He may be the coolest-looking Captain America, but Chris Evans isn’t the first guy to don the stars and stripes to play Marvel’s shield-slinging Avenger. In fact, the character first appeared on film just four years after his creation in 1940, as the headliner in his very own serial. Though Dick Purcell almost looked the part in Cap’s classic costume (he’s a tad dumpier than Cap should be), Republic dropped many of the elements that fans associate with the character. They changed his alter ego from soldier/artist Steve Rogers to District Attorney Grant Gardner and replaced his shield with a pistol, amongst other things. Apparently, the scripts for the Captain America serial originally existed as a generic action hero vehicle that they shoehorned Captain America into for brand name recognition. It was the last superhero serial that Republic ever produced, as well as the most expensive.
Reb Brown got to the play the character twice in the late 1970s, in two television movies that are largely forgotten today. The character’s origin was given a contemporary spin, with artist Steve Rogers being the son of a World War II veteran instead of a veteran himself. He’s given an experimental treatment called F.L.A.G. (Full Latent Ability Gain) after nearly killing himself in an accident, and is talked into using his new powers for good, designing his own costume (including a clear plexi-glass shield) as well as a tricked out custom van and motorcycle. The first film and its sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, aired on CBS in 1979, and if it seems cheesy and dated now, it was just as cheesy and dated then.
The most notorious onscreen Captain America to date was played by Matt Salinger, handsome son of reclusive author J.D. Salinger. Although the 1990 film was intended for theatrical release, budget constraints led to poor test screenings, and the film sat on the shelf until its eventual straight-to-video dump in 1992. Salinger looks the part for sure, but the film never makes good on its promising opening minutes set in WWII, which see Captain America face off against The Red Skull for the first time on film. After the opening, we join Cap in early '90s America, and it’s painfully obvious that the budget is just non-existent for the rest of the running time. Captain America barely wears his costume, The Red Skull looks like a regular guy (explained away with plastic surgery), and we’re treated to a lot of Ned Beatty.
They’ve basically screwed up Captain America so many times now that it would be hard for Marvel to get it any worse than it’s been done before. Good thing, then, that the new Joe Johnston film looks exciting and accurate to the character. Chris Evans has the charisma, and finds himself as one of Hollywood’s most experienced “comic book” character actors, having played Human Torch in two Fantastic Four films and Jensen from DC’s The Losers. Even if Captain America: The First Avenger doesn’t click, he’s already getting a second chance, with the character appearing front and center in The Avengers.
'Avengers' News Assembled!
-- Thor 2 is officially official! Kenneth Branagh is moving on as a director (a shame, really -- his playful tone helped make Thor a hit), but screenwriter Don Payne is coming back for more. Cinema Blend, in advance of any formal announcement from Marvel, ran an early rumor that the sequel would bring in Thor villains The Enchantress and The Executioner. Personally, I’m hoping for The Absorbing Man (maybe along with The Wrecking Crew). I can’t imagine we’ll see Thor 2 any sooner than 2014, so news on this one will probably be pretty slow until The Avengers is actually in theaters.
-- Guillermo Del Toro always seems to be attached to about a dozen projects at any given time, with many of them seemingly no more than “cloud talk” from the director, so it will be interesting to see whether his live-action Hulk television show will actually make it to TV. “We’re going to do this thing different,” Del Toro told Marvel (according to FEARnet). Interesting that Marvel would let him run free with the character while they still have cinematic plans for Ol’ Greenskin, but maybe “different” just means different than the 1970s series -- not necessarily a drastic departure for the character.
-- One Avengers character that will be coming to the small screen (again) is Iron Man. Marvel.com has a clip from the new Japanese-flavored Iron Man anime, featuring a guest appearance by Wolverine. The anime style looks legit -- not like the typical American facsimile of anime. The new show starts July 29 on G4TV.
-- We knew the “First Avenger” part of the title Captain America: The First Avenger was created, in part, for international audiences, but, surprisingly, there are only three countries ditching the “Captain America” portion. The film will be known only as The First Avenger in Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine (possibly more to come). It all makes a sort of sense, if you consider the “shoe on the other foot” U.S. box office potential of a character named Captain Ukraine.
-- Comicbook.com has a great list of Captain America’s Top Ten Most Inspiring Moments. My personal favorite is #8, as that happened to be around the time I started picking up Captain America’s solo title (which saw Cap stripped of his position, and replaced by an unstable government stooge). Mark Gruenwald is greatly missed, and I hope that the new film brings a little more attention and fan respect to his lengthy, underrated run with the character.
'The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes' Episode Guide
Season 1, Episode 1: ‘Iron Man Is Born’
In this episode: Iron Man fears that a possible mole in SHIELD is leaking his technology to HYDRA. Meanhwhile, neither Nick Fury, Pepper Potts, nor James Rhodes are able to convince Tony Stark that he’s outgunned against HYDRA and needs some serious help.
First of all, that episode title is a little misleading. The series begins with Iron Man already born. This isn’t an origin story at all, but a quasi-continuation of the universe as established in Marvel’s Iron Man films, with voice actor Eric Loomis clearly doing his very best Robert Downey Jr. impersonation. The series does a nice job expanding on what’s already been established in the movies -- Stark isn’t interested in turning his tech over to the military and SHIELD wants him to help them out with the Hulk situation (a character discussed but never seen in this first episode).
I’d originally dismissed the show as it aired on Disney XD, turned off by its dopey rockin’ theme song and overly simplistic, angular animation, but I have to say, I’m glad I gave it a second chance with a slightly more critical eye. The show is good! The action is typical of these kinds of kids’ shows, but the writing is sharper than most. The first episode doesn’t carry out in a predictable manner at all, ending with no actual Avengers team assembled. This hints that there’s some methodical, logical serial storytelling at work, atypical of animated superhero TV shows. There’s room to breathe, even amidst its fast pace. I’ll be interested to see if they can keep up that approach through the first season.
Marvel Universe Watch: Besides featuring Iron Man’s cinematic supporting cast, the first episode sets up Baron Von Strucker as HYDRA’s mastermind and gives a good portion of the action scenes to Nick Fury and The Grim Reaper.
(The first season of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is currently available as part of Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” program. The show airs regularly on Disney XD.)
The Avengers, a Joss Whedon film, stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth. There are 297 days until release.