Captain America Is No Flag-Waver

For several days before Comic-Con officially opened there has been lots of news, with much of it being dominated by Marvel. There has been the release of the above movie poster for Captain America, and now there is even some political controversy surrounding the movie. The shocking news is that Captain America isn’t going to be a flag-waver. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The director of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the 2011 summer blockbuster that will coincide with the character’s 70th anniversary, says the screen version of the hero will be true to his roots — up to a certain point.

“We’re sort of putting a slightly different spin on Steve Rogers,” said Joe Johnston, whose past directing credits include “Jurassic Park III” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” He’s a guy that wants to serve his country, but he’s not a flag-waver. We’re reinterpreting, sort of, what the comic book version of Steve Rogers was.”

None of that is surprising, of course — Christopher Nolan pared away significant parts of the Batman mythology (such as Robin the Boy Wonder and any super-powered villains) that didn’t fit his grim take on Gotham City, while Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. manufactured a version of Iron Man that is hard-wired for far more humor than the old-school Marvel Comics character…

“He wants to serve his country, but he’s not this sort of jingoistic American flag-waver,” Johnston said. “He’s just a good person. We make a point of that in the script: Don’t change who you are once you go from Steve Rogers to this super-soldier; you have to stay who you are inside, that’s really what’s important more than your strength and everything. It’ll be interesting and fun to put a different spin on the character and one that the fans are really going to appreciate.”

Some pundits will pounce on all of this as another desecration of an American touchstone, but how many of them have ever read the books? The character, created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, was certainly unconflicted about his country and its mission during the clear-cut days of the 1940s, but it didn’t always stay that way. In late 1974, for instance, in the months after President Nixon’s resignation, Steve Rogers chucked the star-spangled costume and changed his hero name to Nomad (although, by 1976, Cap and original artist Kirby had the hero in bicentennial mode).

In recent years, Marvel star writer Ed Brubaker’s work on the character has been exceptional and never two-dimensional. Brubaker (the son of a Navy intelligence officer who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) came to recognize that Cap is a vessel that can contain whatever any generation or reader wants to put in it. In 2007, Brubaker told the New York Daily News: “What I found is that all the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on — and giving speeches on — the street corner against the George W. Bush administration, and all the really right-wing fans want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam Hussein.”

How much of a flag-waver Captain America should be depends a lot upon the era in which the story takes place. If this is to be a World War II story going back to his origins, then James Joyner has a good point:

I’ve got no problem with rebooting decades-old comic book characters and tweaking their origins to fit modern sensibilities.  After all, Marvel and DC have done this multiple times with their flagship characters.

But here’s the thing:  They’re still setting Cap’s origins in WWII and having him as an American super-soldier fighting the Nazis (including, one presumes, the Red Skull).  It would be incomprehensible for that character to be other than a flag-waving patriot, as that was simply the norm.

If Johnson were re-imagining the character with an origin in 2010, on the other hand, the change would be perfectly natural.   American soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, very much think they’re the good guys.  But cynicism and ambiguity about the mission are part and parcel of their culture.

But a WWII Cap?  It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t completely make sense if it is to be a WWII Captain America, but I’m not certain that the entire movie deals with that era. Another consideration is that the movie is being made for modern audiences, not those of the World War II era. Just as M*A*S*H successfully took Vietnam era views and portrayed them during the Korean War, it is conceivable that a World War II era movie might be written with more modern cultural views. I think we need to suspend making a decision until we see what the actual story is and to what degree Captain America ceases to be a flag-waver.

M*A*S*H Writer Larry Gelbart Dies At 81

mash-lede

Larry Gelbart died today of cancer at age 81. Among his achievements was writing for the television version of M*A*S*H:

Set in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, TV’s “MASH” grew out of director Robert Altman’s hit 1970 movie written by Ring Lardner Jr., which was based on the 1968 novel by Richard Hooker (the pen name of Dr. Richard Hornberger, who had been a military surgeon in Korea).

Gelbart and his family were living in London, and he was producing the British TV show “The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine” in 1971 when producer-director Gene Reynolds called him about writing a pilot script for a TV series based on “MASH.”

In writing the pilot, Gelbart recalled in his 1998 memoir “Laughing Matters,” he knew that it “was going to have to be a whole lot more than funny. Funny was easy. How not to trivialize human suffering by trying to be comic about it, that was the challenge.”

“MASH” debuted on CBS in 1972, with Gelbart serving as executive script consultant. He and Reynolds were both executive producers of the show — and shared Emmys — when it won the award for outstanding comedy series in 1974.

Gelbart’s influence on “MASH,” Reynolds told the New York Times in 1989, was “seminal, basic and enormous.”

“Larry not only had the wit and the jokes,” Reynolds said, “he had a point of view. He not only had the ribald spirit, he had the sensibility to the premise — the wastefulness of war.”

As for the regulation-breaking surgeon Hawkeye Pierce — the lead character played by Alan Alda — Gelbart told the New York Times, “I didn’t have to think of why he was saying what he said. He was saying what I felt. I mean, he is an idealized me.”

Hawkeye, he said, “is capable — that is, at work, at what he does. He’s an idealist. He’s a romantic. Somebody who cares about himself and other people. He’s often frustrated by whatever particular system he finds himself fighting against.”

“MASH” ran for 11 years. But Gelbart’s involvement ended in 1976 after four years and 97 episodes. As he later told The Times, “After four years, I had given it my best, my worst and everything in between.”

In a statement Friday, Alda said: “Larry’s genius for writing changed my life because I got to speak his lines — lines that were so good they’ll be with us for a long, long time; but his other genius — his immense talent for being good company — is a light that’s gone out and we’re all sitting here in the dark.”

M*A*S*H was one of the greatest anti-war shows ever (as well as one of the greatest television shows of any type to ever air). If George Bush had spent more time when younger watching M*A*S*H instead of drinking, perhaps he would have thought twice about going into Iraq.

Emmy Night

The Emmy Awards are coming up tonight. Even though it was greater during the Sorkin years, I’m rooting for The West Wing to go out with some major awards. Its a shame that the Lauren Graham Rule didn’t do enough. Some deserving shows and individuals are not going to be recognized tonight.

I’ve already reposted some of my old blog posts on Gilmore Girls and several science fiction shows. To get in the mood for the Emmys I’ll add some other old television posts, including The West Wing, 24, and Alias, below the fold.

UPDATE: Alan Alda wins as Arnold Vinick

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