Let's Rap about Cap


A Brief Overview.

Beginning! A new series of posts on ol' Winghead himself, Captain America. Thanks to Friend-of-the-Omnibus Jeff B over at Into the Dark Dimension for the title suggestion. 

A play off one of the old letter column header.

It struck me the other day that there's probably more people who know Cap exclusively through the movies than those who remember the original conception(s). As is only right - I'm not bemoaning this fact nor the movies, which I love. (I've yet to see Civil War. And Avengers 2 kinda blew. But Cap 1 and 2 and the first Avengers were exactly the Cap I always wanted to see onscreen.) But I'm one of those guys for whom Bucky will always be dead, Cap will always have been unfrozen in the 60s, and FDR - not Howard Stark - gave him his shield. So I figured hey, why not do a few blogs on "my" Cap?  

Captain America was one of my favorite titles of the 80s, both the J.M. DeMatteis era that introduced me to the character and (half of) the Mark Gruenwald era that followed. Which is not to say I only liked half of the Gruenwald era, just that I stopped reading new Marvels in 1991. One of these days I mean to read all the stories Gruenwald wrote; he stayed on the book from 1985 through 1995, longer than any other writer.

RIP, sir.

I also came to love all previous eras of the book, as well, particularly Steve Englehart's and Jack Kirby's second run on the book. (I only ever read the original Lee/ Kirby ones - or the Golden Age Caps that preceded those - much, much later. Insert the traditional it-was-the-80s and allowance-money disclaimers here.) But for these posts I only plan to concentrate on a few specific storylines and creative teams. 

Have a gander at the Cap-related road map if you'd like an idea of what's to come. Or play it by ear, whatever floats your boat, heya? To freedom, comrades -fellow citizens! (clink) And confusion to the enemies of the Republic. 


Captain America was introduced to the world in 1940, punching Hitler in the face.

Along with Bucky Barnes, teen sidekick.

Steve Rogers, the proverbial 98-lb weakling, was injected with the super-soldier serum and given enhanced strength, speed, and stamina. He was also gifted with a near-indestructible badge-shaped shield that was done away with in issue 2 after complaints from the creators of The Shield over in Pep Comics, who thought it looked a little derivative of their character design. So in issue #2, Cap gets the circular, steel-vibranum alloy shield.

What happened to the original shield, you ask?

See Avengers: Under Siege (1986) for all the grisly details.

Cap and Bucky then went to Europe to kick a swatch of Nazi ass up and down the Seigfried Line. For these and other efforts, they earned the eternal indemnity of the Reich's own super-soldier: the Red Skull. 

Sporting the colors of his Axis allies in Captain America Comics #16 (July 1942, art by Al Alvison)
After the war, Cap and Bucky continued to appear in comics and were featured as part of All Winners Squad. Bucky was injured and replaced by Golden Girl, but superhero stories fell out of favor and the book was cancelled. There was a brief revival in the 1950s where Cap lost the nickname "Sentinel of Liberty" in favor of "Commie Smasher." (Same thing, if you ask me.) In this 1950s version, Steve Rogers was a college teacher and Bucky was one of his students.

A college professor against communism! Sci-fi magic.

Years later Kirby and Lee brought the character back for Avengers #4. (I'll just sidestep the whole Kirby/Martin Goodman/ Marvel copyright question.) Having been frozen and in a state of suspended animation since the end of the War, Cap's found by the Avengers and revived and the rest is history. 

As mentioned at NerdApproved: "This revised Cap from simply being a super-solider to now acting as a 'man out of time.' It also meant that all the post World War II stories featuring the All Winners Squad, Golden Girl and the 'commie smasher' days retroactively never happened."

