The alter ego of scrawny young man Steve Rogers, Captain America, was created when he was injected with an experimental serum designed to transform him into the world’s greatest super-soldier. Armed with his trusty, nearly indestructible shield, Captain America wages war against the forces of evil, injustice, and tyranny. Unlike other superheroes, Captain America doesn’t have any inherent superpowers. The serum only increased Captain America’s strength and physical attributes to the peak of their possible potential. Captain America can only maintain this power through a constant regime of self-improvement, exercise, and practice.
The Captain America comic book is one of Marvel Comics’ flagship characters and comic books. However, because of the very nature of his character, he is one of the most polarizing figures in all of comics. Some see him as nothing but a by-product of rampant, uncontrolled American nationalism. But those who truly explore his exploits will be shocked to find one of the most complex and intricate characters ever committed to the page.
I have arranged ten of the best Captain America comics here in chronological order. I have tried to choose moments that best exemplified what makes the character great. Some of the selections might seem surprising as they don’t have Captain America punching out Nazis or super-villains. There are few origin moments, like the first time he faced Red Skull or when he temporarily became Nomadin the 70s. Instead, these are the moments that I believe best capture the inherent spirit,attitude, and greatness of one of comic-doms greatest champions.
10. Captain America Punches Hitler (March, 1941)
Captain America Comics #1
This is the only origin moment on this entire list, but it was so monumental that I had to include it. Captain America Comics #1 was the very first appearance of Captain America…and what an appearance it was. Its cover, drawn by the legendary artist Jack Kirby, remains one of the most striking moments in early comic history: Captain America literally punching Hitler. Considering that this comic was released nine months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the official entry of America into World War Two, it was an incredible reflection of American sentiment.
The cover establishes several things that would become iconic about Captain America: his bright, red, white, and blue costume, his shield (which he would later retire for a round shield), and his young partner Bucky (see the bondage side of Bucky). And, of course, it shows Captain America punching Hitler. It doesn’t get any better than that.
9. Cap Hurts Korvac (November, 1978)
Avengers Vol. 1, #177
Endowed with the Power Cosmic, Korvac, or as he is also known, Michael, is a being of god-like power and one of the mightiest foes that the Avengers ever faced. With the power to kill at will and bring people back to life, Korvac was so powerful that he even frightened Marvel’s cosmic entities, such as the Watcher, Eternity, and Mephisto. He is finally cornered by the Avengers in a suburban home in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, New York. In the ensuing fight, Korvac casually kills many of his attackers, including Guardian of the Galaxy Vance Astro, Quicksilver, and Yellowjacket. In addition, nobody can hurt him. Even Thor’s Uru Hammer cannot damage him. But then Captain America challenges him one on one.
Miraculously, armed with nothing but his shield, he manages to startle and hurt the invincible Korvac. Let me reiterate…not even the Avengers’ heaviest hitters (Thor, Iron Man, Vision) could scratch him. Captain America, a regular human being at the peak of his natural potential, manages to damage him. It’s a powerful, bombastic moment featuring one of Cap’s most under-appreciated lines: “Hear that, Mike? This is no God hitting you – no Super-Man! Just a man!” However, it isn’t long before Korvac manages to throw him aside and defeat him. But it was because of Cap’s attack that the other Avengers manage to defeat him. Perhaps the true power of this scene is the idea that men, ordinary everyday men, can overcome any obstacle if they try hard enough.
8. Cap vs. Doctor Doom (April, 1985)
Secret Wars #12
Marvel Super Hereos Secret Wars was one of the very first comic book crossovers in history. It was a story that threw together all of the Marvel Universe’s most popular characters, both heroes and villains, against one giant foe: the omnipotent and all-powerful Beyonder. A classic comic book event, Secret Wars is one of the most beloved stories in the Marvel canon for its introduction of new characters and ideas. And of course, it contained some of the most dynamic scenes in comic history up to that point. One of the most famous is in the last issue where Captain America fights mano-a-mano with Doctor Doom. But at this point, Doctor Doom had stolen the Beyonder’s power, giving himself the abilities of a god.
