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<i>Captain America</i>: Other Retro Comic Book Movies

Most comic-book movies set their virtuous heroes and dastardly villains loose in the present day. But there are also quite a few that rewind the clock and transport audiences back to another time and place. Case in point: the latest Marvel movie Captain America: The First Avenger, which takes place almost entirely during the early years of World War II and pits Cap against a squad of Nazi-affiliated soldiers led by a Hitler-esque bad guy, Johann Schmidt a.k.a. The Red Skull. Here are some of the other comics-inspired features that double as period pieces. (One note: We're looking at outings involving colorfully clad heroes only, so more serious comic-to-film translations like From Hell and Road to Perdition have been left on the cutting room floor.)

X-Men: First Class
Time Period: The 1960s
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights movement
Most Telling Period Detail: Emma Frosts' bouffant hairstyle.
Matthew Vaughn gave the languishing X-Men franchise a major shot in the arm by taking viewers along on the mutant team's first-ever adventure, which found them dispatched to Cuba to prevent an incident that would lead America and the Soviet Union into nuclear war. (It's worth noting that the standalone Wolverine adventure was also supposed to take place in the past -- roughly sometime during the '70s -- but you'd never know that based on the movie's utterly generic production design.)

The Rocketeer
Time Period: The 1930s
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: Adolf Hitler, Howard Hughes, W.C. Fields
Most Telling Period Detail: The villain tries to escape on a Zeppelin.
Captain America director Joe Johnston's first foray into period comic-book movies was this spirited tale of a stunt pilot and his newly-acquired jetpack that's a nostalgic favorite for almost any movie buff that grew up in the '90s. Billy Campbell looks like a '30s square-jawed matinee idol, while Jennifer Connelly has never been lovelier as his actress girlfriend that aspires to be the next Vivian Leigh (and kinda looks like her too). To this day, Johnston still talks about how much he'd like to make a sequel and we'd be totally onboard with that too.

Jonah Hex
Time Period: The 1870s
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: The Civil War, the Confederacy, Eli Whitney, Ulysses S. Grant
Most Telling Period Detail: Jonah Hex's duster and ten-gallon hat.
It sounded like an interesting idea on paper. Josh Brolin -- who showed off serious cowboy swagger in the modern-day Western No Country For Old Men -- playing DC Comics' Old West outlaw with horrible scars on his face and revenge on his mind. In reality though, Jonah Hex may just be the worst DC-related comic book movie ever made. Well, except for...

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Time Period: The 1890s
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: As in the comic, most of the references are too fictional characters from this period, including Tom Sawyer, Captain Nemo and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Most Telling Period Detail: The team obtains an important clue via a phonograph record.
Alan Moore's ongoing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series is both brilliant and brilliantly bizarre. The ill-conceived film version is equally brilliant in its sheer badness. Movies like this is the reason why Moore wants nothing to do with Hollywood.

The Shadow
Time Period: The 1930s
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: World War I, the rise of atomic science
Most Telling Period Detail: The Shadow's vintage pistols
Alec Baldwin cut a dashing figure as the titular '30s pulp hero (who had a clear influence on a certain Bob Kane-created character known as The Bat-Man) and his socialite alter ego Lamont Cranston in this underrated throwback to the two-fisted tales of yesteryear. The movie's one big problem? That massive nose Baldwin grows whenever he dons The Shadow's cloak makes him look more like his brother Billy, which is just distracting.

Watchmen
Time Period: Though the bulk of the film takes place in the 1980s, the decade-spanning narrative stretches as far back as the 1940s.
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: The Cold War, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon
Most Telling Period Detail: The soundtrack, which includes such era-defining tracks as "The Times They Are a-Changin" and "99 Luftballons."
Perhaps overly mindful of what happened on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Zack Snyder remains faithful -- too faithful -- to Alan Moore's most celebrated graphic novel. The result is gorgeous to look at, but curiously inert as drama.

Dick Tracy
Time Period: The 1930s
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: Unless there really were criminals with names like "Pruneface" and "Spud Spaldoni" then the answer is no.
Most Telling Period Detail: Tracy's bright-yellow fedora.
Like Watchmen, Dick Tracy is more of a triumph of production design rather than storytelling. But the sets, costumes and cinematography do look damn good -- as if the characters stepped right off the comic panels and onto the big screen.

The Phantom
Time Period: The 1930s
Actual Historical Events/Figures Referenced: Well, New York City -- where girl reporter/love interest Diana Palmer hails from -- is obviously a real place. Otherwise, the film takes place in fantasy-land.
Most Telling Period Details: The hydroplane that carries Diana to the mysterious island of Bengalla. Also, the very existence of a "mysterious island" at all in this post-Google Earth era.
Before he entered the Christopher Walken stage of his career (you know, where he just starts popping up in random shit) Billy Zane briefly seemed like he was on track to becoming a full-fledged movie star. But when this well-meaning, but clunky retro adventure failed to ignite at the box office, his career prospects sank with it.

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