Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
Think you know Captain America? I'll bet you don't.
Well, many people would say, "I saw the movie. It didn't look too complicated." Let me tell you that there's more under that capital "A" than meets the eye.
Now, if you said that Captain America is Steve Rogers—a skinny 4F kid from Brooklyn who wanted to serve his country so badly that he volunteered for an experiment (Project Rebirth) that was so risky that it killed almost everyone else that it was attempted on—you'd be right, for the most part.
And Steve Rogers was the first man to be Captain America. At first, he used a steel shield and then was given an unbreakable experimental one made of a unique adamantium vibranium mix. The properties of this shield made it lightweight, indestructible, and had the quality of absorbing the shock of any projectile without impacting the wielder.
Rogers became the symbol for the allies to counteract the Nazi menace of Hitler and the Red Skull.
While Rogers fought the Germans, he did not finish his fight. In the last days of the war in Europe, Rogers, along with his sidekick James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, attempted to stop their enemy Baron Heinrich Zemo from launching an aerial drone (filled with explosives) attack against the allies. In hot pursuit, the two attempted to diffuse the bomb when it exploded—seemingly killing Bucky and throwing Rogers into the freezing arctic waters below.
Whereas most people would have died by freezing to death, Rogers, due to the properties of the super-soldier formula, went into suspended animation.
The interesting thing was that there was no gap in history where there was no Captain America. Why is that?
Isaiah Bradley: The Forgotten Captain
While it was assumed that the super-soldier forumula had died with its creator, Dr. Erkstein, another team of scientists led by a Dr. Josef Reinstein began to attempt to recreate the formula using black soldiers as test volunteers.
Of the three hundred test subjects, a soldier named Isaiah Bradley survived.
The graphic novel Truth: Red, White, and Black by Robert Morales, tells the story of how the Germans experimented on black test subjects and how Isaiah risked his life in a suicide mission to stop the German effort to develop another formula.
Isaiah survives the encounter but is unfairly imprisoned in Leavenworth for almost twenty years. He is the grandfather of Elijah Bradley, the Patriot of the Young Avengers.
The Spirit of '76—Rogers' Replacement on the Invaders
When Steve Rogers went missing (along with Bucky), the US government still needed a Captain America to fight the other wars that were developing.
Enter William Naslund, aka Spirit of '76 from the little-known superteam called The Crusaders. He was appointed by President Truman to be the next Captain America (along with a kid named Fred Davis to be the new Bucky).
The two of them served along with the Invaders and the post-war All-Winners Squad as the new symbols for the US War effort.
The new Captain America and Bucky foiled a Nazi bombing attempt before Naslund was caught in a battle with an android called Adam II (a creation of Phineas T. Horton, the same guy who created the Human Torch). The android's mission was to kill John F. Kennedy—then a congressional candidate from Boston.
Adam II killed Naslund by crushing him to death. His body was found by . . .
The Patriot—From Press to Combat
Jeffry Mace found the body of Captain America.
Mace, a reporter for the Daily Bugle, had been fighting as the costumed mystery man called The Patriot. The Patriot was never exposed to the super-soldier formula. He fought alongside the Liberty Legion and sometimes with a female partner called Miss Liberty.
He fought as Captain America until 1949, when he retired from the role.
He succumbs from cancer (in recent years) and dies with Steve Rogers at his side.
However, the role of Captain America still went on and was succeeded by . . .
Captain America—The Commie Smasher
There's Steve Rogers, and then there's Steve Rogers.
The difference is the same as me calling myself Napoleon Bonaparte and actually being Napoleon Bonaparte. William Burnside, a history teacher . . . well, he was just a bit crazy for Captain America. He went so far as to legally change his name to "Steve Rogers" and to get plastic surgery to make himself look like him.
Burnside takes a shot of the super-soldier formula (without the necessary vita-ray treatment) and injects some into one of his prize students, Jack Monroe, to be the new Captain America and Bucky of the 1950s.
If you find any of the silver age comics with early appearances of Captain America, you can tell the issues that star the "Commie Bashing" Captain by his uniform. This Captain America's uniform has stripes only in the front. This back has no stripes and only has one large star.
Not that Burnside wasn't already playing with a few missing cards from the deck, but the incomplete super-soldier formula was starting to make him go . . . a little funny in the head during the entire "Red Scare" period. He was after the communists wherever they may lurk. He even faced a new incarnation of the Red Skull, aka The Communist Red Skull*.
The super-soldier formula was starting to make the two paranoid to the point that they were starting to threaten innocent civilians of being communists. The government stepped in and took the 1950s Captain America and Bucky out of action and put them into suspended animation.
