Spoilers for Civil War and Captain America: The Winter Soldier
“General: You know the department holds you in the highest regard. We’ve always valued your commitment — and your loyalty…
Captain America: I’m loyal to nothing, General… except the dream.” – Daredevil: Born Again
Terrorists are preparing to attack Washington. A wall suddenly explodes. They see the God of Thunder, the Mechanical Marvel, and a big, green rage monster. They see spies, mutants, and aliens. They also see one man leading them, a living legend from WWII. Captain America raises his shield and gives voice to a familiar battle cry, “Avengers assemble!”.
Captain America is one of the most famous superheroes ever created. He fought in WWII, leads the Avengers, and even survived his own assassination. So how come he isn’t an old geezer? How’d he become leader of the Avengers? And what do you mean he’s HYDRA’s greatest agent!? Time to find out.
Project Rebirth: Captain America’s Backstory
“Without its ideals — its commitment to the freedom of all men, America is a piece of trash!
A nation is nothing! A flag is a piece of cloth!
I fought Adolf Hitler not because America was great, but because it was fragile! I knew that liberty could be snuffed out here as in Nazi Germany! As a people, we were no different than them!” – Captain America, Marvel What If? #44
Captain America debuted in Captain America Comics #1, published in March of 1941. Cap was controversial because America did not enter the war for another nine months when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His creators received many death threats, but they kept writing what would become Timely Comics* best seller.
Steve Rogers was a sickly kid who wanted to serve his country. When America entered WWII, he tried to join the army, but was deemed physically unfit for duty. A nearby general saw his resolve and asked him to take part in a secret experiment called Project Rebirth**. Steve was injected with a Super-Soldier Serum and exposed to “Vita-Rays”. The procedure transformed him from a frail guy into a soldier at peak physical condition. Before more super soldiers could be made, a saboteur killed the serum’s creator and destroyed the equipment.
Steve Rogers was given a shield and costume to become a propaganda symbol. He instead used them to become Captain America, a one man Nazi fighting machine. Cap fought alongside his friend James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), until a fateful mission during which they tried to stop an experimental plane from being blown up by HYDRA. The plane exploded while they were attempting to defuse the bomb. Cap and Bucky were presumed dead.
Hero, Revolutionary, and Traitor: Captain America’s History
“Hail Hydra” – Captain America
Captain America was discovered in 1964, frozen in ice, and still alive thanks to the Super-Soldier Serum. Awakened and restored but still disoriented, he fought the Avengers before understanding they were allies. He joined the team and became its leader because of his experience leading military units.
Cap fought many of his old enemies who had survived WWII, from Baron Zemo and Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones in the MCU) to Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). When Red Skull was assassinated, Captain America found himself locked in a game of wits with the mysterious Winter Soldier. He soon learned the Winter Soldier was none other than Bucky! Soviet troops had found Bucky also in ice and brainwashed him into being their assassin. Cap managed to break the mind control and free Bucky.
Shortly before the superhero Civil War, Cap met with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to discuss the Superhero Registration Act. Cap refused to enforce the Act, and Hill ordered his arrest. Cap escaped and led the Anti-Registration forces. He eventually surrendered when he realized how many civilians were getting hurt in the crossfire.
HYDRA forces assassinated Cap on the way to his trial. The event was later retconned that he had been shot with a bullet that phased him out of time and space. Yeah, I don’t get it either. but the point is that Captain America was still alive and was soon rescued.
As part of Marvel’s All-New All-Different relaunch, Captain America was retconned into a deep cover HYDRA agent, an ongoing event with no end in sight and no spoilers.
Sentinel of Liberty: Captain America’s Powers and Personality
“On Olympus, we measure Wisdom against Athena, Speed against Hermes, Power against Zeus. But we measure Courage … against Captain America.” Hercules, Captain America #444
Captain America is a super soldier who is stronger than a human at peak physical condition. He’s able to process information faster than any normal human, which he describes as “seeing faster”. That enables him to fling his shield at impossibly fast and accurate angles. Cap is also skilled at numerous fighting styles and is an Olympic-level acrobat.
Captain America’s shield is made from a mixture of Vibranium and Adamantium that is almost indestructible. While it can be broken, you would need a furious Hulk or Thanos to do so. Cap has accomplished some crazy things. He is considered worthy in an Arthurian fashion to wield Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, has teamed up with Batman, and once kicked the Hulk in the nuts. Not many people would dare to do that last one, but that’s Captain America for ya.
Steve Rogers is the biggest boy scout this side of Superman. He is a patriot who is loyal to the ideals of America and not its government. He has even surrendered the Captain America identity a few times, most notably after discovering an evil organization’s leader was (implied to be) Richard Nixon***.
The Actors Who Played Captain America
Captain America debuted in The Marvel Super Heroes, where he was voiced by Sandy Becker. He appeared in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends voiced by George DiCenzo. Cap was also in Spider-Man: the Animated Series and was voiced by David Hayter of Metal Gear Solid fame. He was a main character in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes where he was voiced by Brian Bloom.
In 1979 Marvel attempted to make a Captain America show with Toei after their success with Spider-Man****. The deal fell through, but was turned into a show called Battle Fever J.
Captain America’s film debut was 1979’s made for television Captain America, which somehow did well enough to receive the sequel Captain America II: Death Too Soon. He was played by Reb Brown. Another movie called Captain America was released in 1990 starring Matt Salinger. Critics consider this one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Cap finally got the movie his character deserved in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, where he was played by Chris Evans.
Didya Get All That?
A scrawny kid turned patriotic pugilist
* Marvel Comic’s original name.
** Later retconned as the predecessor to Weapon X, the experiment that gave Wolverine his adamantium skeleton.
*** Tricky Dick, how could you?
**** Toei’s Spider-Man, a crazy show where Spider-Man fought aliens and had a giant robot that inspired the Power Ranger’s Megazord. Trust me, we’ll discuss this at some point.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.