Yesterday I finally got around to watching Captain America: The First Avenger. I know I’m quite late to this, but Cap has never been a favorite character of mine, and I’m not very interested in WWII stories. I finally picked up a copy because a) I had heard a lot of good things about Peggy Carter, and b) the buzz around the new Captain America film has been quite good so I figured I should watch the first one.
From now on I’ll be referring to the film as Captain America: His Part in the Peggy Carter Story. I feel a bit sorry for Chris Evans because Hayley Atwell pretty much stole the movie, except for the scenes with Hugo Weaving in, which of course he owned. I’m not surprised that there is going to be a Peggy Carter TV series.
Following a Twitter conversation with Tade Thompson I checked up on the character of Sharon Carter. It turns out that she was originally Peggy’s younger sister, and then was retconned* to her niece to make the timeline work better.
Peggy aside, my main interest in the film was the appearance of the Howling Commandos. As I said, I’m not big on WWII stories, however, the Howling Commandos are an interesting bunch because they are, in a fumbling 20th Century sort of way, a genuine attempt at diversity. Stan Lee didn’t create a group of American heroes, he drew his characters from several of the Allies. There’s a British character, and a French one. There’s also Gabe Jones who is one of the first African American characters in Marvel, and quite remarkable in terms of the US Army which did not have racially integrated regular units until 1948. The film adds a Japanese-American character, Jim Morita, which is also fairly radical given that most Japanese-Americans had been interned.
So far so good. These characters are all fairly stereotyped, but this is comics and movies we are talking about.
Then I watched the extras, in particular the one about the Howling Commandos, and I realized that something terrible had been done.
The British character in the film is listed as James Falsworth. JJ Feild, who plays the character, says that he goes on the become the costumed hero, Union Jack. That’s not what happens in the comics. James Falsworth is a real Marvel character, and he did take the role of Union Jack. However, he did so during WWI. By WWII he’s an old man. He does try to come out of retirement, but is badly injured on his first mission and hands the role of Union Jack on to his son, Brian.
(By the way, Falsworth’s daughter, Jacqueline, becomes the superhero, Spitfire. As she’s a vampire, she has no time problems and is a prominent character in Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13 series.)
So why did the film not use Brian Falsworth? I have this sinking feeling it is because he’s gay.
Well, that’s contestable. The Falsworths were created by Roy Thomas in the 1970s for the Invaders comic book. Thomas insists that he did not intend Brian Falsworth and Roger Aubrey to be lovers, and given what I have read of the comic I tend to believe him. This is the closest they came to a romantic moment.
However, in more recent comics Brian & Roger have been retconned as lovers, and they are now known as Marvel’s first ever gay couple.
Hollywood couldn’t be being that crass, could they? Well yes, they could. Because you see the Falsworths should not have been in the Howling Commandos at all. There was a British character, but his name was Percival Pinkerton. His nickname was “Pinky”. And yes, he was gay. Stan says so. You could argue that is another retcon, as original comic never explicitly stated his gayness, but you only have to look at how he was introduced to see what Stan had in mind.
You’ll also note that JJ Feild’s character in the film has been modeled very clearly on Pinkerton. He looks nothing like any of the Falsworths.
So it seems pretty clear that at some point during the production of the film someone took a decision to re-do the characters so as to avoid two separate gay characters. I don’t blame Marvel for this. They are, after all, perfectly happy to have all sorts of QUILTBAG folks in their comics. It is much more likely to have been someone at Paramount who insisted on it. I am very disappointed in them.
* “Retcon” is short for “Retroactive continuity”. It refers to the practice of writing new stories which appear to re-write the past history of a character.