By Jim Beard
Over seven decades ago, history occurred with the debut of Captain America in 1941. 70 years later, Steve Rogers and his star-spangled alter ego have grown to iconic status, remaining a mainstay of the Marvel Universe while also expanding into the realms of television, film and more.
On April 4, 2014, the Sentinel of Liberty returns to the big screen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" from Marvel Studios. As the countdown to Chris Evans picking up the shield once more heats up, we present the definitive comics history of Cap, from his debut to the modern day.
Captain America no more! Yes, in 1974 Steve Rogers laid down his shield, but not before he met one of the most difficult challenges of his career and a duplicitous foe he stood completely powerless to fight.
Quentin Hardeman, head of the so-called “Committee to Regain America’s Principles,” kicked off his anti-Cap campaign in CAPTAIN AMERICA #169, a series of public denouncements of the hero designed to obliterate his effectiveness as a champion of liberty. Steve, of course, took offense to the smears and took his beef to Hardeman. Instead of satisfaction, he received an attack by the Tumbler—and an accusation of murder.
While the Falcon sought out the Black Panther in far-off Wakanda for technology to amplify his own effectiveness in CAPTAIN AMERICA #170, Cap met Moonstone, a new hero on the scene, but also the man who secretly set Steve up for murdering the Tumbler. Moonstone, under orders from Hardeman, threw Rogers in jail and took all the credit. Then, a group of “supporters” arrived out of nowhere to bust Cap out in CAPTAIN AMERICA #171, but our hero, ever the law-abiding citizen, wanted no part of it. The Falcon flew in on his new wings to help his friend, but Moonstone appeared to blast them both into unconsciousness.
What to do for our heroes but escape? The did so in CAPTAIN AMERICA #172 and set themselves on the trail to Nashville to investigate Moonstone’s origins, a move that put them into conflict with the mutant Banshee on the streets of the country music capital. Unexpectedly, Cap and Falc received an assist by another group of mutants: the Uncanny X-Men. Professor X, along with Cyclops and Marvel Girl, explained to our heroes in CAPTAIN AMERICA #173 that mutants had been disappearing, seized by a covert, underground group known only as the Secret Empire. Before he could fully digest the information, Rogers found himself running from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. and into a plan to infiltrate the Empire and gain its trust by stealing a high-tech gyro gadget.
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Deep underground sat the Secret Empire’s headquarters, revealed to a disguised Cap and Falcon in CAPTAIN AMERICA #174. There, Number One commanded his troops to gather the necessary components for an all-out attack on Washington D.C. and the American government. Our heroes discovered the missing mutants, strapped to a machine that siphoned their unique brain energies for the Empire’s wicked use. Before the heroes could fully free the mutants, though, they fell to the Empire’s cowardly attack, victims of an “atomic annihilator.”
In CAPTAIN AMERICA #175, everything came to a head. The Secret Empire invaded D.C. in a strange flying craft and Number One demanded the surrender of the government. Cap, still alive and aided by undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, brought the battle to Number One and confronted the Empire’s troops on the White House’s front lawn. After his crushing defeat, Number One ran off with Cap in hot pursuit, but could not stop our hero from unmasking him. Revealed as a figure in high political office, the villain committed suicide in front of our hero’s disbelieving eyes.
Utterly disillusioned by what he witnessed, Steve Rogers questioned everything in CAPTAIN AMERICA #176: his life, his career, his government, and what Captain America stood for. Ultimately, he made a fateful decision to abandon his heroic identity and return to civilian life for good.
In the wake of this, the Falcon fought the villain called Lucifer in CAPTAIN AMERICA #177 and a professional baseball player tried his hand at being the new Cap in CAPTAIN AMERICA #178. Steve found himself forced into action with a ski-mask to hide his identity to aid his former partner against Lucifer, only to incur Falc’s anger at his friend’s decision. In CAPTAIN AMERICA #179, a mysterious criminal calling himself the Golden Archer seemed to know of Rogers’ past, but after the former hero beat the man soundly, the Archer revealed his real identity as Hawkeye, in disguise to prod Steve back into the life of a super hero.
Steve Rogers’ year ended with another momentous decision. In CAPTAIN AMERICA #180, he adopted a new costumed identity: Nomad. Good thing, too, for the Serpent Society, led by the new Viper, chose that moment to rear its ugly head to strike at society and rule all with the dreaded Serpent Crown.