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The Silver Age of DC Comics – TASCHEN 396 Pages

Captain Carter What If episode

Review

I'd heard negative stuff about this 31 minute Disney cartoon, the first complaints originating out of the promo art which seemed to show "a cartoon head of Hayley Atwell on top of a man's body."

I think there's a good argument to be made for that assessment being true based on the still image marketing piece Disney was flashing around the internet. But, the animated cartoon itself, which is made up of a pretty advanced form of rotoscoping (basically tracing photography of actors, turning it into animated line art combined with computer embellishing added for shading, colors, background, etc) clearly shows a female body jumping, kicking, and running all over the screen. No, it's not the voluptuous figure that Hayley Atwell the actress has in the live action Marvel movies, but the rotoscoped Captain Carter I saw was an athletic female stunt-woman's figure, and though the British Union Jack chest piece seems meant to tone down the typical idealized bust of a superhero woman that is a cliché in the comic books (which trafficks in idealized figures across the board, whether its the epitome of human physical development or the crooked, rickety shape of a twisted villain), I don't understand the accusation that we're looking at a man in the pseudo-Captain America suit fighting Red Skull. At worst, Cap'n Carter looks like she's been half-way grown into She-Hulk territory after getting the super-soldier serum, or that is, classic She-Hulk which retains a very defined female physique, versus the weirdly androgenous modern Disney She-Hulk.

The rotoscoping isn't perfect and the usual problem is the unmoored look of facial features that don't stay fixed into position as a head turns, for example. This was the sort of thing that marred other rotoscoped stuff from out of the past, such as Bakshi's Lord of the Rings (1978), Frazetta's Fire and Ice movie from 1983, or more elaborate, modern stuff like the face of the late Peter Cushing showing up so hyper-realistic it was unrealistic in Star Wars The Force Awakens. They don't have the technique conquered in What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger? either (and maybe it simply can't be), but in general the animation is good and has quite a few highlights where it's better than just good.

The story in the cartoon What If Cap'n Carter seems like a basic What if tale, flavored with some of the old Marvel title's Twilight Zone reality-shift attitude. Those stories tended to logically roll out an altered cause-and-effect story line, which often went something like this: what if gamma rays struck Tony Stark instead of Reed Richards? What if the Isotope truck had encountered Peter Parker instead? What if the radioactive spider had bit Aunt May (or James Jonah Jamison)? What happens with this kind of story is that it relies a lot on what you already know (otherwise the What if aspect carries no weight) and so even with only 31 minutes, Disney has the advantage of the entire film of Captain America The First Avenger from 2011 playing a part like its a cast member.

Probably the best thing about this premiere episode of What If was that Captain Carter got down to business so often: punching, kicking, leaping, etc., something that has become less prevalent in Marvel as the Disney influence (and the sheer burden of success) gets more prominence. The story, such as it is, just mimics the 2011 movie and leads us through that movie's plot but with things swapped Steve-for-Carter, and with only 31 minutes the writers speed through the high points, which distorts it in places into being a parody of the live action movie.

Not so much on display here was having the characters emote verbally about emotions instead of superheroing and just showing us the emotions, something being done in a lot of shows (and not just Disney) which get bogged down in yakety-yak (and there is some of that in this episode of What if). TV superhero shows are unnaturally static (for a superhero program), and it drags the story down to a halt no matter how much a camera follows characters up and down hallways, talking, talking, and talking; characters looking off screen meaningfully as something happens that, invisible to the audience, doesn't cost a penny in special effects. Like Johnny Rotten at the last concert of the Sex Pistols in 1978 asked "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" that is the feeling for a lot of comic books translated into live action film and TV shows. But, here, What If... Captain Carter Were the First Avenger? pays off with legit comic book action.

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Original Page August 2021