But impossible odds have never daunted Captain America. He charges the megalomaniacal demi-god, withstanding blast after blast of indescribable power. In the end, he manages to defeat Doctor Doom. However, due to his defeat, Doctor Doom loses control of his power and literally begins to fade out of existence. And what does Cap do when he sees one of his most hated villains suffering? He reaches out his hand and tries to help him. Few moments in comics have been able to match the tenacity, power, and selflessness that Cap displays in these pages.
7. “I’m loyal to nothing, General…except the Dream.” (October, 1985)
One of the biggest, and most unfortunate, misconceptions concerning Captain America is that he is a mindless, robotic patriot at the beck and call of the United States government. True fans of Cap know that this isn’t true. Captain America may be loyal to his country, but his ultimate loyalty is held for its people and the high ideas that it was founded on. In fact, this dogged loyalty to the higher ideals of what America stands for has frequently put him at odds with the government that he was sworn to protect. Three of the entries on this list deal with Cap displaying civil disobedience. This first one is from the pages of the phenomenal Daredevil storyline “Born Again” by Frank Miller.
In it, Daredevil and Captain America square off against Nuke, a mentally unstable reject from a program meant to replicate Cap’s super soldier serum. The government claims that he is a terrorist, but Cap discovers the truth about him. Appalled that the government would not only use, but employ, such an insane and violent psychopath, Cap confronts the general in charge of the program. The general has the gall to question Cap about his loyalty to the United States and the government. Cap’s answer is simple, “I’m loyal to nothing, general — except the dream.” The entire scene is quiet and subdued, but it is as powerful as comic books can get. It proves that Captain America is anything BUT a mindless pawn of the government. He has sworn to protect not the bureaucrats in office, but the liberties and freedoms that they are supposed to preserve. This phenomenal scene proves that you don’t need a fight, monologue, or splash page to capture the true spirit of a man…of a hero…of a patriot.
6. Cap Leaves (August, 1987)
Captain America Vol. 1 #332
As I previously stated, Cap’s dogged belief in doing what’s right has put him at odds with the American government several times. While the most famous instance was him going rogue during the superhero Civil War, there was another time when Cap literally cut ties with his government. In issue #332, Captain America is approached by the shadowy Commission, an organization within the US government. They want to make Cap an official part of the US government, effectively making him their puppet. This comes right after the discovery that one of the highest ranking members of the government was the leader of the terrorist organization known as the Secret Empire. Realizing that this violates everything that he stands for, Steve Rogers turns in his uniform and shield and retires as Captain America.
He would go on to become the hero known as Nomad while other people would try to take his place as Captain America. Of course, Steve Rogers would later take the cowl back. But his point was heard: Captain America represents the American people and their freedoms, not the government. It was a moment that demonstrated the height of Cap’s integrity and proved that he was anything but a jingoistic puppet of the American government.
5. Captain America vs. Thanos (October, 1991)
The Infinity Gauntlet #4
When it comes to the sheer bravest, most crazy thing that Captain America has evendone, his one-on-one showdown with Thanos in The Infinity Gauntlet has to rank number one. But this moment requires a little background to fully appreciate. The Infinity Gauntlet is celebrated as one of the greatest stories to ever take place in the Marvel Universe. It centers on a mad Titan named Thanos’ attempts to woo the Marvel Universe’s female personification of Death. That’s right, he literally wants Death to love him. So he achieves this by gaining the Infinity Gauntlet and the six Infinity Gems which combined give him the powers of God. Not a god. THE God. He first tries to gain Death’s affection by literally killing half of all sentient life in the entire universe by snapping his fingers. Of course, the heroes of the Marvel Universe don’t take this standing down! They charge Thanos…and promptly get destroyed. Seriously, without even trying he subdues and kills off most of the big name heroes of the Marvel Universe. He even turns the thunder god Thor into glass and smashes him into pieces. When all hope seems lost, when all of the heroes seem defeated, Captain America is among the last standing and living. What does he do? He walks straight up to Thanos’ face and talks smack. He says that as long as there is one person alive who opposes him, then Thanos will never win. He then starts to fight him with nothing but his shield. THAT takes testicular fortitude. Of course, Thanos eventually defeats him. He even gets his trademark shield shattered in the progress But his one act of defiance in the face of certain death is one of the most inspiring and heroic things that Captain America has ever done.
