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Guest Writer

Money unwisely spent
'Captain America,' the movie (part IV)
by Neil Anderson

ollywood, after decades of either ignoring Marvel Comics superheroes or paying them the most unwanted of attentions (remember the "Spider-Man" television series of the late '70s?), is finally attempting to do the garishly clad characters justice.

A fairly good version of "Spider-Man" was released last year, "The X-Men" were featured in a not-completely-embarrassing movie two years before that, and we get to see Ang Lee direct "The Hulk" later this summer.

True, "Blade" and "Daredevil" were pretty awful, but those characters were never on the Marvel Comics varsity team, anyway. At this rate, inevitably, we can expect to see an overpriced, under-thought screen version of Captain America in production any day now.

If so, it will be the fourth attempt to dramatize the Captain and it's likely to be just as bad as the first three. I have not seen any of those versions, but I'm willing to speculate: All three sucked, inducing in viewers the uncomfortable, if not unfamiliar, sensation of seeing money unwisely spent.

I, and I alone, know why.

At this point, it’s necessary to give some background. During World War II, Captain America had a teen-age sidekick. All superheroes during World War II had teen-age sidekicks.

It started with Batman. For his first 10 appearances, Batman was a loner – a rich dandy who idled away the daylight in his bathrobe, then dressed up in clinging tights to prowl Gotham City’s rooftops by night, looking for rough trade (to be fair, well, less unfair, he referred to them as “criminals”).

Batman was pretty damn kinky.

Then, evidently, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman’s creators, decided that Batman was not kinky enough. Something was missing. And they decided what was missing was a touch of pedophilia. So Batman got a teen-age sidekick, Robin. Soon, it became de rigueur for every superhero to have a teen-age sidekick. One hero, Catman, even had a teen-age girl sidekick, Kitten.

Captain America’s sidekick was named Bucky. Throughout the wartime years, Bucky accompanied Captain America everywhere. After World War II, Captain America’s comic book was cancelled, and Bucky followed Captain America into oblivion.

In 1964, Captain America was brought back to life in the pages of another comic book: "The Avengers." Writer Stan Lee, who understandably thought that the idea of teen-age sidekicks was a bit odd (at very least, people would start to talk), wrote a story which revealed that Bucky had been killed at the end of World War II, and Captain America had been preserved in suspended animation immediately thereafter.

Ironically, the dead Bucky dominated post-1964 Captain America storylines in a way the living Bucky never had during WWII. Captain America was wracked with guilt (justifiably so) over Bucky’s death. Bucky kept coming back, as a robot, an android and a ghost, always (again, justifiably) very bitter toward his former mentor.

The Bucky-back-from-the-dead stories tend to blend together in my memory, but the dialogue was unforgettable. Captain America: “Bucky! You’re still alive! But – you’ve changed! You’ve become cruel – bitter! Do you blame me for World War II?” Bucky: “Hi, Cap! Kill any partners lately?”

The reason writers kept bringing Bucky back is obvious. It made for a great story. Captain America was partially responsible for Bucky’s death, and it was the stuff of real drama when Bucky’s corpse popped in to remind the Captain. In short, Captain America’s comic book was never as gripping as when he was being berated by his former partner.

So, a word of advice to any who mount a fourth attempt to dramatize Captain America: Bring back Bucky, the conscience of a fictional generation of teen-age sidekicks who pandered to the darkest instincts of the mid-century American empire. He still has much to teach us.

See more from Neil in our archives.

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