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Captain America was one of the most popular characters of Marvel Comics (then known as Timely) during the Golden Age of Comic Books. Though preceded by MLJ's The Shield, Captain America immediately became the most prominent and enduring of a wave of patriotically themed superheroes introduced in American comic books prior to and during World War II. With his sidekick Bucky, Captain America faces Nazis, Japanese and other threats to America during the war.
Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). Cover art by Jack Kirby (pencils) & Joe Simon (inks).In the post-war era, with the popularity of superheroes fading, Captain America leads Timely/Marvel's first superhero team the All-Winners Squad in its two adventures, and in his own series turns his attention to criminals and Cold War Communists. Bucky is shot and wounded in a 1948 story and succeeded by Captain America's girlfriend Betsy Ross, who becomes the superheroine Golden Girl. Captain America Comics ended with issue #75 (Feb. 1950), by which time the series had been titled Captain America's Weird Tales for two issues, with the finale a horror/suspense anthology issue with no superheroes.
Captain America is briefly revived, along with the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, in Young Men #24 (Dec. 1953), published by Marvel's 1950s iteration Atlas Comics. Billed as "Captain America, Commie-Smasher!", he appears several times during the next year in Young Men and Men's Adventures, as well as in three issues of an eponymous title; however, sales were poor. After the publication of Captain America #78 (Sept. 1954), the character disappeared again. In the 1970s, the post-war versions of Captain America are retconned into separate, successive characters who briefly take up the mantle of Captain America after Steve Rogers goes into suspended animation.
Captain America #78 (Sept. 1954), featuring the first supervillain Electro. Cover art by John Romita Sr..Marvel Comics returned the character to publication in The Avengers #4 (March 1964). The story explains that in the final days of WWII, Captain America falls from an experimental drone plane into the North Atlantic Ocean and spends decades frozen in a state of suspended animation (retellings sometimes place the event over the English Channel). The hero found a new generation of readers as leader of the all-star superhero team in The Avengers, and in a new solo feature beginning in issue #59 of the "split book" Tales of Suspense, shared with the feature "Iron Man". Again penciled by his Golden Age co-creator, Jack Kirby, and written by Stan Lee, the feature went to full-length and took over the number of TOS with #100. (Iron Man received his own, separate series.) The new Captain America continued to feature artwork by Kirby, as well as a short run by Jim Steranko and work by many of the industry's top artists and writers. This solo title has lasted decades longer (albeit in multiple incarnations) than the original run.
In the stories published after the 1960s, Captain America becomes a more serious and less jingoistic hero. Writers often use the character to reflect upon the conflict between politics and ideology by placing him at occasional odds with the United States government or showing him being troubled about the state of the country. He considers himself dedicated to defending America's ideals rather than its political leadership, a conviction Captain America sums up when confronted by an army general who attempts to manipulate him by appealing to his loyalty: Rogers responds, "I'm loyal to nothing, General ... except the Dream." (Daredevil #233, Aug. 1986)
Comic Art Convention program book featuring Joe Simon's original 1940 sketch of Captain America.Steven Rogers is a tall (6'2") but scrawny American fine arts student specializing in illustration in the early 1940s before America's entry into World War II. Disturbed by the rise of the Third Reich, he attempts to enlist, only to be rejected due to his poor constitution. A U.S. Army officer looking for test subjects offers Rogers the chance to serve his country by taking part in a top-secret defense project. The project, Operation: Rebirth, seeks to develop a means to create physically superior soldiers. Rogers volunteers for the research, and after a rigorous physical, combat training, and a selection process, Rogers is chosen as the first human test subject for the Super-Soldier Serum, developed by the scientist Dr. Emil Erskine (code-named "Dr. Reinstein").
Later stories reveal that Rogers is not the first to be given the Super-Soldier formula. While Rogers is being assessed, some military members of the project feel that a non-soldier is not the right candidate and secretly give Erskine's incomplete formula to Clinton McIntyre. This, however, makes McIntyre violently insane, and he is subdued and placed in cold storage. The criminal organization AIM later revives McIntyre as the homicidal Protocide. (Captain America Annual, 2000).
