Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Funnies #4: Captain America: the First Avenger *The Movie Storybook* adapted by Elizabeth Rudnick

Cover Art from original Captain America comic,
March 1941
This week, the movie Captain America: the First Avenger knocked Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II right out of its first place box office standing. No doubt, everyone wants to see the newest superhero on the block. New? Captain America?

Cap has been around since his first comic book in March 1941.

But I have to admit, even though I know Cap is an old superhero, I was curious, too. The comic book Captain America was created as a World War II hero, 8 months before the United States entered the war. Weakling Steve Rogers allows himself to be injected with a serum invented by Dr. Reinstein* that, before everyone’s eyes, turns him into a superhuman, the first of what is to become a corps of super-agents that “will makes them a terror to spies and saboteurs!” (pg 5 of the original 1941 comic) But the US Army has already been infiltrated by spies and saboteurs, and President Roosevelt inadvertently gave the OK for one of them to get into the lab as an observer to Steve Rogers’ transformation. When he sees how successful the serum is at creating a superhuman, he pulls his gun and shoots the scientist who created the serum and the remaining bottle of serum. Captain America’s first feat of heroism takes place right in the lab that created him. Afterwards, as his alter ego, Steve Rogers, he poses as an ordinary soldier in the US Army at Camp Lehigh, while Captain America becomes a “powerful force in the battle against spies and saboteurs!” (pg 7 of the original 1941 comic)

Cap then acquires his side kick, Bucky Barnes, at Camp Lehigh. Bucky is the regiments mascot, but when he accidentally discovers Steve in Captain America, Cap has not choice but to make Bucky his partner.

Captain America's arch enemy appeared to be George Maxon A/K/A  Red Skull, an American industrialist turned Nazi, but he turned out to only be an agent of the real Red Skull, Johann Schmidt, who didn’t appear in the comic books until October 1941.

I have never been a big Captain American fan, older versions of Superman were more my thing, so I went off to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue so I could read the original comics books on microfiche there and familiarize myself with the early version of this superhero (and if you have an interest and you are in NYC, you can do the same thing.)

Now, knowing the genesis of Captain America, and suspecting even America’s youngest readers could possibly get caught up in the movie, I was ready to tackle the book especially for younger readers. Captain America: the First Avenger is totally movie related, complete with an abundance of movie stills to augment the story.

The story begins in Tonsberg, Norway in 1942 and Red Skull has just stolen the Tesseract, a crystal with contains the power of the gods. Meanwhile, far from Norway, in Manhattan, puny Steve Rogers is once again attempting to enlist in the US Army. He goes to the movies and ends up in a fight with a really big, unpatriotic guy until his best friend Bucky, already in the army, comes along and helps Steve out.

Steve and Bucky go to the World Exhibition of Tomorrow to see the inventions of a rich industrialist named Howard Stark. Howard takes Steve to a pavilion, where the famous German doctor Erskine of the Special Scientific Reserve (SSR), US Army, (magically) has Steve’s army file. He offers Steve a chance to become a soldier, and sends him off for training a Camp Lehigh. Of all the puny recruits Dr, Erskine sent to basic training, Steve is to only one who makes it through. He is brought to SSR headquarters, placed in a man-shaped contraption and given a series of injections. The contraption is closed, but soon a new Steve Rogers is formed. But one of the witnesses is an enemy agent and he kills the doctor and destroys the remaining serum.

(Captain America comic page courtsey of Comic Vine); Photo from Captain America:
The First Avenger, page 21
Quite a difference becoming a superhero in 1941 and 2011

Steve discovers he now has superpowers and can do amazing things, but ends of as a propaganda tool performing super-feats onstage. In Italy, performing for the troops, he realizes what a joke he had become.

Meanwhile Johann Schmidt, Red Skull, has been causing havoc all over Europe and has captured Steve’s friend Bucky and his regiment, holding them prisoners to work in his factories. Steve Rogers decides Captain America needs to do something about this.

The question with a movie, and a book based on a movie, is not so much will the hero succeed, but can he do what he needs to as a superhero and still leave the possibility of a sequel open.

Captain America: the First Avenger is not a great book, but it is only meant to be an entertaining action-adventure story and it succeeds at that. The storyline is much more sophisticated now and there is not mention of Nazis or the Führer, as there was in the original comics. There is just the intimation that Red Skull is German and involved in an ambiguous war being fought in Europe. There is more text in this book than I would have expected, and it is accompanied by lots of glossy pictures from the movie that is sure to please younger readers. In fact, by the time kids see this book in a store, the new image of Captain America, and probably Bucky and Red Skull, should be totally familiar to them.

I can recommend this book, but not highly.

This book is recommend for readers age 7-10.
This book was purchased for my person library.

*Dr. Reinstein is modelled on Albert Einstein, the German-Jewish scientist who emigrated to the US from Germany in 1933 when the Hitler came to power.


  1. Great background information on Captain America! It's so appreciated and adds to the great experience I had this past week when I saw the movie in the local theater. Thanks!!!

  2. Glad you found this information helpful, Kathy, I haven't seen the movie yet, but probably will soon.