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Essential Captain America

Essential Cap: Project: Rebirth

Read through the declassified history of the program that created Captain America!

With the release of "Thor" on May 6, 2011 and "Captain America: The First Avenger" on July 22, 2011, Marvel.com presents the Essentials, a series of articles showcasing each character's expansive history and mythology  in the Marvel comics.

From character retrospectives to a look at memorable storylines and interviews with key creators, the Essentials will act as the perfect guide for fans both old and new! Look for new Cap Essentials every Monday and Thor Essentials every Thursday as we head toward the release of each film!


By Marc Strom

The Project: Rebirth lab

Project: Rebirth gave the world Captain America at the onset of World War II, but with the death of its lead scientist, the program intended to create an army of Super-Soldiers was left with only one. In the decades since, the program has continued in various forms and with varying degrees of success.

Now we take the time to look back at the program that not only created Captain America, but Nuke, Wolverine, Fantomex and many others by peeling back the layers to expose the long and twisting history of Project: Rebirth and everything it led to.

An Army of Super-Soldiers

Dr. Abraham Erskine
Early in World War II, Dr. Abraham Erskine worked under Hitler's heel trying to create a super soldier for the Nazis. Looking to defect to America, Erskine sent word to the United States government, which in turn dispatched a young Nick Fury and Red Hargrove to extradite the scientist.

In America, Erskine began work on Project: Rebirth, the government's initiative to create the ultimate fighting man. After many false starts, Erskine perfected the Super-Soldier Serum and performed his first test on the frail, patriotic Steve Rogers. The trial proved a resounding success, resulting in the creation of Captain America.

However, upon the completion of the test, a Nazi spy in the audience shot and killed Erskine. Unfortunately, Erskine never committed the formula for the Super-Soldier Serum to paper, and thus with the scientist died any hope of replicating the process that created Captain America...but that wouldn't stop the U.S. government from trying its best.

The story of Abraham Erskine's escape from Europe came to light in THE MARVELS PROJECT #1-2, collected in THE MARVELS PROJECT, and we first saw Project: Rebirth and Dr. Erskine in CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1, collected in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1.

The Secret History of Project: Rebirth

Isaiah Bradley in uniform
After Erskine's death, the American government still desired an army of Super-Soldiers to fight on the front lines. Experimenting on African-American soldiers, they ultimately failed; however, in their tests they managed to create a number of moderate successes. The test subjects were unstable and many would die from the strain upon their bodies, but the survivors--among them Isaiah Bradley--were dispatched behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany to destroy what remained of the Führer's own Super-Soldier program.

During the operation, all but Bradley perished. Isaiah went on one final mission, shutting the German Super-Soldier program down while wearing a variation on Captain America's own uniform. Captured by the Nazis, Bradley came face to face with Hitler but eventually escaped and returned to his home in the Bronx, where he continues to live to this day. His grandson, Elijah Bradley, carries on his grandfather's legacy as the Young Avengers' Patriot.

Isaiah Bradley's story was revealed in TRUTH: RED, WHITE & BLACK #1-7, collected in the graphic novel of the same name.

Nuke'em All

Captain America and Daredevil vs. Nuke
Project: Rebirth would later return to haunt Captain America when the Kingpin hired a mercenary named Nuke to try and kill Daredevil. Nuke went on a rampage through the streets of Hell's Kitchen, killing dozens before Daredevil and the Avengers managed to defeat him.

Looking into Nuke's origins, Captain America discovered the insane mercenary a product of a continued Super-Soldier program. Nuke was the lone survivor of a group of 20 test subjects--all criminals--the program used to once again attempt to replicate the process that made Captain America. Cap later broke into the facility holding Nuke and, along with Daredevil's help, exposed the killer's origins.

This experience took its toll, however, as it would contribute towards Steve Rogers' disillusionment with his country and temporary resignation as Captain America.

Nuke invaded Hell's Kitchen in DAREDEVIL #232-233, collected in DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN.

Weapon Plus

Looking for the truth about his past, the X-Men's Wolverine would discover that Project: Rebirth and Captain America had another name: Weapon I, the first iteration of the Weapon Plus program. Nuke also unknowingly participated in this program. The goal: again, to create the ultimate Super-Soldier. Wolverine--codename Weapon X--emerged as perhaps their biggest success at the time. Following the experiments performed on Wolverine, the program continued, producing Fantomex, aka Weapon XIII, who helped the X-Men destroy Weapon XII, a mutant hunting "Super Sentinel."

The scientists of the Weapon Plus Project created the World, a self-contained environment where they could even control the rate at which time progresses. Most recently, Wolverine returned to the World with Fantomex in order to keep Norman Osborn from gaining control of it during his Dark Reign. There, Wolverine and Fantomex battled Weapon XVI, a sentient virus that infected people and forced them to worship the World.

Fantomex and the X-Men battled Weapon XII in NEW X-MEN #128-130, collected in NEW X-MEN BY GRANT MORRISON ULTIMATE COLLECTION BOOK 2, and Wolverine learned the truth of the Weapon Plus Program in NEW X-MEN #145, included in NEW X-MEN BY GRANT MORRISON ULTIMATE COLLECTION BOOK 3.

Ultimate Project: Rebirth

In 2000, Marvel launched its Ultimate line of comics, contemporary re-interpretations of their most classic characters. Over the last 10 years, the Ultimate Universe has grown to include new visions of many of Marvel's greatest heroes and villains.

Ultimate Nick Fury's army of super soldiers
Much like in the Marvel Universe, Abraham Erskine led the Ultimate version of Project: Rebirth. Young Stever Rogers became the project's test subject because of his determination to fight in the war despite his frail physique. After undergoing a battery of tests, the day came when Steve would take the Super-Soldier formula and become Captain America...and once again, just as he transformed, Erskine fell to a Nazi spy's bullet.

Work on the Super-Soldier program continued, with Nick Fury putting together a team of scientists consisting of Bruce Banner, Franklin Storm, Hank Pym and Richard Parker, the father of the boy who would become Spider-Man. Though Fury forbid any human testing of the formula, Banner would eventually inject himself with an experimental formula, resulting in the creation of the Hulk. During his first rampage, he killed Richard Parker and his wife, leaving young Peter orphaned.

Nick Fury would continue the Super-Soldier program with the Ultimates, creating a reserve of soldiers with the powers of Captain America and Hank Pym. However, the soldier's body frequently can not handle the stress, and Fury has thus far been unable to create a stable substitute for the Super-Soldier Formula.

The beginnings of the Super-Soldier program were explored in ULTIMATE ORIGINS #2 and #4, collected in ULTIMATE ORIGINS, while Nick Fury's present-day experiments with the Super Soldier formula were seen in THE ULTIMATES ANNUAL #1, collected in ULTIMATE ANNUALS VOL. 1.


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