My level of excitement for the Captain America movie, opening July 22, is pretty high. I’ve been dying to see more of The Avengers since Nick Fury (played by the redoubtable Samuel L. Jackson) appeared in the post-credits sequence in Iron Man. Seeing the onscreen Marvel Universe come together before my eyes is a dream come true for me and lots of other fans. But, to be honest, even I’m surprised by my enthusiasm for Captain America: The First Avenger.
Captain America has never been my favorite character. Frankly, as a kid, I thought he was pretty cheesy. In the 1980s, the stuff that attracted me to comics was more along the lines of Batman, Spider-Man and X-Men. Even Fantastic Four and the Justice League held more allure for me than Captain America. If I needed a patriotic American boy scout, I could read Superman—and, if I were lucky, Batman would get to punch his lights out.
It wasn’t until my 20s that I discovered a love for the character that surprised me. I owned a comic-book store back in the mid-2000s, right when the first run of The Ultimates was coming out. It was Marvel’s relaunch of its universe to bring their flagship characters into the modern day and make them once again relevant to audiences (very much like DC’s company-wide relaunch coming in September). It took me a while to pick the book up—there were a few of my customers who found the idea of the relaunch so horrible they almost had me convinced to avoid it; but, wanting to know what I was selling, I picked it up and read it. I felt like a complete idiot for not reading it sooner.
The Ultimates is very much the story of Steve Rogers (aka Captain America). Written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch, it begins with Captain America fighting Nazis in World War II. He’s a hero, and he’s a very proper gentleman from the 1940s. He’s a man’s man, and he cares deeply for the soldiers around him. He is foiled saving the world, encased in ice for decades until he’s thawed in the modern day.
Reading Captain America comics as a kid, I never got the impression that Steve Rogers was a man out of time, a fish out of water in today’s world. Mark Millar brought that to the character in a fresh way and really sold me a story of a flawed individual just trying to do his best for his country. Watching Captain America beat the hell out of a fellow Avenger with his bare hands for hitting his wife is probably one of the most satisfying moments I’ve ever had with a comic-book character, let alone Cap.
And that’s when I decided I needed to branch out with the character. This time, it was in the classic Marvel Universe (called “The 616 Universe”), and I read about him in Marvel’s Civil War. Once again written by Mark Millar, Civil War begins with a tragedy. Some untrained superheroes accidentally blow up an entire town, the epicenter a playground full of children. This is an attack on humans on the level of 9/11, and the government calls upon every superhero to give up his secret identity and register. Iron Man is instantly on board, taking the government’s side—but Captain America finds the whole thing downright un-American. This sets the stage for one of the biggest, most climactic hero-on-hero showdowns in comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
After those two stories, I began to love Steve Rogers and all he represented. He became relevant to me. Watching trailers for the new movie paralyzes me with chills now. If you want the same effect, hurry to your local comic-book shop and get The Ultimates, Civil War and any Cap title with Ed Brubaker’s name on it. You’ll find a new respect for the character, and I can promise you won’t regret it.
Bryan Young is the editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.