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Essential Captain America

Essential Cap: Waid & Garney

Take a look at two top creators' masterful Captain America run!

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 Jim Beard
Captain America #445

In 1996, after a decades-long run, the original CAPTAIN AMERICA title came to a close aided and abetted by two top creators in the field. Writer Mark Waid and penciler Ron Garney set out to fashion a collection of Cap stories that would serve as the perfect, ahem, capper to a legendary series--and succeeded. Today, CAPTAIN AMERICA #444-454 stands as a milestone to which all other subsequent Cap stories must measure up.

Waid and Garney took some chances, had some fun and made their mark on the Sentinel of Liberty. Follow along as we hit the highlights of a fascinating time in Captain America’s history.

The Man

Captain America #446

Heading into this run, Steve Rogers stood at death’s door. His vaunted super-soldier serum betrayed his body and it seemed certain he wouldn’t make it. But make it he did, coming back with a vengeance. Waid and Garney’s run illustrated Cap's loyalty to his country yet also revealed a more human side to the hero when the odds didn’t stack up in his favor. No wonder that, for the first time ever, the name “Steve Rogers” appeared on the cover above the book’s title for the entire run.

Many challenges came Cap’s way, including wrestling with his feelings for a woman he thought to be dead, allying himself with his most hated foe and losing citizenship to the country of his birth--the country for which he fought and bled for years.

Operation Rebirth

Captain America #450

CAPTAIN AMERICA #444 opened with a look at America without its namesake hero. Then a four-part story began in the very next issue, revealing Cap’s rebirth after his crushing debilitation, and the man to whom he owed his new life: the Red Skull. It seems the Skull desired his enemy’s help in recovering the Cosmic Cube from the so-called Kübekult, a terrorist group hell-bent on reviving the Nazi ideal and ruling the Earth.

On this mission, Cap fought alongside his former lover Sharon Carter--who also seemed to have returned from the dead--but the real shock of the story came in the form of his and the Skull’s shared opponent: Adolf Hitler. Cap became stuck in the warped reality of Hitler's Cube, but in the end his indomitable will saw him through and the Red Skull found himself blasted to atoms by the artifact’s power.

Man Without a Country

Captain America #453

Called before the President of the United States himself, Steve Rogers learned in CAPTAIN AMERICA #450 that while under the Red Skull’s “care” his mind was tapped and top-secret information stolen. The android Machinesmith now held all of Cap’s memories and began to use them to prod the country of Moldavia into war with the USA, a situation that earned Steve a heaping helping of suspicion--and a revoked citizenship.

Steve, now operating as a nameless, generic super hero, made his way to Moldavia with Sharon to confront Machinesmith. Once there, the duo learned of the villain’s ultimate plan to start World War III by stealing the "football" device that holds the United States' nuclear missile codes. Cap saved the day, of course, and received not only a Presidential pardon but more importantly, an apology. Captain America then returned to duty.

The Woman

Captain America #454

One of the most important undercurrents of Waid and Garney’s run played out in the relationship between Captain America and Sharon Carter. Once lovers, they operated as a team, but when Cap thought Sharon dead he moved on. He awoke in the Skull’s laboratory and discovered Sharon alive, yet seemingly in great disdain for the man she once loved. Throughout the stories, the two struggled to work together but their shared past and the ponderous lie that kept them apart threatened to drive a wedge between them forever.

Cap learned that S.H.I.E.L.D. purposefully told him that Sharon had died so as to send her out on covert operations across the globe. Eventually, in CAPTAIN AMERICA #454, after Agent Carter returned the coin that held Cap’s stolen memories, the two forged a kind of truce. While they went their separate ways, Cap saluted Sharon and looked to a future where he might see her again. As we know, that hope came true.

Okay, you love the sound of these stories and want to read ‘em for yourself, right? Look no further than CAPTAIN AMERICA: OPERATION REBIRTH, which collects CAPTAIN AMERICA #444-448 and #450-454!

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I misspent my youth sitting on the floor at the far end of the magazine rack reading comics. Cap was always a favorite. I hope with all my heart that they do justice to a character that I idolized as a kid.