Essential Captain America

Essential Cap: The Golden Age

Trace the exciting Golden Age history of comics’ greatest universe of characters!

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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
Marvel Comics #1 cover

At the dawn of comic books' long history, Marvel Comics--then known as Timely--introduced a stable of characters unlike anything young readers of the time had experienced. The 1940s stands as their proving ground, an exciting era that produced many legendary heroes whose stories we still enjoy today.

The Golden Age exists as a creative and inventive time; such modern series as MARVELS and THE MARVELS PROJECT have fleshed out those years and re-told the tales with new perspectives and insights. But imagine if you will those early days of comics, and, buying a copy of MARVEL COMICS #1, you crack it open to discover the riches that await you inside…

Fire and Water

Namor vs. the Golden Age Human Torch

1938’s MARVEL COMICS #1 not only debuted the android Human Torch but also Namor the Sub-Mariner. Together, they’d kick-start the Marvel Universe by later being some of the very first comic characters to meet each other in a single story.

Namor, the product of a human man and an Atlantean female, swam onto the scene and immediately proved himself one of the wonders of the world. Able to breathe underwater and possessing great strength, the Sub-Mariner at first challenged the surface world but soon realized his might could aid in the struggle against the Nazi menace. Namor later went on to join the war-time Invaders and face all kinds of adversaries, both above and below the waves.

A scientist created an android--or synthetic man--that burst into flames and the Human Torch found that his masterful control of fire made him a hero. The Torch not only joined the police but also allied himself with Toro, a young man who could also blaze through the air in fiery flight. Soon, the flaming hero entered into combat with Namor the Sub-Mariner but both ended up as partners in the Invaders.

If you can’t afford an original copy of MARVEL COMICS #1, never fear! It’s reprinted in GOLDEN AGE MARVEL MASTERWORKS VOL. 1, while VOL. 2 collects the first Torch-Namor battle! For two different perspectives on their origins and first meeting, look no further than MARVELS #1 and THE MARVELS PROJECT #1 and #3!

Guardian Angel

The Golden Age Angel in action

The first hero to sport the name of the Angel also began his adventures in MARVEL COMICS #1, but made his way through danger sans super powers. Something of a loner, the original Angel made due with his two fists and acrobatic agility, until he came into possession of the fabled Cape of Mercury which enabled him to fly like his namesake. In modern times, the Angel instituted the Scourge project to rid the world of super villains.

Thomas Halloway, the Angel, dominates the entire THE MARVELS PROJECTS series, which reveals his origins and inner thoughts over the Golden Age of heroes and their fight against sometimes-overwhelming odds…as well as his ties to a famous Old West gunfighter!

Shield-Slinger

Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch in the Golden Age

The next great Marvel hero to debut took his bows in 1941’s CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1. Steve Rogers, a 98 lb. weakling who only wanted to serve his country, became the focus of the U.S. military’s Super Soldier experiment. When the dust cleared, Rogers found himself transformed into a symbol of strength and liberty and donned the patriotic costume of Captain America.

His career barely begun, Cap gained not only a young sidekick, Bucky, but also an arch nemesis that would dog him for the rest of his life: the Red Skull. Cap and Bucky fought their battles on the home front and in all the World War II theatres, eventually joining with other costumed crusaders to form the Invaders, America’s wondrous weapon against the Axis Powers. Alas, the Sentinel of Liberty would not see the end of the war--he entered into suspended animation until modern times after plummeting into icy waters.

We highly recommend that all Captain America fans should pick up a copy of GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA MASTERWORKS VOL. 1, as well as the MARVELS and THE MARVELS PROJECT collections to witness different view points on the origin of this legendary hero. You’ll find Bucky and the Red Skull lurking therein, too!

Steele Reinforcements

Marvel's Golden Age heroes

Perhaps one of the most unique and unsung heroes of the 1940s, John Steele exists as an enigmatic entry in the annals of World War II. Originally a U.S. soldier in the first World War who possessed super-human strength, Steele fell afoul of a German trap and was kept in stasis for study and experimentation. He awakened in the early days of World War II and made his escape through the battle-torn landscape of Europe, valiantly fighting the enemy along the way. It’s said that Captain America’s Super Soldier serum reached fruition through Dr. Erskine’s scrutiny of the German’s findings on John Steele.

DARING MYSTERY COMICS #1 in 1940 introduced Steele but it’s in THE MARVELS PROJECT that the obscure hero’s time in the spotlight finally arrived.

In Good Company

The Golden Age heroes enter the war

But lest ye think that the aforementioned characters represented everything wonderful about the Golden Age of Marvel/Timely’s output, we offer the following list of incredible icons of the 1940s: The Thin Man, the Whizzer, Miss America, the Red Raven, Marvel Boy, the Vision, the Blazing Skull, the Destroyer and Jack Frost…just to name a few!

Many of these heroes went onto join the Invaders, but more often than not they operated solo during World War II, heading into peril and intrigue in tightly-plotted stories and amazing adventures. Twelve of the lesser-known among them found themselves frozen in time by Nazi deviltry until awakened in the 21st century and forced to rebuild their lives.

Let us point you to several volumes of collected comics to discover the width and breadth of the early Marvel heroes: GOLDEN AGE MARVEL MASTERWORKS VOL. 1-4, GOLDEN AGE DARING MYSTERY MASTERWORKS VOL. 1-2, and GOLDEN AGE USA COMICS MASTERWORKS VOL. 1. For the Invaders’ tales, check out CLASSIC INVADERS VOL. 1-2 and for the tragic story of the Twelve, look to THE TWELVE VOL.1.

Also, for capsule biographies of these and many, many more Golden Age Marvel characters, we suggest the MARVEL MYSTERY HANDBOOK: 70th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL.

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