Captain America In Animation - A Retrospective
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Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in World War II, Captain America is arguably Marvelís oldest still serving superhero with only The Submariner coming anywhere close to equalling him. Heís probably the biggest name to never actually get his own animated series but he has appeared in a hell of a lot of shows throughout the decades, starting with his own short segment in The Marvel Superheroes Show in 1966.
Technically speaking, Captain America was the first Marvel superhero to be animated as his segmentís aired first. As with all five segments in the show, the episodes were literally based on several of the Kirby comic books, right down to swiping the Kirby art and adding the odd bit of animation to make the characters lips move and adding whatever other cost cutting shortcuts they could think of the keep the budget as small as possible. Itís difficult to critique or evaluate the show because you know what youíre getting into the moment you watch it, if youíve already read the comics you know exactly whatís going to happen and how itís going to happen, which pretty much takes all the excitement out of it for me.
Having said that, I usually enjoyed the show for what it was and managed to stomach most of it, which is more than can be said for the Hulk segments that aired in the same show. I tried to sit through the episode that was released on The Incredible Hulk DVD and failed to make it to the end of it. The personal highlight for me was the casting; Arthur Pierce is brilliant as the Captain and Steve Rogers. Sure, heís putting on a cheesy tough guy accent but given the dialouge he was using is lifted right from Stan Lee and Joe Simon comics, it fits. Probably better than it should be allowed to.
As with all the none Spider-Man/Fantastic Four 60ís Marvel cartoons, they can be a little difficult to sit through. Iím sure the hardcore fanboys absouloutly adore it but I personally enjoy it when the show goes with a slightly original route with itís characters but that simply wasnít possible, given the budget here. Having said that, I admit to having seen very little of the show but I do remember enjoying Captain America the best.
As per usual, Cap would have to settle for guest starring roles in the 1980ís, beginning with The Capture Of Captain America in the 1981 solo Spider-Man show. One immediately notices the vastly superior animation in this episode when compared to the rest of the show as it was animated by Toei Doga in Japan rather than Marvelís own team of animators in the states. Itís unsure whether or not Marvel spent a little more on the episode in hopes of luring possible network interest in a Captain America cartoon like they later tried to do with the stunning animation found in the Pryde Of The X-Men pilot a few years later but it was rumoured that they did try and get Captain America, Iron Man and even a Secret Wars show produced in the 80ís but couldnít find network interest. Jon Talpur! Spider-Friends! Clarify!
The episode sees Spider-Man blamed for Capís capture and our wall crawler dealing with the repercussions of his kidnapping Ė New York certainly wasnít fond of itís web slinger to the point where he actually made an attempt to infiltrate The Red Skullís castle and free Cap himself.
The Red Skull is a difficult character to do in animation. Naziís are a no-no in most cartoons Ė how do you get around that? Itís like doing a Spider-Man cartoon where the character isnít allowed to crawl on walls. The Skulls plan here is to swap minds with his enemy, presumably to take advantage of Capís popularity and superior strength. Naturally, Spider-Man isnít for this and attempts to stop the Naziís mad plans and giving him what for.
Visuals wise Ė I love John Romita. Sr. Iíll say it everytime I have to mention solo Spider-Man or Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends in these retrospectives. The show is based on the legends models, so Cap is looking pretty good here. Theyíve even managed to keep those silly wings on his head, which I couldíve done without but Iím sure the fanboys wouldíve cried fowl something fierce had they got rid of them here.
Cap would appear again in the 80ís, this time in Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends. Spider-Friends was all about having fun, and didnít let things like logic get in the way. You might think that sounds stupid but watch an episode of the solo Spider-Man show and then an episode of Amazing Friends and itís clear which is better by leaps and bounds. Thereís nothing especially wrong with the 80ís show, itís just that Amazing Friends is so much more fun and enjoyable to watch.
Captain America is Icemanís fancy dress costume of choice in the showís opening, The Triumph Of The Green Goblin. He even opens with an amusing line;
Bobby Drake: Captain America at your service ladies! Actually Mona, itís me, Bobby Drake. Iím much more loveable than olí Cap!
Cap would make his first full fledged appearance in the show in Pawns Of The Kingpin but as he spent the majority of the episode brainwashed, we donít really get to see much of what makes him Captain American. The episode gets bonus points for using The Kingpin, because The Kingpin is like the coolest supervillain ever. When I get a few free days Iíll start my Kingpin retrospective and simply go on and on about his awesome. You thought the Mysterio retrospective was bad, trust me true believe, youíve not seen nothing yet!
The same design and voice are used from the solo show and in case you needed reminding Ė John Romita. Jr = absolutely brilliant. Never question this fact; the universe will presumably rip in half from sheer shock. You think you could live with that on your conscious? No? Good, then never speak ill of Romita and all shall be fine.
Cap would again return in Seven Little Superheroes. Depending on your tolerate for cheese, youíll find that this is either one of the very best the show has to offer on the show that finally made you decide that this show isnít for you. The episode features seven superheroes being invited to a party in a mysterious mansion by an unknown host, who is later revealed to be The Chameleon who had just graduated from the Ron Burgundy School of poetry. Cap is actually defeated fairly quickly here Ė the whole point of Captain America is that he is the best hero Marvel has to offer, The prince of heroism Ė none of that comes across well in any of his appearances. The 80ís were a difficult times for cartoons and Captain America was no exception.
But things got much worse for him before the 90ís came, as Captain America was one of the few Marvel characters to be given his own movie. After looking at the horrendous results, I wish they didnít bother. Clearly done on the cheap, the movie was marred with production delays before eventually being dumped direct to video. Some of the classic elements of Captain America are kept but the movie takes a lot of liberties with the character, such as having The Red Skull being the leader of an Italian crime syndicate rather than the ruthless Nazi we love to hate. The Skull himself undergoes plastic surgery when the movie gets to the 90ís (80s?) and looks really stupid for it.
The ďplotĒ of the film is pretty dumb Ė there seems to be a lot of emphasis on The President rather than Cap himself. The man out of time aspect is barely played upon and thereís nothing especially memorable about the film at all. Capís costume is also a particular source of embarrassment Ė the guy you get your photo taken with at Universal Studioís looks better in the red white and blue. Matt Slinger is cast in the role and again, is quite forgettable. He later appeared in 24, the most brilliant show of all time and for the life of me, I canít remember who he is. Then again, Iíve not seen season 6 yet. Post spoilers of it here and your ass is mine. Suffice to say, after the movieís dismal failure; we werenít going to be getting our animated spin off.
The next decade of Capís appearance outside the comics would be plentiful, but never quite what many of us were looking for.