Captain America may just be Marvel’s Superman, the one iconic hero every superhero universe has a copy of. He’s also the most successful of the Golden Age Marvel heroes, although since Jack Kirby was one of his cocreators, the character does have an impressive pedigree. There’s a story we’ve seen a lot with Golden Age superheroes, as a hero from the 1930s/ 1940s finds himself stuck in the modern world, and it’s never been done better than it was with Cap.
This is meant to be a list of good introductory stories to the Captain America. Considering the man out of time elements, as well as his involvement in complex espionage plots, writers do like sticking Captain America into lengthy epics that last for more than an year. Those will be saved for a future list, in case anyone’s wondering about the absence of Captain America VS The Secret Empire, “Captain America No More!” and “The Death of Captain America.”
The Silver Age
Captain America is in some of the best and most inventive silver age stories, probably the greatest things Marvel was publishing at the time outside of the Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man. Lee and Kirby were still depicting his solo adventures, long after both had handed over the reins of the Avengers to Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Cap’s return in Avengers #4 is one of the defining moments of Silver Age Marvel, and it’s been reprinted all over the place. He soon had his own solo adventures in the anthology series Tales of Suspense, with Stan Lee & Jack Kirby showing what they were up to when they weren’t working on the Fantastic Four and Thor. “If a Hostage Should Die!” from Tales of Suspense #77 is probably the best World War 2 era Cap adventure, with a romance that was incorporated into the movies. “The Red Skull Lives” from (#79-81) reintroduces Captain America’s greatest archenemy, as he gets his hands on a weapon of absolute power. “If This Be MODOK” (#92-94) pits Cap against the mad scientist terrorist organization AIM and introduces one of his most memorable Silver Age foes: M.O.D.O.K.
After a few years, Tales of Suspense morphed into a solo series for Captain America. “If The Past Be Not Dead” (Captain America #107) introduces Dr. Faustus, a twisted psychiatrist trying to drive Cap mad, a trope that works pretty well with this particular hero. “The Hero That Was” (#109) retells the origin of Captain America, a perfect fit for Jack Kirby. Jim Steranko had a fantastic three issue run (Captain America #110, 111, 113) in which Cap fought the Hulk and the forces of Hydra, and was even believed to have died. The final great Silver Age saga was a six issue epic from Captain America #114-119 in which Cap gained a new sidekick, the Red Skull launched his most twisted plan yet, and Gene Colan ably stepped into the shoes of Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko.
War and Remembrance
Roger Stern and John Byrne’s nine issue run on the series from Captain America #247-255 , collected in trade paperback form as either “War and Remembrance” or “Old Acquaintances” is a highlight of the series’s history. It features the famed Captain America For President story, as well as a battle against a Nazi Vampire (probably the best vampire story in comics) and a new take on the origin. Roger Stern and John Buscema’s Avengers storyline “Under Siege” (Avengers #270, 271, 273-277) is also quite good, as Cap suffers one of his greatest losses.
Captain America was essentially the lead of The Ultimates, the 21st Century reimagining of the Avengers by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch that served as the basis for much of the Avengers film. This Captain America knew what to do when one of his teammates sent another to the hospital in an act of domestic abuse.
Cap was also the moral compass for Jim Kreuger, Alex Ross and John Paul Leon’s Earth X, a series set in a possible future in which everyone had superpowers. A despondent Cap had to inspire a new generation against the forces of the Skull, a nasty villain with a secret that made him worse than anyone expected.
The Winter Soldier
Ed Brubaker’s recently completed run on Captain America may just be the most acclaimed in the character’s history. The first year (#1-9, 11-14) shook up the series with the introduction of the Winter Soldier, a Russian assassin with ties to Captain America’s history. And it paved the way for one of his greatest victories.
The single best Captain America story may just have been his appearance in Daredevil #233, the conclusion of “Born Again” as his paths crossed with the Man Without Fear, while investigating the actions of a rogue supersoldier. Mark Waid and Jorge Molina ‘s mini-series Man Out of Time retold Cap’s early adventures with the Avengers from the perspective of a guy who had just come out of World War 2.
A two page text story from the Golden Age (“Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenger” from Captain America #3) has immense historical significance as the first published work of a young man going under the pseudonym Stan Lee.
Here’s how these tales rated on several top ten lists….
- 10. The Hero That Was (Captain America #109)
- 9. Jim Steranko’s Run
- 5. War and Remembrance
- 1. Captain America: Man Out of Time
- 9. Under Siege
- 8. The Winter Soldier
- 7. The Ultimates Volume 1
- 6. War & Remembrance
- 5. Man Out of Time
- 9. If This Be Modok
- 7. The Coming of the Falcon
- 5. War and Remembrance
- 2. He Who Holds the Cosmic Cube
- 1. Avengers #4