By Eric DrummThe passing of Captain America in CAPTAIN AMERICA #25 made headlines across the wire. His unexpected surrender at the end of CIVIL WAR and subsequent death created a media whirlwind still making headlines. Transcending fans and the public conciousness, Cap's death still pings against the walls of the press as well as the hearts and minds of millions. Cap had a presence that was larger than life, a fact that has become clearer with his death. A hero to heroes, Cap stood a little taller than all the rest, even when he walked among gods and supreme beings. He was the symbol, the flag of the Marvel Universe, his shield a crest of what it means to be a hero. Steve Rogers, the man behind the chain mail may be dead, but Captain America, as always, will live on. While Rogers was frozen in the Atlantic after World War II, the role of Captain America had several successors. And after his return to action with the Avengers, there were times when others took up the mantle of Captain America. Nonetheless, Rogers remains the one true Cap to fans, creators and his peers. With the Captain America legacy hanging in the balance, a power vacuum has been created within the Marvel Universe. The role of leader, motivator and source of inspiration has been suddenly vacated. As a result, it's open season to see who will be next in line to embrace the beating heart of superheroics. And due to the shakeups and breakups of CIVIL WAR, its anybody's game. Leadership is up for grabs for the entire Marvel Universe, but here is a look at few candidates that could potentially lead us into a new age. We tapped Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort to give his input on each one and if they could make the cut. Winter Soldier – Former partner of Captain America, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes was long thought killed in the plane explosion that dropped Cap into the freezing Atlantic Ocean. Surviving, Bucky was discovered by Soviet forces and was brainwashed into working as an assassin, becoming the mysterious Winter Soldier. Carrying out various covert missions over the 20th century, Cap found himself at odds with the Winter Soldier for seemingly murdering the Red Skull and Jack Monroe, a.k.a. Nomad. With a little help from the Cosmic Cube, Cap brought Bucky back to his senses. "Civil War" showed Bucky, although grieving over his blood-soaked past, to be working with Nick Fury and the Anti-Registration faction. After Cap's surrender and murder in CAPTAIN AMERICA #25, Bucky went on the attack, brutally beating Crossbones in anger and frustration. Losing the long-lost partner that he had only so briefly been reunited with, Bucky now has the opportunity get on redemption road and become a hero again, following in his mentor's footsteps. Maybe not, says Brevoort. "The Winter Soldier's got too much in his past, and too much blood on his hands, to truly function effectively as a leader or a symbol. He's the flip-side of Cap, the dark underbelly who gets the job done no matter the dirty costs."
Iron Man – Billionaire genius and current S.H.I.E.L.D. director Tony Stark is a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. As a founding member of the Avengers, Iron Man has been a part of almost every important event in Marvel's history since its inception. Overcoming his battle with the bottle, as well as his own personal demons, Iron Man has proved himself as a hero time and time again. Founding and working with the Avengers made him a close friend of Captain America, despite their differences of opinion. Iron Man's clout helped him gain support for the Superhuman Registration Act during "Civil War," rallying other superheroes into his cause, making numerous controversial decisions and ultimately putting him at odds with Captain America. Dedicating himself to apprehending Cap and the Anti-Registration heroes, Tony saw his friendship with Cap diminish, a friendship he will now never be able to mend. Iron Man's victory in CIVIL WAR put him in a position of a new kind of power: politics. As the newly appointed Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a Mighty Avengers team member, Tony Stark--not to mention Iron Man--is a shot caller, and this spells trouble for those aren't in support of Registration. Will Iron Man's ends justify his means, and elevate him to a leader to all heroes? "Tony's certainly in a position now to change the world and lead ordinary people and superhumans alike into a new future," says Brevoort. "But because of some of the steps he was forced to take during "Civil War," he's got a credibility gap to deal with-–one that could erode the foundations of his dreamed-about utopia."
Spider-Man – "Civil War" took a serious toll on everyone's favorite Wall Crawler. Rallying behind his new mentor Tony Stark, Peter Parker was initially in support of Registration, unmasking himself to the world at Tony's request. With the world knowing that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one and the same, Peter and his family became targets from years worth of rogues looking for revenge. Realizing that he had made a grave mistake, Peter changed sides to fight alongside Captain America. Iron Man and the Pro-Registration faction branded Spider-Man a traitor, causing the Parkers to go on the run without the Stark resources they had become accustomed to. Peter found himself in constant danger, coming to a head when cornered and nearly beaten to death by Pro-Registration goons Jack O'Lantern and Jester, only to be saved by a resurfaced Punisher. Feeling guilty for putting his family in danger and turning on Captain America, Peter fought hard for Cap's Secret Avengers in the closing battle of CIVIL WAR. Taking Cap's death especially hard, Spider-Man is carrying on his memory by not just being a better hero, but a better Peter Parker as well. Never much of a team player, Spider-Man has always felt like an outsider, and hasn't really considered himself as being in the big leagues, despite his countless team-ups and superior field experience. Can Spider-Man overcome his failures and be the hero he never thought he could be? Brevoort isn't convinced. "Spidey's barely comfortable with his role as a superhero--he doesn't really think he has it in him to be a uniter of men. And right now, Spidey's got his own personal problem vying for his immediate attention."
