Like a big, badass Bald Eagle that ate the foreign-sounding “Phoenix” that rose from the ashes, Captain America will be reborn next week when The First Avenger hits theaters. It might seem like the character was created as government propaganda — a sort of WPA shot at a superhero — but it wasn’t. It was created to capitalize on that propaganda, which makes Captain America as truly as American as it gets.
In 1941, before we decided to join the war but after we had already decided to hate Nazis, the cap’n first unleashed his American brand of asskickery on the world. That’s right. Captain America took on Hitler before America did. As such, it seems appropriate to take a look at what Captain America has taught the kids of America over the years.
Lesson 1: Drugs make you cool
According to the backstory orchestrated by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the captain wasn’t always so powerful. In fact, he was utterly ordinary. It wasn’t until after he volunteered for a top secret military program called Operation Rebirth and underwent a bunch of serum injections that he became all-powerful. Moral of the story? Anything that will give you a competitive advantage is fair game. I’m pretty sure that in this universe, steroids would be legalized for use in baseball — as long as we’re playing the Nazi’s (“At shortstop, ladies and gentleman, Joseph Goebbels!”) Before the serum, he was a scrawny art student who was too weak to enlist. After the serum, his abs rivaled the work of Michelangelo. He was a pre-Incrediboy, a dork-made-cool by science.
Lesson 2: Americans are scrappy underdogs
Born Steve Rogers in 1917, he grew up on NYC’s Lower East Side (not this Lower East Side; THIS Lower East Side). His parents were poor Irish immigrants. They would see their son transformed from a sorry drain on the family’s potato bank to a bona fide super hero — the next best thing to a priest. Yet, even as a superhero, Captain America remained an underdog. He was given the cover of a “clumsy infantry private” so as to maximize triumphant drama.
Lesson 3: Americans are number-one
Even when they’re underdogs (Yes, we get to have it both ways. We are Americans). If you’re not with us, you’re against us. And if you’re not against us, we’ll find someone else who is and kick your ass for not joining us. Incorrectly thought to be a member of a secret Yale society, Captain America’s first nemesis, Red Skull, was a member of a somewhat different, public society — Nazi sympathizers. Once the Nazis were vanquished, Captain America found a different foe (who was also, incidentally, “Red”).
Lesson 4: Subtlety is for losers
(And America is not for losers.) It’s a well-known fact among true comic book scholars that the superhero’s great weapon is the trite metaphor. That serum he was injected with? It’s called “Super-Soldier Serum.” His bullet-proof shield? It’s the “Sentinel of Liberty,” which may or may not have gotten its name because it was a magazine for Seventh-day Adventists. Get yours now! ($11.69, available in adult sizes, made in China).
Lesson 5: It’s normal for teenagers to be sent into battle
Don’t think of yourself as a someone who enlisted because you had no better options. Think of yourself, instead, as America’s sidekick! Be all you can be, like Bucky. Captain America’s right-hand boy was born “James Buchanan Barnes” (see Lesson 4). After he showed up at Camp Lehigh and soldiers issued a collective of “Aww, can we keep him?” he became the base’s mascot (not unlike Johnny Clem in another KTD post). But we know what happens to mascots — they either die, get eaten or put to work, and Bucky ended up on the front lines. (Lesson 5b: Do not be Bucky; do be Captain America.)