Then, something interesting happened. In What If…? #4, (again from NA) "Roy Thomas wrote a story where the government decided that Captain America’s disappearance in 1945 needed to be concealed from the public lest it hurt American morale. The White House contacted the costumed hero William Naslund aka Spirit of '76 and asked him to stand in as Captain America. A young boy named Fred Davis, who had known Cap and Bucky Barnes, became the new Bucky. So those All Winners Squad stories happened, but that was William and Fred in the Cap and Bucky suits."

The same issue reveals that William Naslund was succeeded by Jeff Mace, the crimefighter formerly known as The Patriot.

This What If…? story was intended to be a fun parallel universe story, but it became canon. Just as the stories Thomas embellished or flat-out rearranged for Invaders became accepted canon. (Mk-1 canon, that is.) But what about anti-commie college professor Steve Rogers? Turns out, he was just some deranged loner (that periodic bugbear of the American conversation) who took on the role while Steve was still in suspended animation. He was made even more deranged by taking a knock-off version of the super-soldier serum. He took Steve's name and altered his face to look like him.

So Cap - at various times before I came to the series - had been "played" by three World War Two vets and one RWNJ who almost started a race war. (He and his sidekick have a memorable return, as we'll see down the road.) Then in the 80s, he was briefly played by an even John Birch-ier RWNJ, who ended up being the puppet of the Red Skull and shape-shifting lizard elites behind the American government. 

Cap was way ahead of the conspiracy curve on that one

But there was only ever one real Captain America: Steve Rogers. The other Caps only re-enforce his mastery and mystical embodiment of the role. (Something Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert conveyed so well in 1602, years later.) And it was upon chainmailed shoulders, once upon a time, that the entire moral integrity of the entire Marvel Universe rested. 


I figure, you might be familiar with Cap but not know the broad-strokes publication history (above), but you probably don't need a whole lot of extra info for this Friends and Foes section. I wanted to at least introduce some of the people we'll be looking at, if only to be a polite host. How to do it without this section bloating out of control? I'm a big fan of The Dork Review's periodic Image Blitzes. So hey, Image Blitz + Typically Wordy Captions = Over-explanation Accomplished.  

The Falcon. Seen here in his 80s uniform (l) and how he looked in his first appearance (r) from Cap #117. Gene Colan used OJ Simpson as a character model, according to Marvel: The Untold Story.
Nick Fury. The pre-Samuel L. version.
Sharon and Peggy Carter. More or less the same in the movies as alluded to or shown directly in the comics, which is nice for an old-timer like me on the lookout for such things.
Baron Zemo I and II. The former was one of Cap's seminal foes, responsible (under the Red Skull's masterminding, of course) for Bucky's death. The latter first appeared in the 80s. I was a huge fan of any son-of-seminal-character in the 80s; those always landed with me.
A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) and Modok. I don't know why The Leader's and Sinestro's big-head visuals annoy me so much but I'm forgiving of Modok's. Go figure.
HYDRA: Baron Strucker and -
The Viper. I haven't seen The Wolverine yet, but I understand The Viper's in it. Interesting. You'd figure she'd be in the regular-MCU, not the Fox-MCU. As for Strucker, Patrick Stewart of course - doesn't he get first pass on any and all bald roles? Trek III/ Roger Rabbit-era Christopher Lloyd would have made a fine Baron Strucker, I bet.
Arnim Zola. Because weird. One of Kirby's last creations for Marvel.

That's not everybody, obviously - I'm leaving out 60s-sidekick-for-hire Rick Jones, for starters, plus all the Howling Commandos and some other fun villains. But that's enough to get us started. Let's take a similar screencap-and-caption approach to our next section:


Like Doom over in FF, the Red Skull was constantly seeking ways to augment his own power to finally beat Captain America / all non-Aryans forever. The Cosmic Cube (aka the Tesseract in the MCU) was his go-to for unbridled godlike power. Like so many godlike powers, however, harnessing it always provided only short-time gains.

We'll look at some Red Skull-specific stuff in the posts to come, but here are some fun images from Cap 114 - 119, when the Red Skull uses the Cube to switch bodies with Cap and cause all sorts of mayhem. (Art by John Buscema and Gene Colan.) 

