Tuesday

OMU: Captain America -- Year One

Captain America returned from over nine years in comic book limbo just six weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like the United States itself, Steve Rogers awoke to face a shocking tragedy that would cause profound changes to his character and lead him to question his very identity. In Avengers #4, Jack Kirby (who had introduced the character in 1940 with then-partner Joe Simon) and Stan Lee (who had written many of Cap’s previous adventures) resurrected the character with a stunning revelation—the last thing he remembered was the fiery death of his kid sidekick, Bucky. Given the schedule for publishing comics, this story was certainly conceived and drawn some time before JFK was killed, and the reason for Bucky’s death was both to add some emotional baggage to Cap’s winning personality and because Stan hated the whole concept of “kid sidekicks” like Robin, Speedy, and Kid Flash. But the death of Bucky could have merely been used for a revenge-plotline to reintroduce Captain America and then forgotten. Instead, in the months that followed, Stan & Jack tapped into the current zeitgeist and led Cap on a journey of self-exploration as he mourned this unexpected death and re-evaluated his place in the world. The character became far richer as a result, and rather than serving as a vehicle for Allied propaganda as in the past, he could now be used to explore America’s ideals in contrast to a world of moral ambiguity and social unrest. America had changed, and Stan & Jack provided a new Captain America to meet its new challenges.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


Now, so proudly we hail… The True History of Captain America!


January 1945 – Steve Rogers begins a new year as Captain America in Belgium, fighting with American and British forces to stop the German army from pushing westward through the forests of the Ardennes. The tide has turned against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime as the Allied Powers have hammered away at them on two fronts, and Cap is hopeful that the war in Europe may finally be winding down. Whether working solo or with his teammates in the Invaders, Captain America has served as a symbol of his country’s fighting spirit, inspiring the rank-and-file soldiers with his own brand of colorful heroism. Armed with nothing but his famous indestructible shield, a marvel of modern science, Cap often leads the charge against enemy forces. Other times he has undertaken special missions which have led him all around the globe, battling tirelessly to prevent Nazi perversions of science from giving the Axis an unfair advantage in the war. He does not dwell on the irony that it was a similar tampering with the forces of nature that brought him to the pinnacle of human physical perfection.

He can scarcely believe that it was only five years ago that a scrawny, sickly kid from New York City, so frail that he was rejected by the U.S. Army when he went to enlist, was transformed into the first and only “super-soldier” by the secret process created by Dr. Abraham Erskine. After Erskine was killed by a Nazi agent, the government had been forced to abandon Operation: Rebirth and instead turned Steve Rogers into the costumed hero known only as Captain America. Months later, Cap had acquired a teen-age sidekick, Bucky, after the young orphan James Buchanan Barnes discovered his secret identity. The duo had immediately captured the public’s imagination as they battled Nazi spies and saboteurs in the United States. Then, as America entered the war, Captain America and Bucky had joined with the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, and his sidekick Toro in forming the Invaders to confront the Axis powers directly in Europe. Since then, the team had gained new members, such as Spitfire, Union Jack, the Whizzer, and Miss America, and struggled constantly to defeat one bizarre menace after another.

Now, during lulls in the fighting, Cap finds himself brooding on some of the personal losses he has experienced in the last few months. His sidekick, Bucky, had reached his eighteenth birthday and surprised the Invaders by announcing that he was resigning from the team and abandoning his costumed identity to enlist in the U.S. Army as a regular soldier. After years living in Cap’s shadow, Bucky was determined to prove himself as a man. Their mission to Greymoor Castle, where they dealt a severe blow to the German rocket program, had proved to be their last adventure together. It was shortly after that that Cap had gone to France to help with the liberation of Paris, and had fallen in love with a beautiful American girl who had joined the French Resistance. Though they knew each other only by code-names, they had begun to plan a future together after the war. But then she was captured by the Gestapo and disappeared during the liberation of the city. Cap had searched frantically, but could find no trace of her, and none of her comrades in the Resistance could locate her. She had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. Not knowing whether she’s alive or dead, Steve Rogers has sought to bury his heartbreak in combat, and has become a much more grim, battle-weary figure than the Captain America of the early days of the war.

