Heroic Origins: Captain America (Steve Rogers)

Captain America, art credit Steve Epting

Name: Steve Rogers                      Alias: Captain America

Profession: Soldier/S.H.I.E.L.D Agent

Powers: Super Strength, Agility and other heightened abilities

Equipment/Weapons: Shield, Fists

First AppearanceCaptain America Comics #1

Considering that the good Captain is this year celebrating his 75th anniversary, along with his recent rejuvenation and new series launching in the comics, and the Civil War movie opening to fantastic success and acclaim (spoiler free review planned for the near future), it seems sensible to look back at the origins of one of the cornerstone characters of the Marvel Universe.

Steve Rogers as a character was introduced to the comic book world in March 1941, two years into the Second World War, which played a large part in his earliest tales. Despite this date appearing on the cover of the comic, the issue actually went on sale in December 1940. The impact of the war is evident in the creation of the character in numerous ways, be it his military style attire, his title as ‘Captain’, his representation of the ideal American morals, or the fact the first cover to feature him showed him squarely punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw. What is somewhat more bizarre in terms of the origins of Captain America is his appearance pre-dates the involvement of American armed forces in World War Two by almost a whole year. In his early stories however, America was already quite heavily involved in the warfare, and Captain America was born of an experimental treatment to create a super-soldier, as seen in the recent film Captain America: The First Avenger.

Captain America Comics #1 cover, art by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Steve’s personality traits were that of the ideal American. He was patriotic and hard-working, and despite his weak stature he was determined to serve his country as a member of the military, which was part of the reason he was chosen for the Super Soldier experiments. Similarly, he was shown in the comics to be loyal, determined and was always seen to stand up for what he believed to be right and true, no matter the cost. This is no doubt what led to him being one of the early leaders of numerous teams, including the Invaders and the Avengers.

The creation of the character by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby was influenced by a number of events. Firstly, the character was initially planned to be named ‘Super American’, but Simon felt too many characters bore the title ‘Super’, and so this was changed to make him ‘Captain’. Similarly, the very early change from the triangular shield seen on the cover of the first issue was due to issues with rival comic company MLJ, and their own character ‘The Shield’. They argued that the shield that Cap wielded was too similar to the chest of the character’s costume, and as such the design was changed to the now easily recognisable circular shield that has been passed between several of the heroes who have held the title ‘Captain America’. Interestingly the first person to depict the shield being used as a thrown weapon was not Joe Simon, but the famous Stan Lee.

The character of Steve Rogers/Captain America also proved to be wildly successful due to many of the origin inspirations for him. Despite not launching in an omnibus book as was common for most new characters at the period, his solo comic, launched by Timely Comics, went on to sell more than a million copies, as did many of the successive issues. He also proved successful enough that a Captain America fan club called the ‘Sentinels of Liberty’ was set up, and also went on to feature in some of the issues of the comics, as they often assisted in his adventures, or were directly addressed by the characters within the comic.

However, as with many characters in the 1940s in comics, the decline of the superhero genre led to a subsequent dropping in numbers, and as such the stories of Captain America came to an end. In the final issue of his earliest run, Cap and Bucky worked to take down a drone plane launched by Baron Zemo, a long running villain of the series. In this issue, Bucky is seemingly killed when a bomb he is attempting to defuse suddenly detonates, and Cap thrown from the plane to fall into the North Atlantic, and assumed dead. As is now well known, he was in fact frozen in the waters, and returned a few decades later during the Silver Age of Comics, and drew similar success as he had in his first appearances.

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