In the 2003 limited series Truth: Red, White and Black, a beta version of the formula is given to a group of African-American soldiers that Reinstein and the military experiment on in 1942. Isaiah Bradley is the sole survivor. After the last two members of his group are killed, Bradley steals the uniform meant for Rogers and wears it on a suicide mission to destroy the Nazi super-soldier effort at a German concentration camp. Bradley is captured but the U.S. Army rescues and court martials him. He is imprisoned for 17 years in Leavenworth until pardoned by President Eisenhower. By the time of his release, the long-term effects of the formula have turned Bradley into a hulking, sterile giant with the mentality of a seven-year-old. Rogers does not find out about Bradley until decades later. The Patriot, a member of the Young Avengers, is Bradley's grandson.
New X-Men #145 (Oct. 2003) reveals that Operation: Rebirth is part of the Weapon Plus program, a clandestine government organization devoted to the creation of superhumans to combat and exterminate mutants. Rogers is "Weapon I", the first-generation living weapon. Following his disappearance, subsequent phases involve experimentation on animals, racial minorities, criminals, and mutants, with results including Wolverine (Weapon X) and Fantomex (Weapon XIII). Rogers remains unaware that one motivation behind his enhancement is the extermination of an entire race, or that the Weapon Plus program considers him its greatest success.
The night that Operation: Rebirth is implemented, Rogers receives injections and oral ingestions of the Super-Soldier formula. He is then exposed to a controlled burst of "Vita-Rays" that activate and stabilize the chemicals in his system. Although the process is arduous physically, it successfully alters his physiology almost instantly from its relatively frail form to the maximum of human efficiency, greatly enhancing his musculature and reflexes. Erskine declares Rogers to be the first of a new breed of man, a "nearly perfect human being".
Captain America Vol. 5, #5, together with fellow Invaders Namor the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch. Art by Steve Epting.At that moment, a Nazi spy reveals himself and shoots Erskine. Because the scientist had committed the crucial portions of the Super-Soldier formula to memory, it can not be duplicated. Rogers kills the spy in retaliation (retconned in the 1960s so that the spy accidentally kills himself by fleeing into an "electrical omniverter") and vows to oppose the enemies of America. The United States government, making the most of its one super-soldier, reimagines him as a superhero who serves as both a counter-intelligence agent and a propaganda symbol to counter Nazi Germany's head of terrorist operations, the Red Skull. To that end, Rogers is given a uniform modeled after the American flag, a bulletproof shield, a personal side arm, and the codename Captain America. He is also given a cover identity as a clumsy infantry private at Camp LeHigh in Virginia. Barely out of his teens himself, Rogers makes friends with the camp's teenage mascot James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes.
Barnes accidentally learns of Roger's dual identity and offers to keep the secret if he can become Captain America's sidekick. Rogers agrees and trains Barnes. Rogers meets President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who presents him with a new shield made from a mixture of iron, vibranium and an unknown catalyst. The alloy is indestructible, yet the shield is light enough to use as a discus-like weapon that can be angled to return to him. (In several stories, due to writer error, the shield is described as an adamantium-vibranium alloy; see Captain America's shield.) It proves so effective that Captain America forgoes the sidearm. Throughout World War II, Captain America and Bucky fight the Nazi menace both on their own and as members of the superhero team the Invaders (beginning with 1970s comics), which after the war evolves into the All-Winners Squad (in 1940s comics).
In 1945, during the closing days of World War II, Captain America and Bucky try to stop the villainous Baron Zemo from destroying an experimental drone plane. Zemo launches the plane with an armed explosive on it, with Rogers and Barnes in hot pursuit. They reach the plane just before it takes off, but when Bucky tries to defuse the bomb, it explodes in mid-air. The young man is believed killed, and Rogers is hurled into the freezing waters of either the North Atlantic or the English Channel (accounts differ). Neither body is found, and both are presumed dead.
Late 1940s–1950s—After Steve Rogers
Fearing a blow to morale if Captain America's demise is revealed, President Truman asks William Naslund, the patriotically costumed Golden Age hero the Spirit of '76, to assume the role, with a young man named Fred Davis as Bucky. They continue to serve in the same roles after the war with the All-Winners Squad, until the android Adam II fatally injures Naslund in 1946 (What If? #4, Aug. 1977). After Naslund's death, Jeff Mace, the Golden Age Patriot, takes over as Captain America, with Davis continuing as Bucky; however, Davis is shot and injured in 1948 and forced to retire. Mace teams up with Betsy "Golden Girl" Ross, and sometime before 1953 gives up his Captain America identity to marry her. Mace develops cancer and dies decades later (Captain America #285, Sept. 1983).
