Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Preamble #1: "I must enlist, sir!"

Steve Rogers knew two constants while growing up.

First, there was sickness and plenty of it. He had been so sick in fact, that doctors from other counties would travel just to diagnose him. His health might improve for a time and then descend again into a series of painful or near death experiences. There were the broken bones, the fevers, the raspy coughs, swollen glands, rashes, bumps, nose bleeds and the list just wore on. He missed a lot of school and spent half of his life bed ridden.

Second, Steve grew up during the depression and the fear of it loomed large in every adult conversation.

Most boys his age helped with chores and drove tractors, slopped pigs, fed chickens, milked cows, cut wood, gathered hay or went hunting, fishing and trapping with fathers and uncles. Steve was too frail to be involved in these activities. He envied the other boys as they told their tales of fish they caught or girls they almost caught. The desire to be well and healthy was so over powering that Steve often dreamed he could run in the meadow as fast as a horse. With bad legs, bad knees and a bad heart, these just remained dreams.

Between all his hardships, Steve sometimes felt like he was going to drown in despair. Every time a doctor came and promised a cure, there was always a pulse of hope that this time the pattern of sickness and health would be broken. Maybe this time he would be able to walk twenty yards without falling over or run and play baseball...

As a child, Steve loved drawing maps. They transported him to exotic locales far from his troubles and he drew hundreds of maps on every scrap of paper he could find using sticks of charcoal from the stove. Map making eventually got him to crack open history books to trace the voyages of seafaring explorers. It was this cursory exposure to facts that broadened his interest to include the Revolutionary War and it's improbable cast of characters: Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington. What would it be like to load a musket on the village green in battle? Ride with Paul Revere? Cross the Delaware? Sign the Declaration of Independence..?

What could a sick little boy ever do to help his country?

This question would be answered the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Now a gangly, weak 17, Steve was still too sick to enlist for service even though he had tried to five times in the past year. America was now marching to war against the Axis powers and Steve Rogers was determined to march with it!

The entire first chunk of the century was a very bloody, painful time in world affairs. The aftermath of the Great War (to end all wars) left many deep scars. Destruction and the cost in human flesh was staggering. Immediately at the end of that war, the Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 ran rampant killing 20% of the entire population on the earth, a fact disturbing just on it's own. In the next breath, the Great Depression swallowed people's hope as well their prosperity. On the European continent, some unknown Austrian painter took over the political leadership of Germany and launched an unparalleled military land grab combined with an aggressive PR initiative. America decided for good or ill to wait it out, not wanting anything to do with spiralling European misadventures. Isolationist policies could neither shield nor protect America from the growing evil. Blinded by power, Adolf Hitler was obsessed with prize of glory and was more than willing to drag the rest of the world through hell to get it...

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were creators in a fledgling profession that wouldn't be recognized today as the comic book industry. From the imagination of these two young Jewish artists sprang a larger than life hero propelled into the fray to set the wrong things right. Months before the Pearl Harbor attacks, Simon and Kirby's colorful Captain America Comics #1 was published by Timely Comics in March 1941 and became an instant smash. Quickly selling a staggering seven million copies a month, Cap featured our hero fighting Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini ALL before the U.S. entered the war...

1 comment:

  1. The first preamble to the blog. The title gives a lot away. As the story is presented, Steve Rogers has a burning desire to enlist. He is not hanging around with his drunken pals getting eagle tattoos and waking up enlisted. The act is a conscious act. Deliberate. Passionate. He is driven to join up for service despite his physical shortcomings. Despite the dangers. What provokes such a strong response from his character?