Ms. Marvel – Carol Danvers always dreamed of being in the big leagues. Despite her abilities as one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe, Ms. Marvel has never felt that she has reached her full potential. Getting a glimpse of the kind of hero she could be in HOUSE OF M, Ms. Marvel was determined to do whatever it took to feel that way again. Choosing to go Pro-Registration in "Civil War," Danvers found herself to be a close ally of Pro-Registration leader Iron Man, and was a sentinel for bringing in Anti-Registration members. Unconcerned with destroying friendships and alliances, including her close relationship with Captain America, Ms. Marvel is doing what she feels is right, and what she feels it takes to be a true hero. As the leader of the Mighty Avengers, Ms. Marvel is using this position to step out of Tony Stark's shadow, as well as enforce the Registration way of life--at whatever cost. "In the world of HOUSE OF M, we saw that Carol is fully capable of becoming the preeminent superhero in the world," notes Brevoort. "She's got that within her. Now, [her] challenge is to live up to that potential. If she can find a way to do that, she could perhaps become a uniter in the tradition of Cap."
Black Panther – Warrior king T'Challa is noble, fierce and just. These attributes are just a few of the formidable traits of the superhero known as Black Panther. As the royal tribal king of the African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther's pride for his homeland and vicious protection of it rivals Captain America's passion for the United States. Free of outside interference, Wakanda has become one of the most technological and resource-rich nations in the Marvel Universe. As the only exporter of precious metal Vibranium, T'Challa is very cautious and protective of his fertile country. During "Civil War," Black Panther took a strong stance of neutrality, not budging on his decision to the faces of both Cap and Iron Man. Being close to both leaders due to his lengthy tenure in the Avengers, T'Challa refused to play favorites and did what he felt was best for his people. However, this decision was eventually swayed to support Cap and the Anti-Registration heroes after the death of Goliath at the hands of a Stark Industries-created Thor clone. In the midst of the chaos, Blank Panther still managed to take a bride in Storm of the X-Men. After the defeat of the Anti-Registration movement, Black Panther and his new queen have joined Marvel's First Family, filling in for Reed and Sue Richards as part of the Fantastic Four. Between his royalty, his marriage strengthening mutant-human relations and serving with the Marvel Universe's First Family, Black Panther is poised to lead the world's hero community under his noble rule. But can he overcome his distrust of the outside world? "Of everybody on this list, T'Challa comes closest to embodying the key qualities of Captain America," says Brevoort. "With one exception: He tends to play a lone hand, he's got provisions in place for all eventualities, and while he's incredibly intelligent, he's also cunning and guarded. He's got the bearing and demeanor of a king, and that tends to make the common people a little bit nervous around him."
Hank Pym – Ant-Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket. Whatever you want to call him, Hank Pym has been at the forefront of the Marvel Universe. As one of its premier scientists, his intellect can be compared to such minds as Reed Richards and Tony Stark. A founding member of the Avengers, he is a veteran hero with close ties to both Iron Man and Captain America. CIVIL WAR brought a crisis of conscience for Dr. Pym. Siding with Iron Man and the Pro-Registration heroes, he helped create the Thor clone that killed his friend and fellow hero Goliath. Racked with guilt over his mistakes, he's wondered if he has made the right choice in assisting Tony Stark with his crusade. After being impersonated by Young Avenger Hulking to infiltrate the Pro-Registration side, Hank is now left with nothing but doubt, guilt and a couple of dead friends. With so many years of experience, a superior mind and Iron Man in his corner, can Hank Pym take charge of not only his own life but the future of the Marvel Universe? Brevoort doesn't think so. "Hank is a fractured hero with a checkered past. As a result, he's looking to make a difference in the world more from behind a microscope than on the front lines. Hank's lived through his years of trying to compete on the same ground as Cap and the other Avengers–-now, his struggle is to find his own piece of turf in which to excel."
