Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Captain America

Captain America is a fictional character, a comic book superhero published by Marvel Comics. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, he first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), from Marvel Comics' 1940s predecessor, Timely Comics. Over the years, an estimated 210 million copies of "Captain America" comic books have been sold in a total of 75 countries.

While the term "Captain America" technically applies to whoever is chosen to wear the costume and given the Shield (the U.S. Government sees itself as "owning" the persona), for nearly all of the character's publication history Captain America was the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a sickly young man who was given enhanced strength and reflexes by an experimental serum in order to aid the United States war effort. Captain America wears a costume that utilizes an American flag motif, and is armed with an indestructible shield that can be thrown as a weapon.

An intentionally patriotic creation who was often depicted fighting the Axis powers of World War II, Captain America was Timely's most popular character during World War II. After the war ended, the character's popularity waned and he disappeared by the 1950s aside from an ill-fated revival in 1953. Captain America was reintroduced during the Silver Age of comics when he was revived from suspended animation by the superhero team the Avengers in The Avengers #4 (March 1964). Since then, Captain America has often led the team, as well as starring in his own series. Steve Rogers was killed in Captain America vol. 5, #25 (March 2007), although the Captain America series continues publication.

#1 (March 1941) — on sale in December 1940, a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and already showing the protagonist punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the jaw — sold nearly one million copies. While most readers responded favorably to the comic, some isolationists and Nazi sympathizers took objection. Simon noted, "When the first issue came out we got a lot of . . . threatening letters and hate mail. Some people really opposed what Cap stood for." Though preceded as a "patriotically themed superhero" by MLJ's The Shield, Captain America immediately became the most prominent and enduring of that wave of superheroes introduced in American comic books prior to and during World War II. With his sidekick Bucky, Captain America faced Nazis, Japanese and other threats to wartime America and the Allies. Captain America soon became Timely's most popular character and even had a fan-club called the "Sentinels of Liberty." Circulation figures remained close to a million copies per month after the debut issue, which outstripped even the circulation of news magazines like Time during the period

In the Human Torch story titled "Captain America" in Marvel Comics' Strange Tales #114 (Nov. 1963), writer-editor Stan Lee and artist and co-plotter Jack Kirby depicted the brash young Fantastic Four member Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in an exhibition performance with Captain America, described as a legendary World War II and 1950s superhero who has returned after many years of apparent retirement. The 13-page story ends with this Captain America revealed as an impostor: the villain the Acrobat, a former circus performer the Torch had defeated in Strange Tales #106. Afterward, Storm digs out an old comic book in which Captain America is shown to be Steve Rogers. A caption in the final panel says this story was a test to see if readers would like Captain America to return.

Captain America was then formally reintroduced in The Avengers #4 (March 1964), which explained that in the final days of WWII, Captain America fell from an experimental drone plane into the North Atlantic Ocean and spent decades frozen in a state of suspended animation. He quickly became leader of that superhero team. Following the success of other Marvel characters introduced during the 1960s, Captain America was recast as a hero "haunted by past memories, and trying to adapt to 1960s society."

After then guest-starring in the feature "Iron Man" in Tales of Suspense #58 (Oct. 1964), Captain America gained his own solo feature in that "split book", beginning the following issue. Kirby, Captain America's co-creator during the 1940s period fans and historians call the Golden Age of comic books, was illustrating his hero's solo adventures again for the first time since 1941. Issue #63 (March 1965), which retold Captain America's origin, through #71 (Nov. 1965) was a period feature set during World War II and co-starred Captain America's Golden Age sidekick, Bucky.

In the 1970s, the post-war versions of Captain America were retconned into separate, successive characters who briefly took up the mantle of Captain America after Steve Rogers went into suspended animation near the end of World War II. The hero found a new generation of readers as leader of the all-star superhero team the Avengers, and in a new solo feature beginning in Tales of Suspense #59 (Nov. 1964), a "split book" shared with the feature "Iron Man". Kirby drew all but two of the stories in Tales of Suspense, which became Captain America with #100 (April 1968); Gil Kane and John Romita Sr. each filled-in once. Several stories were finished by penciller-inker George Tuska over Kirby layouts, with one finished by Romita Sr. and another by penciller Dick Ayers and inker John Tartaglione. Kirby's regular inkers on the series were Frank Giacoia (as "Frank Ray") and Joe Sinnott, though Don Heck and Golden Age Captain America artist Syd Shores inked one story each. The new title Captain America continued to feature artwork by Kirby, as well as a short run by Jim Steranko, and work by many of the industry's top artists and writers. It was called Captain America and the Falcon from #134-222.

This series — considered Captain America vol. 1 by comics researchers and historians, following the 1940s Captain America Comics and its 1950s numbering continuation — ended with #454 (Aug. 1996). It was almost immediately followed by the 13-issue Captain America vol. 2 (Nov. 1996 - Nov. 1997), the 50-issue Captain America vol. 3 (Jan. 1998 - Feb. 2002), the 32-issue Captain America vol. 4 (June 2002 - Dec. 2004) and Captain America vol. 5 (Jan. 2005 - ).

There were attempts for a second series such as Captain America Sentinel of Liberty (Sept. 1998-Aug. 1999) and Captain America & the Falcon (May 2004-June 2005).

As part of the aftermath of Marvel Comics' company crossover "Civil War", Steve Rogers was killed in Captain America vol. 5, #25 (March 2007). Series writer Ed Brubaker remarked:
“ What I found is that 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."

The character's death came as a blow to co-creator Joe Simon, who said, "It's a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now."

In August 2007, Marvel announced that the Captain America of the 1940s will travel to the present day in a 12-issue series drawn by Alex Ross. Marvel also announced that a new Captain America, with a costume designed by Ross, would debut in Captain America #34.

The 2007 miniseries Captain America: The Chosen, written by David Morrell and penciled by Mitchell Breitweiser, depicts a dying Steve Rogers' final minutes, at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, as his spirit guides James Newman, a young American soldier fighting in Afghanistan. The Chosen is not part of the main Marvel Universe continuity.

Following his surrender, Steve Rogers is indicted on multiple criminal charges. As he is brought to a federal courthouse, a sniper shoots him in the back. In the chaos that ensues, he is wounded three more times in the stomach and chest. Rogers is taken to a hospital, where he dies. The assassination, orchestrated by the Red Skull, involves Crossbones as the sniper and Dr. Faustus posing as a S.H.I.E.L.D. psychiatrist, who gives Sharon Carter a hypnotic suggestion to shoot Rogers at a crucial moment.

The superhero community is shaken by the assassination. The Punisher temporarily adopts a costume similar to that of Captain America, while Winter Soldier and Wolverine seek to avenge his death. His shield is stolen by Winter Soldier and the Punisher provides him with Steve Rogers's mask. Captain America is publicly laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, under a monument built in his honor. The body in Arlington is a fake: Tony Stark, accompanied by Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, returns Rogers' body to the Arctic where Rogers had been found years before. Namor attends the small private ceremony and vows that no one will disturb the site.

Stark receives a letter containing Rogers' final requests: Stark should "save" Bucky, and the mantle of Captain America should continue.
Captain America has no superhuman powers, although as a result of the Super-Soldier serum and vita-ray treatment, he is transformed from a frail young man into a "perfect" specimen of human development and conditioning. Captain America's strength, endurance, agility, speed, reflexes, and durability are at the highest limits of natural human potential. It has been established that Rogers' body regularly creates the super-soldier serum; it does not wear off.

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