Essential Avengers: Captain America

Marvel’s The Avengers” hits theaters on May 4, and in anticipation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assembling on the big screen for the first time we’re bringing you the Essential Avengers. From accounts of the characters’ epic stories from the original comics to looks back at the character with some of their most prominent creators both past and present and interviews with the designers of the heroes cinematic costumes, the Essential Avengers give you everything you wanted to know about the team, its allies and its enemies.

By Jim Beard

Sentinel of Liberty. Super Soldier. Living Legend of World War II. Man Out of Time.

Captain America’s all of these things and more. Much, much more. Against all odds he’s waged a war against those who would prey upon the innocent and squash our liberties, and often times with little or no thanks. Steve Rogers rose up from the humblest of beginnings to take on the mantle of freedom that the United States fought so hard to achieve, and as the embodiment of that ideal, he continues that struggle to this day.

Cap’s life stands as an example of heroism and patriotism–for that reason alone, Earth’s other heroes look up to him, even those more powerful. Countless times has he served as a rallying symbol for our champions to fight on and win the day for liberty and justice.

The Man with the Plan

Captain America in World War II

Dr. Abraham Erskine chose skinny Steve Rogers out of many seemingly more-suitable candidates for his Super Soldier experiment, Project: Rebirth, and from this process rose a new champion: Captain America. Given a colorful red-white-and-blue costume, an indestructible shield and military training, Steve leapt bravely into battle on the homefront and overseas to help America turn the tide in World War II. Soon, a young man named Bucky joined him as his partner and together they brought hope to millions that the war might be brought to a successful end.

Captain America could be found on battlefields across the many theaters of World War II, either on solo missions or as part of the Invaders, a wartime team of super heroes. He gained many foes in those days, chief among them the diabolical Red Skull and the evil Baron Zemo, but Cap beat them all–until the fateful day when a struggle with Zemo cost him Bucky and his own freedom. Plunged into icy waters while escaping an explosion, Captain America found himself frozen in suspended animation. The war ended without him and Steve slept on through the decades, unaware of the many changes the world would endure throughout his deep slumber.

Captain America’s many World War II adventures may be found in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1-5, THE MARVELS PROJECT, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THEATER OF WAR.

Second Life

Cap joins the Avengers

In the present day, the mighty Avengers stumbled upon an amazing find while searching for a foe: Captain America, frozen in ice. Reviving him, the heroes informed the World War II veteran of what had happened to him and then welcomed him into their ranks. So dutifully did Cap serve in the Avengers that he was eventually awarded founding member status, an honor he cherishes and respects. Many times he’s led the team into battle on Earth, in space, and even other dimensions. Captain America also joined forces with S.H.I.E.L.D., a governmental spy agency led by his old wartime pal Nick Fury.

Though these alliances helped to acclimate Steve to his new world, still the memory of all those he’d lost in the past haunted him. The pain of Bucky’s seeming death led Cap to take on other partners, including young Rick Jones as a new Bucky and then the Falcon, who operated for many years at the hero’s side through thick and thin.

Cap’s early missions with the Avengers, his partnership with the Falcon and many of his first adventures in modern times can be found in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE AVENGERS VOL. 1-11, MARVEL MASTERWORKS: CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1-5, CAPTAIN AMERICA: MADBOMB and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE SWINE.

Stress of the Job

Captain America vs. his one-time replacement

Throughout Captain America’s modern-day career, he’s encountered situations that’ve taxed him to his limits and beyond. Being both a symbol of America and a full-time Avenger put Steve into stressful encounters that would have crippled ordinary men. As a result, his convictions have been tested time and time again and also led him down strange paths.

After one particularly stressful mission against the Secret Empire, Steve gave up his Captain America identity and operated as Nomad, a country-less champion. On another occasion, the American government seized the mantle of Captain America and awarded it to another man. No matter the struggle and no matter how stressful, Cap’s always come back to once again plant the flag and continue his tireless mission.

Some of Cap’s greatest triumphs and tragedies may be found in CAPTAIN AMERICA: SECRET EMPIRE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: NOMAD, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CAPTAIN, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: TO SERVE & PROTECT.

Crimson Tide

Captain America vs. the Red Skull

Above all others, Captain America’s most wicked and eternal nemesis answered to the name of the Red Skull. Originally a lowly bellhop in Nazi Germany, the Skull’s commission as a villain came from Adolf Hitler himself. Cap fought the Skull throughout World War II and held him at bay countless times, but the villain managed to survive into modern times and continue to plague the good Captain at every turn.

During one climatic battle, the Red Skull’s aging body finally failed him and he died, but his many plans and schemes lived on to trouble and torment Captain America. The Skull transferred his consciousness into other bodies, including a cloned body of Steve Rogers himself, and today his machinations live on in Sin, his devilish daughter.

Many of Cap’s battles with the Red Skull can be found in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1, MARVEL MASTERWORKS: CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1, CAPTAIN AMERICA VS. THE RED SKUL, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: OPERATION REBIRTH.

Death and New Life

The death of Captain America

After the strange appearance of the Winter Soldier, a Russian operative who turned out to be a still-alive Bucky, Captain America found himself at odds with his fellow Avenger Iron Man during the so-called “Civil War” among Earth’s super heroes. At the very pinnacle of this struggle, Cap, who had been arrested for leading a resistance against a government registration of costumed heroes, became the victim of an assassin. Steve Rogers died on the steps of a courthouse, the tragic target of a labyrinthian scheme by his old foe, the Red Skull.

Bucky, now freed form his Russian conditioning to be a killer, took up the mantle and shield of Captain America and continued Steve’s mission. He eventually discovered that Steve’s consciousness tumbled through time and, with the help of the Avengers and other heroes, Bucky managed to save his beloved mentor and return him to life. Steve operated for a short time after that as a covert agent, but soon returned to the role he’d been born to play: Captain America.

The saga of Captain America’s death, Bucky’s adventures as the new Cap and Steve Rogers’ return can be found in CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER ULTIMATE COLLECTION, CIVIL WAR, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA OMNIBUS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CAP LIVES OMNIBUS and STEVE ROGERS: SUPER-SOLDIER.

Avengers Anew

Captain America and the modern-day Avengers

With Steve’s return as Captain America, the Avengers also rose from the ashes and forged a new alliance of heroism. At first, the new team operated with Bucky as Cap and Steve behind the scenes with a group of Secret Avengers, but the original Captain America finally took his rightful place in the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes where he once again leads them into battle against many and varied villains and menaces.

The story of the new Avengers and Steve Rogers’ role with them may be found in AVENGERS BY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS, VOL. 1-3, AVENGERS PRIME and SECRET AVENGERS VOL.1-2.

Ultimate Captain America

Ultimate Captain America

The Ultimate Universe version of Captain America also operated during World War II as a symbol of the United States, and in modern times headed up the Ultimates, a government-sponsored team of super humans. This Cap is perhaps a bit more hard-edged than the Steve Rogers we’ve known all these years, but he too slings a mean shield and he gets the job done against all odds.

For the adventures of the Ultimate Captain America, look to THE ULTIMATES ULTIMATE COLLECTION, ULTIMATES 2 ULTIMATE COLLECTION, ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS: NEXT GENERATION and ULTIMATE COMICS CAPTAIN AMERICA.