4. “You’ll never take my strength!” (May, 1999)
Captain America Vol. 3, #17
After the sheer calamity that was Heroes Reborn, Marvel was desperate for a back-to-the-basics approach to one of their seminal heroes. The result was volume three of Captain America. One of the most consistently high quality and entertaining runs in comic history, volume three was jam-packed with fan favorite moments and thrilling scenes. But one of the ultimate moments took place in issue #17. Captain America’s arch-nemesis Red Skull had managed to capture a Cosmic Cube and used it to literally reshape the world to his image. Trapped in Red Skull’s hellish vision of America, Captain America fought back valiantly. But then, Red Skull pulled the ultimate move and literally drained Cap of his super-soldier serum, robbing him of his enhanced strength and abilities. Confident of his victory, Red Skull was shocked to find that Captain America still wasn’t going to go down without a fight. With his trademark costume sagging around him, he yelled out that he may not have his muscles, but he will never lose his strength. He then gives Red Skull the ass-kicking of his career. It’s one of the most triumphant Captain America comics of all time, proving that Cap is more than just the sum of his enhanced abilities…deep down, he is a man who refuses to give up, to surrender, to retreat in the face of evil. A powerful scene, it proves that you don’t need powers to be a true hero. It gives hope that deep down inside, we all have the ability and courage to become superheroes.
3. Captain America Directs the Attack (April, 2003)
It was the crossover that was decades in the making: the biggest two teams from Marvel and DC comics. For the first time, the Avengers and the Justice League of America would join forces. Their foe: the near-immortal Krona, bent on discovering what forces control the creation of the universe. So devoted is he that he is willing to destroy all of existence just so he can watch it reform again. The crossover was filled with all of the banter and antics that fans of either team would expect. But it raised a serious question: who would lead the final attack. In one of the crossover’s best moments, Superman suggests that none other than Captain America should lead the attack, since he had more experience in the realm of tactics and modern warfare. Using the Martian Manhunter’s telekinetic powers, he was able to simultaneously lead and direct both teams to eventual victory over Krona. Of course, Superman’s great trust in Cap was reciprocated when Steve trusted his shield to him for the final conflict. It was the perfect solution. Fans could take pride in the knowledge that Superman did the heavy duty fighting, but it was Captain America who called the shots. Seeing Capbarking orders to the likes of Thor and Batman simultaneously was one of the most exciting, and rewarding experiences in recent comic book history.
2. “No, YOU Move” (January, 2007)
Amazing Spider-Man #537
It seems like Captain America is only at his best when he is giving long, patriotic speeches. While I hope that this list has been enough to prove this stereotype wrong, itis impossible to deny Cap’s ability to cause goosebumps in his readers by merely talking. There are many famous speeches in Cap’s history…many of which have even made it onto this list. But perhaps no single speech has so powerfully and chillingly captured the true spirit of Captain America as his speech in Amazing Spider-Man #537. It isn’t about governments. It isn’t about laws. It’s about what you believe is right. Folks, this is the stuff of legends. He’s only in the book for a few panels, but Cap steals the entire show. There really isn’t even much more I can say about it. Just…read it and discover it yourself.
“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something is wrong is something right. This nation was founded no one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move. Your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth and tell the whole world–‘no, YOU move.'”
1. Cap’s Last Words (April 2007)
Captain America Vol. 5 #25
Captain America’s death in the wake of Marvel’s Civil War was one of the most controversial moments in recent comic book history. It divided readers down the center. Some saw it as a marketing ploy. Some saw it as a fitting end to Civil War. But nobody can deny the poetry of Cap’s death: dying not on a battlefield, but on the courthouse steps where he was doing his civic duty. But what really drove home the scene were some of Cap’s last words: “ Sharon…the crowd…get them to…safety…no more…innocents…hurt…” Cap wasn’t concerned with catching his killer…he wasn’t even concerned about his own welfare. He was concerned with the crowd…the crowd that was jeering and insulting him the entire time he was going up the courthouse steps. Hewas concerned about the people who had turned on him and demonized him. This, if anything, proves Cap’s true colors. He is a true hero. He is a defender of the weak and the downtrodden. He is…Captain America.