The Four-Color History of Captain America
Captain America, now known as the Captain America: The First Avenger movie made $176.6M in the USA alone, but what of the character’s back story, which can only be found in the pages of Marvel Comics?
If you love the movie released on Jul 22, 2011, let us look back at the most patriotic hero in his star-spangled history.
The Creation of A Hero
In 1940, the world was on the precipice of war. Joe Simon of Timely (later Marvel) Comics was disgusted with the actions of the Axis Powers and retaliated with the only weapons at his disposal: India ink, drafting pens, and sketch paper.
According to Simon’s memoir, The Comic Book Makers, he approached his boss Martin Goodman with the character design, and Captain America was immediately given the green light.
The first issue of Captain America comics, written by Simon and brought to life by the dynamic pencils of Jack Kirby, appeared on newsstands a short time later with a cover date of March 1941, priced at the then-standard ten cents.
Although all comic books were viewed at the time as disposable entertainment, this debut issue is now a highly sought-after collector’s item that can fetch $100,000 or more in Near Mint condition, according to the Overstreet price guide.
However, in a recent auction, the first Captain America comic book, featuring the memorable cover image of him whacking, fetched more than $3.1 million, becoming one of the world’s priciest comic books.
The Debut of Captain America
Captain America’s origins are simple: Steve Rogers, the proverbial 98-pound weakling, wants nothing more than to serve his country by entering the US military. Designated unfit to serve, he finds another way in: by signing up to be the human guinea pig in a top-secret experiment. Transformed into a super-soldier whose attributes are enhanced to the peak of perfection, he dons a uniform styled after the American flag. He is assigned a teenage sidekick in the form of Bucky Barnes – a typical schtick in the early comics, someone with whom the juvenile reader can quickly connect.
Together, Cap and Bucky take on the Axis powers in a two-fisted manner that the kids at home could only dream of.
The cover image of that first issue was a real shocker, depicting the Captain walloping Adolf Hitler himself with a mighty haymaker while Nazi soldiers fire at him from close range. With patriotism reaching an all-time high, it was a runaway hit.
According to A Complete History of American Comic Books by Shirrel Rhoades, it sold nearly a million copies.
The character proved so popular, in fact, that he also appeared regularly in a whole host of other Timely titles. But wartime heroes, like the wars themselves, can only last for so long.
Following the end of World War II, interest in Captain America began to wane, as there was no one left for him to fight. Captain America Comics attempted to relaunch itself as Captain America’s Weird Tales for two issues before finally folding with issue #75 in 1950, an issue in which Cap appeared only on the cover.
By 1953, there was a new threat to the American Way: Communism. Under the new guise of Atlas comics, the folks at Timely attempted to revive Captain America as a “Commie Smasher.” This revival was far from successful and was later retconned away as not being the real Captain America, but rather some great pretender.
It wasn’t until 1964 that Captain America made his real triumphant return. Having settled on the company name of Marvel Comics, issue #4 of the Avengers had the titular superhero team discovering Cap frozen in a block of ice, where he had been in suspended animation since an accident at the tail end of WWII.
He quickly becomes the team leader, and much of his character becomes that of a time-lost individual struggling to adapt to this new freewheeling decade.
On a couple of occasions during the 1970s and 1980s, Steve Rogers gave up his Captain America identity and took a new name and costume. Still, it was never long before he realized that America needed its Captain, and he returned to his rightful role.
Death and Return of A Hero
Captain America has been going strong ever since. Even death can’t keep him down, as was made evident in 2007 when an assassin’s bullet killed him following the major political Civil War storyline that ran across every title in the Marvel Universe.
Following his death, the mantle of Captain America was taken up by his old WWII fighting partner Bucky Barnes, who recently returned to the Marvel Universe after a multiple-decades-long absence.
Even after Steve Rogers returned from “death” (the old adage that nobody stays dead in the comics applies here), Bucky maintained his position as the new Captain America. At the same time, Rogers, in his civilian guise, performed security work and secret missions for the US government.
For 70 years, Captain America has stood as a symbol of everything America is based on. As Marvel’s answer to Superman, he is the living embodiment of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Like the people of the country he represents, Captain America is not afraid to change with the times. Just ask Bucky Barnes.