Years later, after the original Captain America, Steve Rogers (the sane one), is revived by the Avengers, the 1950s Captain America and Bucky are revived before they could be cured of their incredible mental instability. The 50's Cap and Bucky face off against the current original Captain America and The Falcon.
They are sent into suspended animation again. This time they are under treatment. The Captain and Bucky are manipulated by one of Captain America's current villains, Doctor Faustus—a power-mad psychologist and expert brainwasher. He is made to be a villain called The Grand Director and seemingly dies while being burned only to turn up again years later.
He is still at large.
* A bit of trivia for comic book fans: The Communist Red Skull was the villain responsible for killing Richard and Mary Parker, the parents of Spider-man.
A Captain for the '90s—John Walker
After Steve Roger, the original Captain America, was revived by the Avengers from his frozen suspended animation, he resumed his role as this nation's hero.
At times, when he felt that this country was on the wrong path or that his ideals were no longer in sync, he'd give up his costumed persona. At one point, he called himself Nomad, a man without a country. His Nomad days were brief, and he still fought the good fight. Eventually, he took up the shield again, leaving the identity of Nomad to others to take up (including Jack Monroe, the former 1950s Bucky).
However, during the '90s, there was a plot designed by the Red Skull to have the US Government remove Rogers' right to be Captain America unless he worked exclusively for the government. The plan was to make Rogers a stooge for some of the schemes the Red Skull could directly control.
Instead, Rogers quit. As the concept of Captain America was to wear red, white, and blue, Rogers became The Captain and wore red, white, and black. He even got Tony Stark to create a new vibranium adamantium shield. This way, Rogers could resume his role with the Avengers and keep his independence.
This gave the Red Skull a great opportunity to recruit a new Captain America that he could control. For some time, a character named the Super Patriot, John Walker, had been vying to become the new national symbol and had acquired some super strength from The Power Broker. The government under the Red Skull approached Walker and offered him the opportunity to become the new Captain America.
Walker accepted and was given training by the criminal, The Taskmaster (a criminal who has photographic reflexes—he only needs to see something done once, and he can replicate that skill) to teach him Rogers' fighting skills. Along with a former colleague of his, Lamar Hoskins, to be the new Bucky (which he immediately changed to Battlestar).
After the Red Skull's plans are exposed, and after a face-off between Walker and Rogers, Walker is victim to a staged assassination. Rogers is given his Captain America identity back.
Walker resurfaces later as the new USAgent (the new government liaison to the West Coast Avengers) in Rogers' old Captain uniform.
Roscoe Simons, Bob Russo, “Scar” Turpin Fill-in for Steve Rogers
A lot happened when Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America when he assumed the identity of Nomad – The Man without a Country. Sure, he discovered that costumes with capes are a bad idea, but the biggest revelation is that he had some huge-sized Buster Browns to fill.
Enter the temporary Captain America squadron of Larry, Moe, and Curley, better known as Roscoe Simons, Bob Russo, and “Scar” Turpin.
These three guys thought it wouldn’t be a problem to sling an adamantium shield and to jump over some rooftops with Sam Wilson, The Falcon.
Well, these three clowns weren’t Cap. And, they certainly didn’t have a super-soldier formula body to fall back on. What Stever Rogers had hoped for was a whole lot of gumption and American spirit to get the job done.
Bob Russo was a good athlete, a baseball player, and… well, he washed out after trying to do some Cap-level acrobatics and did a Wiley Coyote-like crash into a brick wall, breaking his arm. Strike one.
“Scar” Turpin, a tough guy biker, got the living crap beat out of him by an entire gang of muggers with a healthy supply of whup-ass. He made a great excuse that he would have done better if he’d had his trusty tire-iron. Strike two.
Roscoe Simons, a Brooklyn guy who seemed to have the physical make-up to get Steve Rogers’ thumbs up, seemed to make the cut. Cap even gave him his shield to use. The Falcon wasn’t so confident and really thought that Steve Rogers should be the guy who should wear the winged cowl.
Well, what would be the worst thing that could happen to Roscoe, anyway?
He could get killed, that’s what. The Red Skull, in a scheme to swindle America with a ton of counterfeit bills, fought Roscoe and the Falcon, and… well… Roscoe was killed in a Biblical way. The Red Skull decided that a pretender to the Captain America mantle should be tortured and then crucified for his trouble.
The only upside was that it got Steve Rogers to give up the Nomad nonsense and get back to work as being Captain America again.