In 1953, an unnamed man who idolizes Captain America and who had done his American History Ph.D. thesis on Rogers discovers Nazi files in a German warehouse, one of which contains the lost formula for the Super Soldier serum. He takes it to the United States government on the condition that they use it to make him the fifth Captain America. Needing a symbol for the Korean War, they agree, and the man undergoes plastic surgery to look like Steve Rogers, even assuming his name. The war ends and the project is never completed. "Rogers" finds a teaching job at the Lee School, where he meets Jack Monroe, a young orphan who also idolizes Captain America. They decide to use the formula on themselves and become the new Captain America and Bucky, this time fighting communism (Young Men #24–28, Dec. 1953 – May 1954). These stories are written by Stan Lee with art by a young John Romita Sr.
"Rogers" and Monroe do not know of and therefore do not undergo the "Vita-Ray" process, and the imperfect implementation of the formula in their systems makes them paranoid. By the middle of 1954, they are irrationally attacking anyone they perceive to be a Communist. In 1955 the FBI places them in suspended animation. The 1950s Captain America and Bucky are revived years later after the return of Steve Rogers. They go on another rampage and are defeated by the man after whom they had modeled themselves (Captain America #153-156, Sept.-Dec. 1972).
1960s–1970s—The return of Steve Rogers
Avengers Vol. 1, #4 (March 1964). Cover art by Jack Kirby & George Roussos.In The Avengers #4 (March 1964), the Avengers discover Steve Rogers' body in the North Atlantic, his costume under his soldier's uniform and still carrying his shield. Rogers had been preserved in a block of ice since 1945. The ice block melts after the Sub-Mariner, enraged that an Arctic tribe is worshipping the frozen figure, throws it into the ocean. When Rogers revives, he relates his failed last mission to the Avengers. Rogers accepts membership in the Avengers, and although he is decades out of his time, his considerable combat experience makes him a valuable asset to the team. He quickly assumes leadership of the team and typically keeps that position throughout the team's history. He is plagued by guilt for being unable to prevent Bucky's death — a feeling that does not ease for some time. He additionally undertakes missions for the security agency S.H.I.E.L.D., which is commanded by his old war comrade Nick Fury.
Cover to Captain America #180 (Dec. 1974). Captain America assumes the "Nomad" identity. Cover art by Gil Kane.In one storyline, Rogers meets and trains Sam Wilson, who becomes the superhero known as the Falcon. The Falcon is one of the few black superheroes in comic books at the time, and two characters begin a long association that continues to the present day.
Some of the most notable Captain America stories have a political tone to them. For example, during Steve Englehart's stint as writer, Rogers encounters his revived 1950s counterpart and deals with the Marvel Universe's version of the Watergate scandal. Rogers is so severely disillusioned that he abandons his Captain America identity in favor of one called Nomad only to re-assume it to face the Red Skull, as a symbol of America's ideals rather than its government. During Rogers' time as Nomad, several men assume the Captain America identity, all without success. Jack Monroe, cured of his mental instability, later takes up the Nomad alias. (Captain America #176–#183, 1974–1975). During this period, Rogers also temporarily gains super strength.
Captain America #350 (February 1989): Steve Rogers as The Captain vs. John Walker as Captain America. Cover art by Kieron Dwyer & Al Milgrom.In the 1980s, in addition to runs from such acclaimed creators as John Byrne, the series reveals the true face and full origin of the Red Skull. Long-time writer Mark Gruenwald explores numerous political and social themes, such as vigilantism when Captain America hunts the murderous Scourge of the Underworld; and extreme idealism when he fights the internationalist terrorist Flag Smasher.
In Captain America #332, Rogers receives a large back-pay reimbursement dating back to his disappearance at the end of World War II. The expense draws the attention of a government commission that orders Rogers to work directly for the U.S. government. Already troubled by the corruption he had encountered with the Nuke incident in New York City (in the "Daredevil: Born Again" arc), Rogers chooses instead to resign his identity and takes the alias of "The Captain". The story arc illustrates the differences between Captain America's beliefs and those of replacement Captain America John Walker. Walker, the former costumed hero Super-Patriot, has a jingoistic attitude that reflects a vocal segment of American culture at the time, embodied by other fictional characters such as Sylvester Stallone's movie hero Rambo. Walker struggles to emulate Rogers' ideals until pressure from hidden enemies helps to drive him insane. Rogers soon returns to the Captain America identity while a recovered Walker becomes the U.S. Agent (Captain America #332–#351, 1987–1989).
