Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Criticism That I Don't Understand (The Timely Anniversary Cap Special)

I've read a couple of reviews criticizing the 70th Anniversary Timely Captain America special by saying that Robinson missed the point of Steve's character, by having Steve, pre-serum, beat his enemies through physical feats. And I'd agree that that would indeed miss the point.

But that's not what happened in the story.

--WARNING for massive spoilers.

Okay, the premise of the story is that Steve, just being rejected from the army, runs across some fed, gets a thing from him, and gets chased by Nazis.

He runs. Borrows a bat from a kid, knocks over some barrels to get some distance from his pursuers. Turns a corner and is completely winded and coughing heavily. Gets shot at. Runs up stairs to a train platform with a trashcan lid as a shield. Ends up tossing it at a bad guy, who whacks it aside and in the process, the other guy gets knocked off balance in front of the train.

Steve slips onto a train through people, ends up climbing to the top. He tackles a guy off the train, then lands in a chicken truck. And ends up getting the thing to the army. Yay!

The thing is, none of that is actually superhuman. Except maybe the trashcan lid, but that was the kind of implausible fan service that comics trade on. And even then, if you look closely, he didn't knock the underling off the platform, the OTHER guy did while deflecting the lid.

And the train tackle had the advantage of complete surprise, wind factors, the guy not holding onto anything, and Steve coming in low. Even a small weight can knock someone off balance in that sort of situation, without any advanced physical strength. And the chicken truck was just luck.

The list of physical feats Steve actually managed to pull off in the story is: running a block or two (and getting VERY winded in the process), hitting an immobile object with a bat, climbing stairs, tossing a trash can lid, climbing a ladder on a train, and the train tackle.

That's it. There's absolutely nothing on that list that an ordinary Marvel human character couldn't do, provided, of course, that they were able to keep a cool enough head and not panic in the process.

What we DID see in the story was the clever use of environment to balance out physical flaws: road obstacles, short cuts to train platforms, crowds, ladders, Newtonian physics (subconsciously at least) and conveniently placed chicken trucks*

*By accident, but it's amusingly absurd so it goes on the list.

I think possibly that some of the critics of the story were fooled by the whole Auschwitz chic, concentration-camp survivor depiction of Steve, into thinking he should somehow have much less physical capability than an average person. When you expect someone to have nothing, then the fact that he has anything at all becomes remarkable. He was rejected from the army, but that doesn't mean he's a complete invalid after all.

I think the point of the story is that physical capability doesn't make a soldier. Steve didn't do anything particular special: he didn't make any phenomenal leaps, didn't punch anyone out, he didn't run for a spectacular distance and outlast his enemies. What he had was a keen tactical awareness of his surroundings, which he was able to use well enough to confuse an apparent number of readers into THINKING he was using superior physical abilities. But if you go back and actually read it, he isn't.

And while being rejected from the army is a cornerstone of Cap's origin story, this story makes a step toward saying that the army was WRONG. That even without the serum, this person might have made one hell of an effective soldier anyway, because of his ability to adapt and negate his own weakness. And it's really kind of a shame that he never got a chance to try to prove that.

His physical weakness didn't come up in the story much, because Steve was already accounting for it and cleverly finding ways to neutralize his disadvantage. If he'd had to actually get chased for more than a block or two without a distraction/obstacle, or had had to tackle the guy in a situation other than being on top of a moving train, we'd have seen the weakness come up more. The fact that it didn't is a testament to Steve's cleverness.

I won't say there aren't perfectly good reasons to criticize this story, but Steve's miraculous superhuman ability isn't one of them. I'm sorry the people complaining about that are missing out on an entertaining story, just because they aren't actually paying attention while they read.


  • At April 11, 2009 4:05 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Well pooh. Some people simply LIVE to complain. I haven't read the book yet, but it sounds pretty good.

    Thank goodness for chicken trucks.

  • At April 11, 2009 4:07 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    It's absurdly cute, I think.

    Without the chicken truck, the Marvel Universe would be a sadder place today. Err. Well. After he comes back anyway.

  • At April 11, 2009 10:18 PM, Blogger Doctor Polaris said…

    "[P]rovided, of course, that they were able to keep a cool enough head and not panic in the process."

    That is asking a bit much for a Marvel civilian, wouldn't you say?


  • At April 12, 2009 8:00 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Well, yeah, Doc. That's why Steve is special. <3

  • At April 13, 2009 12:31 AM, Blogger Diabolu Frank said…

    I pretty much agree, but I can see how Steve might have trouble effectively throwing a 1930s galvanized steel trash can lid that was already shown to be heavy enough to stop small arms fire. Also, a 98 lbs. weakling knocking a man mountain off a train could be disputed. Still, Cap was always preaching about angles and leverage back in the day, and there's the whole "it was a fun comic book, you anal-retentives" angle.

  • At April 13, 2009 2:27 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    You have a point about the trash can lid, I think, but I'm okay with that because of the fan service element. I'm willing to allow a writer one impossible thing if it looks cool. :-)

    I do think the train thing works in context though. Steve might be only 98 lbs or so, but if you look at the way it's set up, he's coming in low on a guy who's standing upright with no hand holds or other way of securing his position. Heck, throwing a beach ball at him would probably have knocked him off in that situation.

    Now if Steve managed to stay ON the train, I'd call shenanigans, but since he fell too, I'm okay with it.


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