While Doctor Doom was at home fighting everyone from Spidey to Power Pack, the Red Skull is tailormade for Cap. Twin brothers of the same parents (WW2), on either side of civilization's biggest battleground. And theirs an existential as well as real-world conflict: the messy free market capitalism of classical liberalism vs. the mercy-is-for-the-weak national socialism, and both scientifically engineered to bring that conflict to the enemy.

Every great hero needs a great arch-enemy who is him or herself, just through a glass darkly; as Belloq so helpfully told Indy in Raiders, "I am just a shadowy reflection of you." The Red Skull is that for Cap, and Cap - to the Skull's eternal chagrin - is even moreso for him. 

From Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941)

Next: Steranko! See you then. 


  1. (1) I'm one of those guys who mainly knows Cap from the movies. I'd always known OF him, of course; but only vaguely. As for "Civil War," I thought it was great. I'm an "Age of Ultron" apologist, though, so take it for what's worth.

    (2) Boy, that's a real heavy Rorschach vibe rollin' off those "The Man Behind the Mask!" pages. Or vice versa, I guess.

    (3) I think Pep Comics had a bit of a point there.

    (4) "A college professor against communism! Sci-fi magic." -- You've earned a shiny new LOL, sir.

    (5) Jeff "The Patriot" Mace has been appearing on "Agents of SHIELD" this season, where he's an Inhuman and is the new director of SHIELD. He's pretty cool, but they've said nothing about the Patriot. He's obviously strong as heck, though.

    (6) Modok bothers me on a visceral level.

    (7) I never entirely understood Red Skull. His head appears to be made out of meat, so why "Red Skull"? "Red Head" would have sucked, granted, but still. This doesn't actually bother me, understand; just an Inquiring-Minds type of thought. Whatever his deal is, Red Skull is certainly one of the better Marvel villains.

    1. I'm probably being a little unduly harsh on "Age of Ultron." I love the first half hour or 45 minutes. The problem is, I saw the first half hour or 45 minutes 4 or 5 times on cable before I ended up seeing the rest of it. I'm convinced breaking it up this way ruined the movie for me. But the back half certainly seemed to be never-ending to me. There was a lot going on, though, that I think a full straight-through watch might make more appealing to me.

      (5) Ditto for that show - I kind of like what I saw but I'm scattershot on every episode, only catching bits and pieces. That's cool that they found a way to work Jeff Mace in there, although I wonder why they didn't just put him on Agent Carter? He'd have fit the time period and they wouldn't have had to change much, if anything. Why turn him into an Inhuman? I don't mind, though, just curious.

      (7) Good point! Different artists made his head more skull-like than others. I bet "Red Meathead" in German would be cool. I don't know what it is, but I bet there is one word that means that hyper-specifically and is 50 letters long.

    2. "why they didn't just put him on Agent Carter?"

      While that was in production, I mean, of course. I wonder if that was the original plan?

    3. I wonder. They've only used him a bit on SHIELD so far; he's clearly got something more going on than the obvious, but whether they'll go full Patriot remains to be seen.

      So far, I'd say he's basically a different character that they've slapped the name "Jeff Mace" on. Not exactly the first time that's ever been done: I mean, I dig the Anthony Mackie version of Sam Wilson, but, uh, that is NOT The Falcon.

      I'm not quite invested enough to worry about it.

      Back to a different topic, it's ridiculous for somebody -- i.e., me -- to even bring up questions like "Why isn't Red Skull's head more like a skull and less like a head?" That's Comics Reading 101, knowing not to do things like that. And, of course, that's part of what's so great about that medium (or sub-genre, I guess, if we're talking superhero comics): they mostly exist in their own realm of logic that has only occasional overlap with other realms.

      That's why a fella reads them. Who actually wants an answer to the question of why Red Skull is like that?!? Not me.