Captain America has been a symbol for the fighting American spirit since its inception in 1941 by Timely Comics, later to become Atlas. Captain America became the hero in dark days as the Allies battled the Axis in World War II. Seventy years later, Captain America is still a symbol for America and a hero in dark times, and even though the costume is still relatively the same, the hero behind the mask isn't. In fact, many people have worn the mantle of Captain America. However, there's so many to choose from, so we'll take a look at the most important people to wear the red, white, and blue costume and wield that indestructible shield.
In the 616-Universe (the Marvel Universe where the vast majority of stories take place), puny little Steve Rogers signed up for the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and joined a secret military experiment to enhance his physique to make him the perfect super-soldier. However, the serum, developed by Dr Abraham Erskine, was lost when Erskine was assassinated by a Nazi. Steve Rogers donned the name "Captain America" as a symbol of freedom and American willpower in order to fight the Nazis. Towards the end of the war, Captain America and his sidekick Bucky were off stopping another devious plot from Baron Zemo, and Captain America was thrown into the Atlantic ocean, and Bucky was caught in a blast and believed to be dead. Captain America would remain out of comic books until 1964, when the Avengers found Steve Rogers frozen in a block of ice. After being thawed out, assuming that the super-soldier serum somehow didn't affect the crystallization of his cells, Steve Rogers came back to life and joined the team in issue number four.
Chronologically speaking, Steve Rogers, the Captain America most people are familiar with, was the first man to don the costume; however, Isaiah Bradley was the second man to put on the costume, right after the first super-soldier experiment was a success. Much like the story of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in Alabama during the late 30s, Isaiah Bradley was forced in a military super-soldier program called Project: Rebirth. However, instead of being unknowingly injected with syphilis so scientists could see the effects, Bradley was injected with the Super-Soldier serum, so scientists could see the effects. This story was collected in the mini-series Truth, written by Kyle Baker. Isaiah Bradley gained all the "powers" that Captain America once had: his body was at peak human performance, he is immune to most diseases, and he will live longer because his body isn't affected by age as much as most people. Isaiah has a son named Josiah X, who is also a super-hero and he has a grandson Patriot, a member of the Young Avengers, who didn't get his powers from his grandfather, until he needed a blood injection from him.
After World War II ended, another man named Jeffery Mace AKA the Patriot (Golden Age, not Isaiah Bradley's grandson). He took the mantle from William Naslund, but died shortly later. Jeffery Mace was a known hero under the mantle of Patriot leading the Liberty Legion. Mace wore the Captain America costume until he retired from crime fighting in 1949. Jefferey Mace died in Captain America issue #285 as an old man in a hospital. Currently, you can catch some old adventures of The Patriot in his mini-series by the same name.
Steve Rogers eventually returned to the role, but found himself quitting the job time and time again. One key person who took over was Roscoe. Roscoe? Yes, Roscoe. Steve left the Captain America mantle behind to become Nomad. Men had taken the Captain America mantle previous, and briefly, to Roscoe, but ended up failing miserably. Roscoe also failed miserably.
What makes this man so special is that he died wearing the suit and he helped reestablish Red Skull as a villain who will take any means necessary to get what he wants. During Roscoe's final mission, he was confronted by the Red Skull for the first time, and when Red Skull realized Roscoe was not the true Captain America, he tortured, killed, and crucified Roscoe. He left a note saying that all Captain America impostors would also die this way.
There's been only one Captain America who had actual super-powers (Bucky doesn't count, since it all comes from his robotic arm). That man's name is U.S. Agent. Once a wrestler in the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, John Walker, a man with super-strength on par with Spider-Man, took to the streets fighting crime as Super-Patriot, and when Steve Rogers abandoned the role of Captain America again, Valerie Cooper gave the job to John. He took the job, and received training from Taskmaster, but he didn't have the same moral compass that Steve possessed. John's parents were murdered while he wore the costume, and it snapped Walker. Walker, as Captain America, began murdering people and it tarnished the reputation Steve Rogers spent for years building. Rogers came back, fought Walker, and retook the mantle, leaving Walker to take the mantle U.S. Agent.
That brings us to the current Captain America, James "Bucky" Barnes. Like John Walker in many ways, Bucky, Steve's original sidekick who was believed dead for years, only to turn up later as a Russian assassin, took the mantle of Captain America after Steve Rogers was killed.
Bucky had a robotic arm that gave him super-strength (after losing the arm in World War II), and this Captain America had no problem using guns. James tried his best to live up to Steve's version of the Cap, but his Winter Soldier past caught up with him and now he's currently on trial for his crimes.
The great part about this mantle is that Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, is alive and well, yet Bucky still carries the torch.
Now it's time for the crazy award. Each man who has taken over the mantle of Captain America has a few pros and cons. This man has a whole glass of crazy everyone morning before breakfast. He's the fourth man to take over as Captain America, William Burnside AKA "Steven Rogers" AKA Grand Director. He was a Captain America fanatic and after learning of his death, he became fully obsessed. After writing his thesis paper on Cap, he went to Germany and discovered some of the original Super-Soldier formulas. He legally changed his name to "Steven Rogers" and the US Government made gave him the costume to pursue his "passion."
It gets weirder from there. In attempts to become the perfect Captain America, "Steven" had plastic surgery and even had his voice changed to be exactly like the real Steve Rogers. At one point, "Steven" began attacking people he thought were communist. He was eventually brought into custody of Doctor Faustus, renamed Grand Director (after a little bit of brainwashing), fought Captain America and Daredevil, then killed himself. But wait, there's more. He popped up more recently, after the real Steve Rogers death, believing he was the true Steve Rogers. He was eventually ousted and became one of Bucky's villains after trying to blow up the Hoover Dam.
Technically, it's one of Marvel Comics first super-heroes, and it's survived since it's inception in 1941. It's a costume we're sure to see passed onto another person in the future. Who's your favorite person to put on the Captain America costume? Who's you're least favorite?
~Mat "Inferiorego" Elfring is a comedian, comic store employee, teacher and writer.
Follow him on twitter @ inferiorego