75 Years of Captain America
An in-depth look at the Marvel characters who've donned the Captain America mask
March marks the monumental 75th Anniversary of Captain America. One of the most influential comic book characters of all time, this altruistic leader of men was initially brought to life by the venerable Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941. Since then his story has been told by the industry’s best creators, including Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema, Ed Brubaker and Steve McNiven, Alex Ross, and many more.
Marvel recently announced that the Captain America name and iconic shield would revert back to the original Sentinel of Liberty, Steve Rogers. This is not even two years after Sam Wilson (fka The Falcon) took up the mantle when Rogers’ lost his vitality. Of course the real world reason for this switch back is a new Captain America movie is on the horizon and just like with the first film, Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel doesn’t want to confuse viewers with a different character under the mask in the comics and movies.
So, we thought this would be the perfect time to give you a run down of the many heroes (and occasional anti-hero) who have donned the Red, White & Blues to stand en guard for the good ol’ US of A.
Most people are familiar with Captain America’s origin story thanks to the first Cap movie that hit theaters in 2011. The feature-length film adapted the source material almost to a T. However, a big part of the Captain America legacy not shown in the films is what happens after Steve Rogers is assumed dead. The next four entries will show how the U.S. government reacted to losing their poster boy.
The above costume is the new suit Rogers will wear when he returns as Cap this spring.
William Nasland aka The Spirit of ’76
Captian America II
In the comics, the U.S. government doesn’t reveal Cap and Bucky’s presumed passing during WWII. Instead, they recruit a new duo to don the familiar uniforms, William Naslund and Fred Davis. These two perpetrate the idea that it is still the same Cap and Buck under the masks, as to deny the Axis such a monumental victory and to keep up U.S. morale.
Naslund had formerly been the masked crusader known as The Spirit of ’76 and wore a costume befitting 1876.
Jeffrey Mace aka Patriot
Captain America III
Mace was a hero who fought crime under the alias Patriot in New York during WWII. He even did a regular radio broadcast to bolster his rep. When Patriot found Captain America II (Nasland) had been killed by an android, he took over the position without a second thought. At first, he didn’t even tell Bucky II (Davis) it was now him under Cap’s mask.
Mace is the second longest serving Captain America, after Rogers.
William Burnside aka Grand Director
Captain America IV
William was the last character to become Cap before Rogers took the title back after his deep freeze. This Captain America fanatic was so devoted to the study of his hero, he traveled to Germany to further research his WWII exploits. While there, he stumbles upon the recipe for the Super Soldier Serum. With the U.S. government’s okay, he becomes the new Cap. He not only takes the serum, but also gets plastic surgery to look like Rogers, wanting to take on not only the Captain America title, but Rogers identity as well.
This guy is referred to as “1970s Psycho Cap” by the Russo Bros., who seriously considered using him and his story for Captain America 3 before they settled on the Civil War plotline.
At one point in comic continuity, Doctor Faustus brainwashes Burnside into becoming the Grand Director, the leader of a neo-Nazi group called National Force.
Captain America V
Turns out Rogers hadn’t died in WWII, and once he acclimated to modern times, he once again took up the shield. However, after a while, he became disillusioned with the America he was now fighting for, as it was not the one he knew and remembered. He then gave up the Captain America title and became a new costumed hero know as Nomad, The Man Without Country. At this point, a pro baseball player named Bob Russo and a biker going by “Scar” Turpin both attempted to fill Rogers’ shoes, but both failed miserably. An idealistic young New Yorker named Roscoe decided he was up to the task. Roscoe seemed to have the skills and strength for the job, and was even co-signed by Rogers himself.
John Walker aka Super-Patriot
Captain America VI
Due to another dispute with the U.S. government, Rogers once again gave up the Cap title in the late ’80s. At this point, the government cabal known as The Commission considered various heroes and anti-heroes for the role, including The Falcon, Nick Fury, and Nuke. They settled on a hero going by Super-Patriot, an extremist who believed he represented America’s “true ideals.”
James “Bucky” Barnes
Captain America VII
The first and second Captain America movies did a good job of detailing the Winter Soldier’s origins. However, what you don’t get a sense of is how long a gap (in real time) there was between Bucky, Cap’s young sidekick, and his comeback as the Winter Soldier. Stan Lee wrote Buck’s apparent passing in Avengers #4 in 1964. More than 40 years later, Ed Brubaker brought him back as the brainwashed Ruskie assassin Winter Soldier. So, when Marvel decided to kill off Steve Rogers in 2007, it was obvious they were setting up their freshly resurrected Bucky to finally take up the shield. It seemed like this had been Brubaker’s plan all along, as the Winter Soldier not only had decades of intense training, but also had a cybernetic arm. If you don’t speak fanboy, that means he had the strength and skill to wield Cap’s shield like Cap.
Sam Wilson aka The Falcon
Captain America VIII
When Steve Rogers was thawed out and realized he had lived while Bucky had perished, he was reluctant to take on a new sidekick. However, in the ‘70s, he and reformed criminal Sam Wilson became fast friends, and when Wilson took up his own superhero persona as The Falcon, the two became partners. They have continued to work closely together through the decades, so it was fitting when Sam was passed the mantle of Captain America in 2014. This time, Steve had to give up the identity due to the loss of the dynamism granted to him by the Super Soldier Serum.
The Black Captain America
While Marvel made it seem like a big deal that Sam Wilson was taking over the Captain America role in 2014, it’s not the first time there has been a Black Cap. In the underrated Truth: Red, White & Black miniseries from 2003, we are introduced to Isaiah Bradley, one of 300 Black men forced to take part in experiments meant to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that made Steve Rogers, Captain America. Only five of these men survive the experimentation and gain the abilities of a Super Soldier. They become a covert ops unit and manage to carry out a few missions before their numbers are thinned to just Bradley. He is sent on one last mission that he is not expected to make it back from, and before leaving “borrows” a Captain America suit and shield. Now, the plot is obviously supposed to echo the Tuskegee Airmen and Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, as Bradley ends up sterile due to the procedures performed on him. Strong stuff and well worth a read.
America’s First Super Soldier
While there wasn’t a Captain America before Steve Rogers and Project Rebirth, there was a Super Soldier. John Steele was a soldier with enhanced strength, speed, and lifespan that operated as far back as WWI, possibly even the American Civil War. By his own admission, Rogers is not as strong or fast as Steele.
Steele first appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #1 in 1940, but his backstory was filled out by Ed Brusker in his 2010–11 run on Secret Avengers.
Frank Castle aka The Punisher
Castle assumed the role of Captain America for a short stint after Steve Roger’s death during the Civil War event in 2007. He donned a suit that was a mash-up of his costume and the classic Captain America uniform. He sported this new look to take down the new Hate Monger, who was also rocking very Cap-like duds.