The Gun-Toting Captain—Bucky Barnes
Surprise! Bucky's not dead!
Captain America is on the trail of an assassin. The assassin knows a lot about Steve Rogers' private life and seems to have a bone about everyone who has succeeded Rogers since he went into hibernation. The burial plots of William Naslund and Jeffery Mace have been vandalized outside the Arlington by JFK's plot.
When they ask Rogers who they were, he says, "They were Captain America."
Soon Jack Monroe's is found near a bomb set by the Red Skulls crew. All of this points to one person—Bucky Barnes. Somehow he's survived and has become an assassin.
What actually has happened is that while Bucky Barnes has survived and has been kept for the most part in suspended animation by the Soviets, he has been trained and brainwashed to be The Winter Soldier—a weapon during the Cold War. An assassin with a cybernetic arm to replace the one that was blown off by the drone set by Baron Zemo during the war.
Rogers cures Barnes of his brainwashing by commanding the cosmic cube to have Bucky "remember who he is." Bucky, as the winter soldier, never gets the chance to have his reunion with Rogers—as Rogers was seemingly assassinated. Following Rogers' apparent death, Tony Stark, who is then the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. gives Barnes the opportunity to succeed Rogers as the new Captain America.
Barnes remains Captain America until Rogers—who was never dead, only time-displaced—is brought back. Barnes, unfortunately, had to give up his role as Captain America as he had to go on trial for his crimes as the Winter Soldier.
Steve Rogers has resumed his role as the original Captain America.
Talk about getting your due.
I love this development. Sam Wilson was trained by Steve Rogers himself on an island while displaced from the Red Skull. The Falcon has a mental link with his bird, Redwing, and uses Wakanda tech to fly.
Steve Rogers has never had a more loyal, steadfast partner than Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Their relationship is built on friendship and trust. According to IGN, the opinion is that their partnership is one of the best in comics.
The Falcon got all of his skill through hard work. It was almost as if he'd had an exclusive apprenticeship with Steve Rogers and passed with flying colors.
When Steve Rogers' super-soldier formula wore off and he reverted to his true chronological age, he chose the Falcon to be his replacement and gave him the shield.
The Best Cap Poll
Captain America's Political Connotations
Marvel has found a way to play both sides of current topical political debates in its use of Captain America.
When America is in the midst of some of its uglier periods, Marvel removes Steve Rogers from the role and has him replaced with a Captain more in keeping with the current mood of American politics.
During the remainder of World War II, Rogers was in hibernation. However, two other individuals were there to take his place without the public ever knowing the difference. This, of course, was highly coincidental and was actually a plot device to explain how the original Captain America could survive while being out of action for twenty years (1943 to 1963).
Still, during the Red Scare, it wasn't Steve Rogers. If you ever get a chance to actually read any of those original propaganda-laced issues, you would need to come up with some kind of excuse on why a character who was so philosophically wrong could be this country's national hero. A rewrite on how an insane Captain America took his place would certainly be in order.
His time could be taken all the way to the Viet Nam War with the original Captain America coming on board when the worst was over. And when the veterans came home and were disenfranchised, Steve Rogers left his country as Nomad.
When this country was in the midst of Iran Contra and had a questionable foreign policy, Rogers saw the problem with the government and left Captain America to be a character who was a reflection of those policies in the character of John Walker. Walker, a staunch Republican, was on the side of "cowboy diplomacy" and everything the Reagan/Bush years represented.
When Bush left, Rogers came back.
When George W. Bush waged war on Iraq, Marvel temporarily killed off Steve Rogers in 2007 and brought in Bucky Barnes to be the Captain America who uses a gun. When that was over, and Obama came into office, Rogers was brought back from the dead.
The character of Captain America is something larger than its publisher. Captain America represents a time and an ideal when this country knew what it was doing and used all of its will and determination to make things happen. The generation of our World War II vets has been called "our greatest generation."
Many would certainly agree.
The enemy was obvious. Our course was clear. In that effort, we put a fictional red, white, and blue avenger to not only keep the spirits up for our troops but to also wage war against the enemy at home by encouraging our kids that we were on the right path.
Marvel uses Steve Rogers as a barometer of sorts. Things go well; Rogers is there. Things go wrong and are full of controversy; Rogers is gone.
In any event, this country will always have the character of Captain America as there will always be someone to take the flag when his predecessor has fallen.
© 2012 Christopher Peruzzi
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on June 02, 2016:
Thank you. :)
SaiSquadron from Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad on May 07, 2012:
Good work cperuzzi