Captain America: The First Avenger is due out soon. Comic fans are, of course, excited. The rest of the world? Most likely a collective shoulder shrug, as Captain America doesn't click with people the same way as Spider-Man, Batman or Superman. Even his very name says nothing but boredom.
Cap originated in 1941, and was soon kicking Nazi ass. Symbolically, this image was what America wanted the world to see, and it was echoed in other comic books, and in movies. America kicking Nazi ass. As time progressed, so did the country. Captain America, however, always seemed to remain a few steps back. While never appearing quite as naive or as out of touch as Superman, he nonetheless always felt behind the times, even when writers tried to give him a current spin. Even Captain America's archenemy, the Red Skull, was a throwback to the Nazi age, something readers painfully remembered every time he made a Modern Age appearance.
I was never a huge Captain America fan, though I enjoyed the comic when he teamed up with The Falcon. (I'm sure the writers thought they were being topical as The Falcon was black.) The reasons he never resonated with me are the exact reasons why I think he fails to resonate with non-comic readers. A man who dresses in a red, white and blue costume and whose name is as subtle as a herpes sore? No thanks. America's values have no place in the America we know.
As a team member, such as in the Avengers, Captain America is tolerable. He provides a good balance to whatever team he is on. As a stand-alone character, though, he is, well, as American as apple pie and as boring as sliced bread.
Back in the 1940s, things could be black and white. Nazis were bad. America was good. Of course, history shows it wasn't that clear cut, but culturally that is the message that got through and was generally accepted. These days, when America backs dictatorships and routinely tortures prisoners, it's a bit harder to sink your teeth into a character who is supposed to epitomize America. After all, just what does he stand for? Whose America? What America? Chances are, whatever you would like America to be like, Captain America, rightly or wrongly, represents the exact opposite. Sort of like liberals saying the news networks are too conservative and vice versa.
The upcoming movie will probably do well. New superhero movies tend to do okay from the gate. I don't think it will click with viewers like other superhero films have, and the fact that it is set in World War II doesn't help that any. Like the beginnings of Captain America, his ideals will be clear and concrete, or so I think, and that will help viewers at least determine if he is the character for them. When the Avengers movie comes around, however, things will be far less clear. We expect quaint values from characters in quainter times, but when we transport them to the modern era with those same ideals intact, we risk making them seem silly and out of place. If we change them, however, we often lose the character. That is the dilemma of Captain America. What will you get, and how will you like it? If the comics are any indication, the character is in for a bumpy ride.