Some time after returning as Captain America, Rogers avoids the explosion of a methamphetamine lab, but the drug triggers a chemical reaction in the Super-Soldier serum in his system. To combat the reaction, Rogers has the serum removed from his system, and he trains constantly to maintain his physical condition. The storyline was partly prompted by reader concerns that Captain America is effectively the beneficiary of steroid treatments. A retcon later establishes that the serum was never a drug because Rogers' body would have metabolized it out of his system. The "serum" is, in fact, a virus that effected a biochemical and genetic change, explaining how the Red Skull (who at the time inhabits a body cloned from Rogers' cells) also has the formula in his body.
However, because of his altered biochemistry which takes the form of the "serum" in his blood work, Rogers's body begins to deteriorate due to overuse of the "serum". For a time, he had to wear a powered exoskeleton to keep moving and had to be placed again in suspended animation. During this time, he is given a transfusion of blood from the Red Skull, which cured his condition and stabilized the Super-Soldier serum/virus in his system. Captain America returns both to crime fighting and the Avengers (Captain America #425– 454, 1994–1996).
Captain America with the Winter Soldier, after the latter has recovered his memories. Art by Steve Epting.In the 2002 Captain America #1, Nick Fury pulls Rogers from the World Trade Center site of the September 11 attack and sends him on a mission to liberate a small town from an Arabic terrorist organization. Following his victory, Rogers unmasks himself, taking the blame for his own actions in order to avoid a retaliatory attack against the American public. He establishes a residence in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
Subsequently, Rogers discovers that Bucky is alive and being used by Soviet espionage interests as the Winter Soldier. In the Marvel Comics 2006 Civil War crossover, he leads the Anti-Registration faction and resistance movement, becoming a fugitive in the process and pitting himself against the heroes of the Pro-Registration movement, including his former friend Iron Man. He has begun using the alias "Brett Hendrick", a mall security guard, to avoid government detection.
Powers and abilities
Rogers in the regular Marvel Universe has no superhuman powers, although as a result of the Super-Soldier serum, he is transformed from a frail young man into a "nearly perfect" specimen of human development and conditioning. Captain America is as intelligent, strong, fast, agile, and durable as it is possible for a human being to be without being considered superhuman. The formula enhances all of his metabolic functions and prevents the build-up of fatigue poisons in his muscles, giving him endurance far in excess of an ordinary human being. This accounts for many of his extraordinary feats, including running a mile in a little more than a minute (Captain America 65th Anniversary Special). Rogers is also unable to become intoxicated by alcohol and is immune to many diseases.
Portrait of Captain America. Art by Travis Charest.Mentally, Rogers' battle experience and training make him an expert tactician and an excellent field commander, with his teammates frequently deferring to his orders in battle. Rogers's reflexes and senses are also extraordinarily keen. He is a master of boxing, jiu jitsu, and judo, combined with his virtually superhuman gymnastic ability into his own unique fighting style with advanced pressure-point fighting. Years of practice with his indestructible shield make it practically an extension of his own body, and he is able to aim and throw it with almost unerring accuracy and even ricochet the shield to hit multiple targets. He is extremely skilled in hand-to-hand combat, sometimes taking on and defeating foes whose strength, size, or superpowers greatly exceed his. In the comics, he is regarded by other skilled fighters as one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the Marvel Universe (Captain America #302 and #375, among others).
Rogers has vast U.S. military knowledge and is often shown to be familiar with ongoing, highly-classified Defense Department operations. Despite his high profile as one of the world's most popular and recognizable superheroes, Rogers also has a broad understanding of the espionage community, largely through his ongoing relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D.. He occasionally makes forays into mundane career fields, including commercial arts, education (high school history) and law enforcement.
Captain America is revered by most of the superheroes in the Marvel Universe, filling the "leadership" role which Superman takes on in DC Comics. He is considered a living legend, and many characters (particuarly Spider-Man) idolize him.
Weapons and equipment
Further information: Captain America's shield
Captain America uses several shields throughout his history, the most recognizable of which is an indestructible discus-shaped shield made from a vibranium/steel alloy (not adamantium-vibranium as sometimes erroneously stated). This alloy is accidentally created and never duplicated, although efforts to reverse engineer it result in the creation of adamantium.
Captain America's uniform is made of a fire-retardant material, and he wears a lightweight "duralumin" chainmail beneath his uniform for added protection. As a member of the Avengers, Rogers has an Avengers priority card, which serves as a communications device.
