Cap. The Star Spangled Avenger. The Sentinel of Liberty. Wing Head. No matter what you call him, Steve Rogers is kicking butt at the box office. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not just a great superhero movie, it’s a great movie, PERIOD! Like most times when an awesome comic book film hits the theatres, there are those who are unfamilliar with the source material that would like to check up on the four color adventures of their new favourite character. With a hero like Cap with a back catalog stretching back to the 1940s, it helps to have a guide to the best stories to check out. I originally posted this list back in 2011 after the first Captain America film. It still stands today as my personal picks for the best tales of the First Avenger. Take a look and you just might learn something.
The Adventures of Captain America (4 Issue Mini Series)
Creative Team : Fabian Nicieza (Writer) Kevin McGuire (Artist)
What’s it About? : A detailed retelling of how Captain America came to be, this is the quintessential Cap origin. With covers that pay tribute to the movie serials of the time era, this is a sprawling action/adventure akin to the golden age of Hollywood. We see a young Steve Rogers struggling to get into the service, having the courage to volunteer for an experiment to make him America’s first Super Soldier. Once becoming this weapon, he starts his career as a wartime mystery man, taking down German soldiers and eventually going head-to-head with his Nazi opposite number, The Red Skull. Action, Romance, Betrayal. This story has all the excitement of a matinee with a great characterization of a green Captain America, trying to find his footing. Bucky is also well represented. He comes off as a tough talking kid with a devil-may-care attitude that is a nice antithesis of the man he would later become as The Winter Soldier.
The Greatest Baron Blood Story – Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot/Blood on the Moors (Issues 253 – 254 Vol. 1)
Creative Team : Roger Stern (Writer) John Byrne (Artist)
What’s It About? : Cap vs a Nazi Vampire. No really, this is a cool story. Baron Blood was a character created by Roy Thomas, mainly used as an antagonist in Invaders issues, who was a creature of the night that served the Third Reich. This was his last appearance in comics (kind of) and he went out with a bang. In this two part story, Captain America responds to a request for help from his old WWII ally, Lord Falsworth (The original Union Jack) and heads to England to do combat with the recently resurrected Baron. By the end of it all, we’re treated to a new Union Jack as well as the one of the coolest villain deaths in mainstream comics. Cap is a bad ass in this one. Baron Blood is still one of my favourite Cap villains to this day and it’s solely because of this story.
Streets of Poison (Issues 372 – 378 Vol.1)
Creative Team : Mark Gruenwald (Writer) Ron Lim (Artist)
What’s It About? : What’s better than Captain America fighting the war on drugs. Captain America fighting the war on drugs, while ON DRUGS! That’s right, in the early 90s, writer Gruenwald decided to explore drug addiction in the pages of Captain America, a hero who was created by a drug (“It’s not like the Super Soldier Serum is Kool Aid”). A designer drug called Ice is spreading across the streets of New York, even making it’s way into Avengers Mansion. Captain America makes it his mission to shut down the production and distribution of Ice in his city. But when he gets caught in an explosion that exposes him to the drug, it mixes with the Super Soldier Serum in his bloodstream making him adrenalin-jacked and paranoid. What makes it worse is that these effects are not wearing off. Even more so, Ice is the creation of a particular Red-faced Cap villain with a German Accent. He’s making a play for the top of the New York Underworld, a spot inhabited by one Mr. Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin. So now Cap finds himself stuck in the middle of a gang war, having to deal with both Fisk and Skull trying to off each other, not caring about what collateral damage they cause. Things don’t get any easier as Cap’s drug induced state causes him to lash out at and beat up his friends. He leaves Daredevil knocked senseless in the middle of a playground. That’s not the Captain we all know and love! This all builds to a shocking ending for this non-conventional story about the dark side of Steve Rogers.
