Let’s think about that core story for a minute. Imagine someone frozen in the 1940s being dropped into the 2010s with no experience of the intervening decades. Someone still high on ’40s social norms, righteous wartime adrenaline, and super-serum. Would he be the gentle, sensitive man we see in Marvel’s films and comics? It’s certainly possible. But isn’t it more likely — and more interesting to imagine — that we would find him difficult and reactionary? That he’d be uncomfortably macho and out of touch with modern values? In other words: Wouldn’t he be more John McCain than Barack Obama?
Because Captain America isn’t just “someone frozen in the 1940s”, he’s a premature anti-fascist who grew in the Brooklyn of the 1930s, in Roosevelt’s New Deal America, who cared enough about the growning menace of fascism to volunteer for a dangerous, dodgy experiment after every draft board in New York had rejected him. He punched out Hitler in his very first cover for heaven’s sake, a year before the US would declare war on Germany. He let himself be made into an ubermensch just to fight those who actually think in terms of unter and ubermenschen. That was there from Captain America Comics #1, put in there by his Jewish-American creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
And when Lee and Kirby brought him back in the sixties, it was clear from the start that no matter how much trouble he had adjusting to the modern world, intolerance and machismo wasn’t part of it; the first actual African-American superhero (the same as in the new movie) debuted in Captain America. What Cap struggled with instead was with having his friends and family aged or gone, having to adjust to a world that went through several decades of change without him.
Riesman’s idea of a man out of time being an ignorant, reactionary dick is about the most dull and obvious you can have and it’s no wonder he takes his lead from the execrable Ultimates series.
I like Lawyers, Guns and Money commenter Sly’s view of Captain America much better:
The best way to understand Captain America is that he is “weaponized Norman Rockwell.” And not just the Norman Rockwell who painted Boy Scouts, Santa Claus, and baseball games, but the Norman Rockwell who painted Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, Rosie the Riveter, and little black girls being escorted to desegregated schools by Federal marshals.
Both Rockwell and Cap were actually much more lefty than their sanitised images — pushed by the sort of conservatives who imagine the American flag is theirs and theirs alone — allow for. Rockwell’s art, before, during and after World War II had a political, liberal left content that’s been ignored since. That iconic image of the townhall meeting from the Four Freedoms series of paintings has so often been appropriated as a nostalgic vision of America’s small town roots, stripped from the context that made it radical.
The same of course goes for Captain America, who can look so easily like just another jingoistic symbol of America, for those who can’t look past his star spangled uniform. But Cap only works when his writers acknowledge the fundamental decenty and honesty of the character, his genuine Roosevelt Democrat beliefs.