Luke Cage – Formally Power Man, Luke Cage always found himself unhappy with the methods of conventional superheroics. From his Heroes For Hire days with Iron Fist, Luke was seemingly a super-powered brute that had a good conscience but strayed from the norm. Eventually outgrowing his monetary motivations, Luke Cage has brushed shoulders with heroes from all corners of the Marvel Universe, but never saw himself as team material. Still keeping his no nonsense demeanor, Cage found a home alongside heavy hitters Iron Man and Captain America as a member of New Avengers. Warming up to being part of a team, Luke joined another kind of team: a family. Marrying and having a child with Jessica Jones, Luke's perspective changed into one of responsibility. When Civil War ripped through the Marvel Universe, Luke chose Captain America's side and joined Cap's Secret Avengers. Believing that the Registration Act was a severe violation of human rights, Cage shrugged off stern threats from Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. and fought hard for what he believed in. After Cap's death Luke has taken over leadership of the New Avengers, still on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and Pro-Registration hero hunters. With his family on his mind and a team to protect, can Luke Cage keep his rebellious nature but unite others in the right direction? Brevoort thinks he could, saying Luke is "the other real possibility on this list. Luke would scarcely have believed it of himself once upon a time, but in the last few years he's really grown into his own steel-hard skin, through his role in the Avengers and his marriage and fatherhood. And when it comes to being inspiring, Cage has an almost guileless, unintentional way of doing so."
Punisher – With a body count in the thousands, Frank Castle, the Punisher, is an unlikely choice to lead others under Cap's red, white and blue suit. Caring only about his personal mission, Frank had dropped off the Marvel radar for a while, leaving the spandex crowd to sort themselves out. Outraged by Iron Man employing villains to do his dirty work during "Civil War," the Punisher resurfaced and jumped into the fray with guns blazing. Siding with Anti-Registration side, Frank initially played by Cap's rules instead of his own. After gunning down Plunderer and Goldbug in cold blood in a Secret Avengers safe house, Cap immediately regretted his decision in recruiting him and threw him out--but not before dealing him a vicious beating. Being struck again and again, the Punisher refused to fight back against Cap, not being able to bring himself to do it. At least some part of Frank Castle believes in Captain America, something from his Marine Corps honor that he cannot forget. After the final conflict in CIVIL WAR #7, we saw the Punisher pick up Cap's discarded mask. Is this a sign that Frank Castle may be turning over a new leaf, and is planning to put Pro-Registration hunters at the top of his hit list, bringing underground heroes along for cover fire? Brevoort is unconvinced. "I don't think there's any room in the Punisher's mission for being a symbol–-unless it's a symbol of terror to those who kill and steal. And on a more personal level, Frank is well aware of his own shortcomings, and wouldn't dream of being able to fill Cap's boots."
Patriot – Elijah Bradley has the makings of a hero running through his veins. The grandson of Isaiah Bradley, one of Captain America's successor's, Elijah took up the mantle of the Patriot to honor him. Initially lying to his Young Avengers teammates about his gaining his powers from using the Mutant Growth Hormone, Patriot eventually came clean about his deceptions and received the Super Soldier Serum for real via a blood transfusion from his grandfather. During "Civil War," Patriot sided with Cap and the Anti-Registration heroes, and looked up to Cap as a mentor and leader as many had done before him. With Cap's death, can Patriot come to the front of the fold and obtain his family's rightful place in the Marvel Universe? Brevoort is skeptical. "He may aspire to this, but he has nowhere near the life experience yet to fill those shoes."
Spider-Woman – Jessica Drew fought hard to be a hero. Stripped of her powers, her desire to fight for good was so intense that she made a deal with HYDRA to restore them, working for them in return. Her status as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent complicated her already dire situation. Working as a double agent for both HYDRA and Nick Fury, she fought hard to cover her tracks, even from her New Avengers teammates. After a confessing to an understanding Captain America, Jessica confided in her team to help her out of the grave she had dug for herself. When "Civil War" broke out, a betrayal by Iron Man put her in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s crosshairs. With Nick Fury underground and destroying her connection to HYDRA, she was alone, lost and being hunted. She eventually found her way to Cap's Secret Avengers, joining up with Cap's camp only after breaking down emotionally. Relying on the trust of her peers, will Spider-Woman use her new web of support to inspire others to do whats right, no matter the cost? Brevoort doesn't think so. "With her shifting allegiances, it's difficult for most to get a handle on Spider-Woman and where she truly stands. So as somebody who could represent an ideal larger than herself, she seems an ill fit–-most would question what ideals she believes in herself." Captain America may be dead, but his memory will never be lost. His death, paired with the fallout of CIVIL WAR, will not be easy to overcome, but as always the Marvel Universe will march on. Cap may not be leading the charge, but someone will. Check out CAPTAIN AMERICA #26 and #27, PUNISHER #6 and #7 and CIVIL WAR: FALLEN SON #1-#5 for more on the fate of Captain America.