The New Deal (Issues 1 – 6 Vol. 4)
Creative Team : John Ney Rieber (Writer) John Cassady (Artist)
What’s It About : Set 6 months after the Destruction of the World Trade Towers, this story explores Captain America’s role in a post 9-11 world. America’s need for heroes has become greater and the threat of terrorism has risen. In the small town of Centerville (basically any-town, USA), Al-Tariq, a terrorist cell, holds the entire populace hostage. Cap’s mission is to infiltrate the town, dispatch of the terrorists, and protect and free the hostages. Steve Rogers is a man on a mission as the bloodshed has affected this super-soldier as he vows that not one more will fall “at the hands of these monsters”. Cassady’s art is perfectly matched for the “real world” that Ney Rieber is going for in this arc. The most notable theme that is underlined in this story is Rogers’ conviction to the American “Ideal” as opposed to the American Government. For the first time, we really get to see a Cap that’s at odds with the mandate coming from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Cap also moves from being reactive to proactive by the end of this story. It’s a great read and works as a stand-alone story.
Cap Lives (Issues 17 – 20 Vol. 4)
Creative Team : Dave Gibbons (Writer) Lee Weeks (Artist)
What’s It About? : In what is essentially a “What If?” story placed in the middle of the Cap Series in the early 2000s, Cap Lives explores an alternate reality where, after being frozen in the ice, Steve Rogers is thawed out in a world where his absence at the end of WWII lead to the defeat of the allies and Nazi world domination. Cap is found by the Resistance movement – made up of the Marvel characters from the Silver and Bronze Ages – and he becomes a leader for them as well as a beacon of hope. The interesting twist is that since there was no age of Marvels, this resistance is has no superheros. The Fantastic Four, Ironman, The Punisher, Spider-man – They’re just regular people – but they’re willing to die for freedom. With elements of time travel and cool parallels to the “canon” stories and characters, this is a fun read and although war-torn, post-apocalyptic futures (technically this is the past) are nothing new in comics, this story seems to have a nostalgic take that is rooted in the spirit of the Star-Spangled Avenger. With art by Lee Weeks that harkens back to a simpler time, this Gibbons penned tale is an adventure of great heroism and derring-do!
The Winter Soldier (Issues 1 – 6, 8 – 9, & 11 – 14 Vol. 5)
Creative Team : Ed Brubaker (Writer) Steve Epting (Artist)
What’s It About? : Back in 2005, this story did the unthinkable. Not only did Ed Brubaker bring back Bucky, Cap’s sidekick from WWII, but he made him one of the coolest characters in the modern Marvel era. “Saved” from the freezing waters of the north Atlantic that was suppose to be his final resting place, James “Bucky” Barns becomes a sleeper agent for Department X, a Russian secret spy organization. Outfitted with a bionic arm and with no memory of his former life as a masked mystery man, The Winter Soldier is a covert wetwork assassin being used by General Vasily Karpov to gain power. The story begins with the death of one of the most famous Cap villains and leads to the Winter Soldier launching a terrorist attack on Philadelphia. Cap is sent in to take him down and is thrown when he finds out his identity. The story continues with Steve tracking down his former partner for a confrontation that isn’t what one would have expected. It was the rebirth of the Cap franchise and lead to even more moments that no one ever thought they’d see in a Captain America Comic.
The Death of Captain America (Issues 25 – 42 Vol. 5)
Creative Team : Ed Brubaker (Writer) Steve Epting / Mike Perkins / Jackson Guice (Artists)
What’s It About: This was yet another story I’d thought I’d never see. Especially since Cap’s death takes place in the first issue of a story that took almost 2 years to tell. Broken over three story arcs (The Death of the Dream. The Burden of Dreams, and The Man Who Bought America), this is where Bucky Barns steps up. Over the the three acts, we see Buck go from a man possessed with revenge who’s planning the death of Tony Stark, to a man conflicted with his past actions at the Winter Soldier, to finally a new Captain America that is hell-bent on living up to the memory of Steve Rogers. The coolest thing about this story is that this was a book that was void of its title character for over a year, yet it was the best book on the stands at the time. With an amazing b-plot of a power struggle between General Lukin and The Red Skull (In the same body no less) this book had amazing character development for Sharon Carter, The Falcon, Tony Stark, and The Black Widow. By the end of this story, you not only can buy Bucky as the new Captain America, you can’t see anyone else in the role.This still stands as probably one of the best, if not the best, Captain America story of all time.
So that’s the list. Some of you might disagree with a few of my choices or omissions, but these are the Cap stories that stand out as the hallmark of quality when it comes to ol’ Wing Head. So check ’em out and enjoy.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!