Ultimate Captain America
Promotional art for Ultimates #11, by Bryan HitchThe Ultimate Marvel Universe version of Captain America was created by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch based on the original character. He makes his first appearance in Ultimates #1.
In the Ultimate universe, Steve Rogers is a frail volunteer who undergoes months of steroid treatment, surgery, and the Super-Soldier formula to become Captain America. Bucky is a childhood friend who follows him on his missions as a photographer rather than as a costumed sidekick. Rogers' last mission as Captain America sends him to a Nazi stronghold on the coast of Iceland to stop a prototype hydrogen bomb created using alien technology. He causes the rocket carrying the bomb to explode and falls into the freezing Arctic Ocean. Rogers falls into a state of suspended animation until Tony Stark's deep sea exploration team pulls him out of the water 57 years later. Bucky survives the war, and, thinking that Rogers had been killed in action, marries Rogers' fiancée Gail.
The Ultimate universe Captain America is more politically and morally conservative than his mainstream Marvel universe counterpart and is more prone to violent solutions, frequently using small arms and explosives. His costume is mostly the same, except that his mask lacks the traditional wings on the side of his head and his shoulders sport American star emblems.
Rogers becomes one of the first members and field commander of the superhuman team the Ultimates, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s answer to posthuman terrorism. He tries to adjust to life in the 21st century, although he longs for older times and values, spending much time with Bucky and Gail (now senior citizens) and going to WWII veterans' reunions. Rogers wears a kevlar uniform and carries a shield of pure adamantium. He also dates Janet van Dyne, the Wasp, the estranged wife of former team member Henry Pym.
A year later, it appears that Captain America repeatedly betrays the team, and S.H.I.E.L.D. places him in custody. The Black Widow is revealed as the traitor, aiding a coalition of countries invading America. When these invaders, who call themselves The Liberators appear to have defeated all american super-heroes and effectively America itself, the Wasp frees him from his cell and they join the other few heroes as a resistance. The story is ongoing.
Rogers is also a highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant. In addition, his strength and recuperative abilities exceed peak human levels (he was shown curling 540 lb in Ultimates 2 #4). In the Ultimate Universe, Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk as a result of his experiments to recreate the Super-Soldier serum. Despite the Hulk being one of the strongest characters in the Ultimate Universe, Rogers takes on the Hulk in hand-to-hand combat, knocking him down momentarily. Rogers also defeats Henry Pym in melee combat while Pym is in his almost 60-foot tall Giant Man form, in retaliation for Pym having beaten the Wasp during a domestic dispute.
Alternate Captain Americas
In the Spider-Ham comic books, the funny animal version of Captain America is Steve Mouser, an anthropomorphic cat who works for the Daily Beagle and is also secretly Captain Americat.
In the altered world of the House of M, Steve Rogers lived through World War II unfrozen; this concept was previously used in the What If? comic series.
In the Mutant X universe, a mutant succeeds Rogers as Captain America, joining Havok's team of superheroes "The Six" in order to protect mutants from a deranged Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. He is killed by the Beyonder.
Other alternate Captain Americas include several seen in issues of What If, a comic featuring tales of alternate realities.
In the 1999 Earth X series, in a post-apocalyptic alternate future transformed by a Terrigen Mist plague, Captain America is a war-worn hero, with a shaven head, a ragged United States flag for a top and an A-shaped scar on his face, but still holding on to his shield. In the Universe X: Cap one-shot comic, he sacrificed himself to save the reborn Captain Mar-Vell.
In the 1602 limited series, a Captain America from a possible future is transported to the year 1602, and he assumes the identity of "Rojhaz", a Native American. He refuses to return to the future because he wants to nurture America and make its citizens proud to be Americans. The 1602 version of Nick Fury forces him to return, accompanying him on the journey.
In the 2005 limited series Last Hero Standing, the MC2 universe version of Captain America is fatally injured when he leads a group of young heroes in battle against the Norse god Loki. Thor uses his power to transform Captain America into a new star. In the sequel, Last Planet Standing, Galactus states that this new star is the key to his escaping his world-devouring hunger.
In the Amalgam Comics universe, Super-Soldier is an amalgamation of Captain America and Superman.
In the 2006 miniseries Marvel Zombies, the zombie Captain America is known as Colonel America, and he has served as President of the United States.
In the Marvel Mangaverse reality, the original Captain America is dead, but Carol Danvers assumes the identity.
In the New Warriors storyline "Forever Yesterday", the Sphinx creates an alternate reality where the Middle East is the dominant superpower in the world and its champion is Captain Assyria.