fought everyone from communists and home-grown terrorists, but fans in the post-Vietnam era became divided about the hero's unwavering support for US foreign policy.

"All the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on and giving speeches on the street corner against the George W Bush administration, and all the really right-wing fans all want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam Hussein," comics writer Ed Brubaker told the New York Daily News.

He couldn't do it alone

Like Superman's love interest, Lois Lane, and Batman's trusty butler, Alfred, Captain America would be nothing without his supporting cast. Most notably, Bucky Barnes: a plucky teenager in the original comics, he is re-imagined as fully grown US soldier (played by Sebastian Stan) in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The character is best remembered by fans for his death (depicted in a 1968 issue of The Avengers) and it is considered Cap's most formative moment. The hero is also assisted in the movie by feisty British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), grizzled US colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and creator of the super-soldier serum, Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci).

He inspired many imitators

A musclebound hero draped in a nation's flag was evidently too appealing a proposition for many comics publishers to ignore. After the success of Captain America, a slew of international characters were created who were sworn to protect the values of their homelands.

These included Union Flag-wearing Captain Britain (endowed with extraordinary powers by the magician Merlyn) and Captain Canuck, the star of a 1975 comic set in the "distant year 1993 when Canada has become the most powerful country in the world".

There was also China's Collective Man, Japan's Sunfire and even Saudi Arabia-based hero, Arabian Knight.

He's already appeared in four (terrible) movies

The world's first comic-to-film adaptation, 1944's Captain America, bears little resemblance to the original text, aside from the famous costume. The story sees district attorney Grant Gardner wearing the outfit, but armed with a gun rather than the trademark shield. Rather than Nazis, Cap fights an evil museum curator, The Scarab.

Fast forward 35 years and the character appears in two low-budget TV movies, set in 1979 (think The Incredible Hulk TV show).

The hero is finally pitted against Nazis on film in the 1990 movie Captain America, but it was so negatively received at test screenings that it never made it to cinemas in the US.

He was almost played by Will Smith

With a development process that lasted well over a decade, dozens of actors have been linked to the role of Steve Rogers in the latest movie.

In 2008, African-American actor Derek Luke told MTV: "I heard they offered Will Smith Captain America. Just shows you how times have changed."

The rumour was never substantiated, but other actors linked to the role included Avatar's Sam Worthington, Tron: Legacy's Garrett Hedlund, Cruel Intentions' Ryan Phillipe, True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård and even John Krasinski - Jim from the US version of The Office.

He was turned down three times by Chris Evans

When approached to play Captain America, the Boston-born actor (best known for portraying another Marvel character, The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies) turned producers down no fewer than three times.

Evans had already lent his name to six films based on comics (including The Losers and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) and was reluctant to portray another superhero.

"I was just scared. I realised my whole decision-making process was fear-based, and you never want to make a decision out of fear. I can't believe I was almost too chicken to play Captain America," he told Entertainment Weekly.

He was never really a weakling (sort of)

Joe Johnston, the director of the latest movie, originally planned to use a skinny 98-pound actor to portray the pre-super-soldier serum Steve Rogers, with Evans's head digitally superimposed.

The director claimed, however, that Evans moved in a unique way that no body double would be able to copy. Instead, the bulked-up actor played the scrawny Rogers and every part of his body was shrunk in post-production.

The revolutionary technique is known as "digital plastic surgery".

He isn't loved everywhere

Aware that not every country holds the US in the highest regard, the film's distributor offered international markets a choice between the movie's full title or just The First Avenger.

That's why audiences in Russia, the Ukraine and South Korea may have been unaware they were watching a Captain America movie until the moment the character dons his suit.

Marvel and Paramount declined to comment on why the three countries opted for the shorter title, but an insider told The New York Times it was for "reasons of culture and politics".

He'll be back

After reaching the top spot at the US box office and finally opening in the UAE during Eid, Captain America 2 has already been scheduled for 2014, but the hero will reappear even sooner than that. Next year's superhero ensemble movie The Avengers, will see Cap teaming-up with Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and others.

Part of the reason for Evans's initial reluctance to accept the role was because Marvel had asked the actor to sign up for no fewer than nine future appearances. This was later trimmed down to six - a Captain America trilogy and an Avengers trilogy.

Enough for another seven decades, perhaps?