Twenty-four hours after watching the just-released Captain America movie, I can say without hesitation: See it! But just think hard about what the sequel should be.
In bringing to the big screen Marvel Comics’ durable costumed hero (whose adventures debuted in March 1941 and have since sold more than 210 million comic books in 75 countries), producer Joe Johnston has remained quite faithful to the saga that all Captain America aficionados know by heart: 90-pound, Brooklyn-born asthmatic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is reclassified from 4-F to 1-A to serve in the U.S. Army in World War II. A brilliant German scientist Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who has defected to the U.S., has selected Rogers for injection of a secret serum and special treatment to make him a “super-soldier.” The experiment works, and Rogers emerges from a pressure-cooker-like chamber with bulging muscles and powerful strength, speed and agility—just before the laboratory facility is blown up and Dr. Erskine assassinated by a Nazi saboteur, leaving Rogers the only “super-soldier.”
So the young man dons a costume modeled on the American flag and, wielding a bullet-proof shield, becomes “Captain America”—a symbol of his country, battling the fiercest soldiers, saboteurs, and super-villains Berlin can throw at him. Hugo Weaving, who plays the nefarious and horrific Red Skull—Nazi mastermind and Captain America’s arch-enemy—deserves, at the very least, nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
The film masterfully brings to life the atmosphere of action-packed Saturday afternoon serials during World War II and the period itself. The only glaring omission is that no one smokes cigarettes. At military camps, high-level meetings, pubs, or just about anywhere else during wartime, everybody smoked!
Yes, “Captain America” on screen does tremendous service to the eponymous comic book hero of the 1940’s. But without giving away the ending, it would appear that Hollywood has ruled out a sequel featuring our hero in the next stage of his illustrious career in print: as a two-fisted anti-Communist crusader in the late 1940’s and early ‘50’s.
The Communists Are “The Nazis of the 1950’s”
It’s true. Featured under his own title as well as varied Marvel comic titles such as “All Winners,” “Young Men,” and “Men’s Adventures,” Steve Rogers became a high school teacher after his discharge and, as Captain America, continued his fight against evil. Only now, the evil was not Nazism, but Communism because the Communists, as the good captain himself said in Young Men #24, are “the Nazis of the 1950’s.”
Captain America voiced that view in a story in which he is called on to rescue the United Nations after its headquarters is seized by Soviet agents. Masterminding this plot is none other than the Red Skull himself, formerly a top operative under Hitler but now working for the Kremlin.
“Captain America, Commie Smasher,” was actually the title of the comic book series in 1954. In issue #77 (July 1954), he is shown swinging into action against Soviet agents under the heading: “Striking Back at the Soviet.” In issue #78 (September 1954), fans are warned “How Much Suspense Can You Stand?” before they “See Captain America Defy the Communist Hordes.”
Captain America often worked with U.S. intelligence agents to stop Communist spies at home and sometimes abroad. In a story entitled “The Betrayers,” (May 1954), he helps expose a photographer who is leaking classified information to the Kremlin. In the same issue, “Come to the Commies!” foreshadows the Vietnam War a decade later: worried about Americans making propaganda broadcasts for the Communists in the Indo-China Theatre of War (when Ho Chi Minh’s Communists fought the French), Captain America parachutes behind enemy lines and poses as a defector. Learning that the captured Americans are drugged into making the broadcasts, our hero exposes the plot on radio and frees the prisoners.
Not only did Captain America battle the Kremlin and its spies here in the U.S. but, in a story in issue #77, he helps an anti-Communist Chinese-American thwart Red agents from Peking who are blackmailing Chinese expatriates into sending money to Mao Tse-Tung’s regime. In another issue, Steve Rogers reveals his secret identity to his longtime girlfriend, FBI agent Elizabeth Ross, and then trains her to become a costumed super heroine herself, Golden Girl. (The closest anyone comes to Ross in the movie is the mysterious “Agent Carter” of the United Kingdom, whom actress Hayley Atwell would have no difficulty transforming into “Golden Girl” in any sequel.)
When comic book heroes dropped their appeal during the mid-1950’s, Captain America faded from the newsstands. When Marvel revived him in 1964 to vast popularity, the story had him frozen in suspended animation since the end of World War II, with no explanation as to what happened to his adventures in the later 1940’s and ‘50’s. Under writer Stan Lee, Marvel clearly did not want to re-visit the anti-Communist era with their reborn hero. More recent stories from Marvel have attempted to cobble together explanations of this discrepancy—none of which resonate or convince aficionados that their hero was not out there as a “Commie Smasher.”
Hollywood, which also tends to avoid any positive portrayal of post-war anti-Communism, now seems to be going down a similar path in setting the stage for a similar sequel to Captain America. All signs from the current film point to a “Captain America II” in which the hero fights current, post-Cold War enemies of his country rather than the Communists he heroically battled in the comic books.
If so, it is likely to be a disappointment to the same fans who are now cheering the on-screen Captain America’s symbolism of what is great about our country and evil about its enemies. How nice it would be, this fan feels, to see Captain America on-screen again and saying the same thing, telling the audience that “the Communists are the Nazis of the 1950’s.”
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