During the 1970s, Captain America evolved from being a stereotypical all-American hero (not altogether different from his 1940s iteration) to a complex human being with relationships, emotions and limitations. Of course, this transformation did not take place in a single issue or even ten issues, but some stories exemplify this trend more than others.
What follows are the ten best issues of Captain America released with cover dates between 1970 and 1979, arranged in chronological order along with the writer(s) and penciller.
|1. The Badge and The Betrayal!|
[July 1971: Lee/Romita]
The cover is deceptive; the story is actually about Cap's decision to go undercover to determine what is happening to some local policemen. But for the first time, the seed is planted: Steve Rogers may not always be Captain America.
|2. Two Into One Won't Go!|
[December 1972: Englehart/Buscema]
Probably the first truly classic Cap issue. The final battle between Steve Rogers and the insane 1950s Captain America and Bucky. After defeating his copy in an epic battle, Cap realizes that, had things been a bit different, he could just as easily have fallen victim to the Grand Director's misguided hyper-patriotism.
|3. This Way Lies Madness!|
[June 1973: Englehart/Buscema]
Sharon Carter was introduced as the sister of Cap's World War II love interest (named only as Agent 13 at the time), who was mostly forgotten about after that...until this issue, in which Dr. Faustus kidnaps Peggy in one of his many efforts to drive Cap insane.
|4. ...And A Phoenix Shall Arise!|
[December 1973: Thomas/Isabella/Buscema]
Conspicuously absent during the early part Cap's series is his old enemy Baron Zemo, who died in an early battle with the Avengers. Rather than bring the baron back through an elaborate (and by the 70s implausible) retcon, Roy Thomas and Tony Isabella invented a son bearing a thirty-year-old grudge against Cap.
|5. Before the Dawn!|
[July 1974: Englehart/Buscema]
In 1973, the Watergate scandal had seriously damaged the average U.S. citizen's faith in public institutions. It's not surprising, then, that in the climax of Cap and the Falcon's battle against the Secret Empire, its leader (revealed to be a man who holds "high political office") commits suicide in the White House. The event so jarred Steve that it led him to give up the mantle of Captain America.
|6. Nomad: No More|
[March 1975: Englehart/Robbins]
A few others tried to take up the Captain America identity when Steve Rogers became Nomad, one of which was a teenager named Roscoe. Unfortunately for Roscoe, when the Red Skull realized that he was not Steve Rogers, he was brutally murdered. It took Roscoe's death for Steve to realize that he had a moral obligation to remain in his star-spangled costume.
|7. Mind Cage!|
[June 1975: Englehart/Buscema]
Until this point, the Falcon's origin was pretty straightforward: he was Sam Wilson, a man Captain America met while fighting some of the Red Skull's enemies on a Caribbean island. It turned out, however, that the Skull had engaged in what one might call a long con: he used the powerful Cosmic Cube to replace Wilson's criminal mentality with a kind-hearted nature, knowing this would make him a perfect candidate to be Cap's partner. Apparently, the Skull's sole purpose for doing so was to show that he could, but he succeeded in weakening the relationship between the two men.
|8. The Trial of the Falcon|
[November 1975: Isabella/Mantlo/Robbins]
The tension raised by the Falcon's criminal past is resolved (for now), as he is found guilty but has his sentence commuted when he saves the court from an attack by Stilt Man.
[September 1978: Gerber/Buscema]
Ok, so it was retconned away a few years later. This issue was still the first significant glimpse into Steve's childhood ever given. As an added bonus, the process that recovered Cap's (false) memories accidentally reverse the effects of the Super-Soldier Serum, leaving Cap a 90-pound weakling at the end of the issue.
|10. From the Ashes...|
[September 1979: McKenzie/Claremont/Buscema]
This issue marks a turning point in Steve Rogers' life in almost every possible sense. He moves to a new apartment in Brooklyn, where he will meet his eventual girlfriend Bernie. He decides to take up a career as a freelance artist. Most importantly, he sees his longtime flame Sharon Carter incinerate herself after she was brainwashed into joining the radical National Force. This issue marks an end of most of the 70s plotlines and provides a great segue into the 1980s.