The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 5, 2014

BILL EGGERT | Captain America: Sentinel of liberty for 70-plus years

JOHNSTOWN — When I was a kid reading comic books, my two favorite superheroes (Batman and Captain America) were not really super; maybe that is why they were my favorites. They were ordinary guys who did extraordinary things. Captain America (or, known by his beloved nickname: “Cap”), besides having an interesting origin, also had the distinction of being frozen in suspended animation near the end of World War II, and brought back to life 20 years later perfectly preserved and not aged during those two decades. He was a man out of time, like Rip Van Winkle, only staying forever young, like Dick Clark.

This weekend “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens in movie theaters across the country. This sequel to the very successful first Captain America film (from 2011) deals with the reappearance of Cap’s best friend and military partner, Bucky Barnes, thought to have perished during World War II. In this sequel, Bucky also was placed in suspended animation for decades, brainwashed and trained by the Soviet Union to become the “Winter Soldier.” The film also features the Black Widow, the Falcon and Nick Fury; all associates and allies of Cap.

As a kid, I loved Cap’s colorful, patriotic costume and his amazing shield, made of a special  steel. The shield functioned as a defensive weapon (shielding Cap from bullets, ray guns, etc.) as well as an offensive weapon, with its circular shape allowing it to be thrown at opponents as well as ricochet off buildings and even return to Cap like a boomerang.

It was amazing what uses Cap was able to employ with his shield.

Prior to World War II, Cap, then a scrawny young man named Steve Rogers, was rejected by the Army as 4-F.

However a military officer saw a strength of character in Rogers that he felt was perfect for the candidate for the “Super Soldier” experiment, involving a serum and “Vita Ray.”  Rogers was to be the first of a long line of these Super Soldiers. However, a Nazi infiltrator murdered Professor Erskine, the formula’s creator, leaving Rogers the sole recipient of the experiment. And so Rogers became a private in the Army, and helped the military on secret missions as Captain America.

The character, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and launched in December 1940, became Timely’s (Marvel’s predecessor) most popular character during World War II. It was writer Stan Lee, along with co-creator/artist Jack Kirby, who resurrected Cap in 1964, by having him rescued by the super-group the Avengers.

Frozen in suspended animation, Cap was revived into a new, modern world.

What appealed to fans of that era was the fish out of water element.  The stoic, noble hero of another generation dealing not only with modern technology, hip, new heroes and society’s mores, but also the grief of having lost his young sidekick in their final act of heroism during World War II.

An entire two decades was lost to Steve Rogers; it was a strange, new world to him.

It did not take Cap long to get back into action, fighting modern villains (as well as his old, archenemy, the Red Skull) and ultimately becoming the leader of the Avengers themselves. It was exciting stuff  for grade school kids like myself.

Cap was brave, resourceful, humble and tragic all at once.  He was the ultimate fighter. His legacy and reputation grew quickly.  Asgardian god Thor said he would follow Cap into the gates of Hades in battle. And Cap was only one of a few humans allowed to be able to wield Thor’s mighty hammer.

A few years ago writer Ed Brubaker had Cap killed off, much to dismay of fandom everywhere. It was a brilliant move, in retrospect, making people appreciate what Cap meant to everyone. It also made folks realize how his absence would impact the world.

Brubaker also brought Bucky back to life as the Winter Soldier in an equally brilliant move. He ultimately brought Cap back to life, much to the relief of everyone. After all, old soldiers never die ... and if they are Captain America, they certainly won’t fade away either.

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.

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