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Captain America

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Character, Comics, Film.

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1. Comics character – a patriotic American Superhero whose costume design includes stars and stripes – created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) for Timely Comics, later Marvel Comics. This title ceased in 1950; the character was briefly but unsuccessfully revived by Atlas Comics in 1953-1954; Marvel relaunched Captain America in The Avengers #4 (March 1964) and he became a permanent member of the company's superhero stable. The Captain was formerly a normal, even puny young man whose physique was hugely enhanced by an experimental super-soldier serum (see Drug); after World War Two, or so the origin story goes, he was trapped in icy Suspended Animation for many years. His trademark shield, forged from an alloy including iron and the magical Marvel-universe Element vibranium, is virtually indestructible and devastating when hurled with deadly accuracy at foes. Typically for comics, the character has undergone various reincarnations, replacements and reboots over the years. Novel Ties include Ted White's Captain America: The Great Gold Steal (1968), Ron Goulart's Holocaust for Hire (1979) as by Joseph Silva, and Bob Ingersoll's and Tony Isabella's Captain America: Liberty's Torch (1998).

The 1944 Republic serial film Captain America (2 below) features a less than canonical version of the character, but the mature post-1964 Captain America has become a central figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – taking the lead in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and joining the superhero ensemble of The Avengers (2012). [DRL]

2. Serial Film (1944; vt Return of Captain America, 1952). Republic Studios. Produced by William J O'Sullivan. Directed by Elmer Clifton and John English. Written by Royal K Cole, Ronald Davison, Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, Harry L Fraser, Grant Nelson and Joseph F Poland. Loosely based on the character created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. Cast includes Lionel Atwill, Lorna Gray, Russell Hicks, Dick Purcell and Charles Trowbridge. Dale Van Sickel. 15 episodes totalling 244 minutes. Black and white.

In a large east-coast City (unnamed but clearly New York), Mayor Randolph (Hicks) is disturbed by a rash of Suicides and berates Polic Commissioner Dryden (Trowbridge) for not learning more about them. He wishes the costumed Superhero Captain America, who has in the past helped the city during serious crime waves, would show up again and solve the problem. Secretly, District Attorney Grant Gardner (Purcell) is actually Captain America and is soon working on the mystery with his secretary Gail Richard (Gray). All the suicides were Scientists involved in an archaeological expedition that made major finds among Mayan ruins in Mexico; each was found clutching a small scarab. The expedition leader Dr Cyrus Maldor (Atwill) has become embittered over not receiving due credit for these discoveries. Dubbing himself the Scarab, Atwill has set out to avenge himself using the "purple death", a gas which induces suicide. Other advanced Weapons used by the Scarab in his quest for vengeance include a sonic vibration machine which he uses to destroy a skyscraper, a mind control device, and even a process which can revive the dead. Captain America gradually closes in on the Scarab while dodging various death traps set for both himself and Gail, who assists him to a considerable extent, even shooting one or two thugs herself. Finally the Captain discovers that Maldor must be the Scarab and captures him.

Those expecting the Marvel Comics character will find very little of him here. In this loose adaptation, Gardner is not a soldier, nor is the famed super-soldier serum mentioned. This Captain America carries no trademark shield but uses a handgun, while sidekick James "Bucky" Barnes is replaced by the attractive Gail. Timely Comics, as Marvel was then known, was not happy with these changes, but had failed to stipulate that the story and characters must follow the Comics canon. Nevertheless, this is one of the better superhero serial films made, and the solitary feature-film appearance of a Marvel character for decades to come. A planned sequel did not follow since Purcell died abruptly from a heart attack while Captain America was still playing in theatres. Some speculated that the stress of filming was too much for his heart, though veteran stuntman Dale Van Sickel doubled for Purcell in the most dangerous scenes. This, Republic's final superhero serial, was re-released in 1952 under the variant title. [GSt]


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