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CAPTAIN AMERICA

The Hero That Started It All
Captain America (the Super Soldier alter ego of young patriot Steve Rogers) marked his first Marvel appearance in March of 1941, eight months prior to the U.S. entry into WWII; the unforgettable comic book cover image displayed a young hero, with the American flag on his chest, punching Adolf Hitler square in the jaw. Such an unadulterated political stance landed creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in hot water, but it also forever announced the arrival of a bold champion for those suffering at the hands of tyranny and militaristic authoritarianism. Simon and Kirby made no bones about the super hero's overriding goal. The staunchly aggressive art created quite a stir, and Simon remembers, "This was the time just before the War, and we were besieged by political activists who used to have big rallies at Madison Square Garden. There would be 50,000 people in the rallies. Some found out where we lived, and these very aggressive people would protest at us and spit on us. The FBI found out what was going on and they assigned agents to be at our offices, just in case.”

(Marvel Studios President and "Captain America: The First Avenger” producer Kevin Feige observes, "When you have Captain America punching out Hitler in March 1941, before Pearl Harbor, it's definitely a statement, which proclaimed, ‘We cannot sit by on the sidelines anymore.' That immediately spoke to Steve Rogers and Captain America as a character.”)

Indeed, so imminent was the Axis threat in 1941 that the comic book's creators worked backwards, beginning with their villain and crafting a hero in response (classically, the hero comes first). Simon and Kirby sat down and designed varying versions of Captain America, finally settling on one in particular that founder Martin Goodman loved (Goodman began Marvel as Timely Publications in 1939). Market response was positive and immediate, and the book started selling out.

Many iterations later, Captain America remains, in many ways, relatively unchanged. Simon comments, "They've done a lot of things since I was working on the character, however, we're still reminded who Captain America is and what he is. He is a symbol. He is an icon.”

It was not until September of 1963 that Marvel Comics debuted The Avengers, a super group comprised of four of Marvel's most beloved characters: Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, (all created in the 1960's) and Captain America, a character created two decades earlier, earning him the title of "The First Avenger.” Since his debut, Captain America comics have sold more than 210 million copies in more than 70 countries. And now, as fans celebrate the 70th birthday of the super hero, Marvel Studios releases the origin story of how Steve Rogers became the first Avenger, Captain America.

Already well versed in successfully adapting graphic novels to films, the Studio remained firm in its decision to keep the story in the era in which it was conceived. Feige states, "It is my belief that we could not have created this notion of an interlinked Marvel cinematic universe without Captain America, because he is the start of the Marvel universe—not only in the history of our comics, but within the overall notion of enhanced humans. Whether that human has been bitten by a spider, exposed to gamma rays, or encased in a self-built metal suit, the notion of a super-powered human started with Steve Rogers, Captain America.”

So, the decision to tell Steve Rogers' story in the ‘40s era was a done deal. Feige continues, "You can't tell Captain America's story without it taking place in that period. Is this the authentic WWII period that you see on the History Channel? Well, no. This film is the history of the Marvel universe separate from the history that we all learned at school—it's a science fiction approach to history. We've taken real life events, real life locations and put the Marvel spin on them, which really gives us the opportunity to explain the origins of the Marvel universe and allows us to tell a story that, frankly, no one else can tell. Plenty of war movies have been made and plenty of WWII movies have been made, but no one has ever made one quite like this.”

Director/executive producer Joe Johnston agrees, and says, "You only really get one chance to do an origin story. The 1940s were such an energetic era, fueled by the optimistic belief that ‘right' triumphs. Cinematically, it is such a toy box of vehicles, fashion and architecture—and we fill it with the Marvel gadgets and weaponry—it just seemed like a great opportunity to do this story first, then move on.”

The accomplished team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has been writing scripts for 15 years (including all three of the "Chronicles of Narnia”). McFeely adds, "Captain America is not only such a great embodiment of the American ideal of the time, he also is a prototypical hero—one who wasn't born to it, but had to work for it—with unwavering courage and belief in himself. Although those things can transfer quite well to modern day, if you have a hero dressed up like a flag, it might be a bit more challenging to accept that in a contemporary context. The fact they wanted to do it right, frankly, made it very appealing.”

In Johnston, Marvel found an ideal director to helm the project. They needed someone who not only wanted to tell the story, but who could also give the story a heart. Johnston began his career early on in special effects, worked at the prestigious Industrial Light & Magic, and shared the 1982 Oscar® for Best Visual Effects for "Raiders of the Lost Ark.” His gifts as a story teller and his familiarity with the technical aspects of bringing a vintage adventure tale to life made him an ideal director for "Captain America: The First Avenger.” Feige remembers, "Whenever we had a conversation with Joe [Johnston], it always came back to the fact he didn't want to lose sight of the character, didn't want to lose sight of Steve. Yes, of course, there will be amazing design and a great look, but let's make sure the audience goes along with him on this ride. He was the right guy to make the story feel contemporary, make it feel modern, relevant and cool for audiences.”

Coincidentally, Johnston had a lifelong fan in Feige, who explains, "I've been a huge fan of Joe Johnston almost my entire life, right from his design work on the original ‘Star Wars.' His career has been leading up to doing a Marvel movie that is cutting-edge, that is contemporary, that has a heart. His film ‘October Sky' is an amazing, relatable piece of filmmaking. Any other director would come in and want to play, because it's set in the 40's and it's fun, things like that. And that might have left us with something hollow, with the main character coming from a design perspective, and we would have lost the heart of the movie. Johnston, however, was always in sync with the producers and reiterated that the movie had to be about Steve Rogers and his journey.”

As the script began to take shape, screenwriters Markus and McFeely were constantly working to make sure the story of Captain America dovetailed perfectly with the other existing characters and plotlines in the Marvel Universe. Markus says, "We would check in with other projects or they would check in with us, because we wanted to ensure the connective tissue was there—for example, Howard Stark plays a fairly prominent role in our movie, and his son is Tony Stark, Iron Man. The connections have all been there from the start.”

The writers began with the blueprint found on the pages of Captain America comic books. The screenwriters immersed themselves in that world and hungrily pored over stack after stack of issues

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