February 1945 – The Invaders are summoned together again to protect President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill as they meet Soviet Premier Josef Stalin in Yalta on the Black Sea. Captain America, the Human Torch, the Whizzer, and Miss America escort the American president to the conference while the Sub-Mariner, Toro, Spitfire, and Union Jack guard the British prime minister. As the leaders meet, the Invaders prevent the summit from being disrupted by the latest incarnation of the Super-Axis, led by their perennial foes Master Man and Warrior Woman. After an epic battle that rages all across the resort community, the Axis agents are driven off. When the conference ends, Cap bids a brief farewell to his teammates, confident that they will soon meet again, then heads into Germany on a solo mission behind enemy lines.

Having learned that the Red Skull is constructing some kind of doomsday device to be activated following Germany’s inevitable defeat, Captain America heads to Berlin to stop him. Along the way, he meets up with an old friend, Roger Aubrey, who has been fighting the Nazis within Germany for nearly three years as the fearsome Destroyer. With the Destroyer as his guide, Cap makes it into the Nazi capital city and soon discovers the Red Skull’s hidden bunker. Going on alone, Cap fights his way through the Red Skull’s guards to confront his nemesis face-to-face.

Cap chases the Red Skull into a labyrinth of darkened tunnels, determined to seize the strongbox his enemy is carrying, but the Skull suddenly produces a grenade. With split-second timing, Cap hurls his shield, striking the Skull full in the chest and causing him to drop the grenade. It explodes behind him, and the Red Skull takes the brunt of the blast. A portion of the tunnel wall also collapses, and the Skull is pinned beneath the rubble. As Cap stands over his fallen foe, he finds the Red Skull is still alive, saved by a layer of body armor under his olive drab jumpsuit. Dazed, the Red Skull remains defiant, announcing in his raspy voice that Cap is too late to stop his plans, and that his “Sleepers” will one day awake, and on that day the Third Reich will rise again. Before Cap can learn more, Allied bombs rain down on the city, causing the bunker to collapse. The Red Skull is buried under tons of rubble, but Captain America manages to get the strongbox and escape to the surface.

Heading southwest across Germany, Cap eventually rendezvous with U.S. Army forces, and delivers the strongbox to Allied Intelligence. Remaining with the unit for a few days, Cap is then present for the liberation of the Diebenwald Concentration Camp. Though he had heard reports of the atrocities committed in the Nazi camps, experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand is almost more than Cap can bear. His mind reels at the scope of the inhumanity he witnesses; however, he steels himself and helps ensure an orderly take-over of the camp and lends aid and comfort to the half-dead prisoners.

Upon reporting back to his superiors in London, England, Captain America requests permission to focus his energies on liberating the rest of the Nazi concentration camps as soon as possible. Instead, he is ordered to an Allied military installation on Britain’s east coast, where, it has been learned, his old enemy Baron Zemo is planning to steal an experimental drone plane. Furthermore, Cap is informed, assigned to the base security detail he will find one Pvt. Bucky Barnes. Though he feels liberating the camps is more important, Cap follows his orders, glad for the chance to see Bucky again.

March 1945 – Captain America arrives at the top-secret base by the North Sea and is greeted by his old pal Bucky, who has been briefed on Cap’s mission. While on patrol, they have a chance to catch up. Cap tells his former partner of what he witnessed at Diebenwald, and they also discuss the controversial firebombing of Dresden a fortnight ago. Bucky says he heard about the Invaders’ big battle at Yalta, but doesn’t regret his decision to retire and become a regular G.I. Nevertheless, Cap assures Bucky he had long since come to think of him as a partner rather than a sidekick. As night falls, Cap decides to go incognito so as not to scare Baron Zemo off, for they hope to capture him. Thus Cap straps his shield to his chest (as a safety precaution) and puts a standard U.S. Army uniform on over his costume, while removing his mask and gloves. He and Bucky, also wearing his regulation uniform, then take a motorcycle and head off to check the perimeter of the base.

As they roar past the hanger where the experimental drone plane is housed, they see the shadowy form of Baron Zemo initiating an unauthorized launch. Cap guns the engine and chases the small aircraft down the runway. When he gets close enough, Bucky makes a death-defying leap onto the plane and scrambles up to its control panel. Cap manages to grab the back end of the plane as the ground falls away beneath them. Twisting wildly while trying to find a solid handhold, Cap spots an exultant Zemo on the ground and realizes the plane must be booby-trapped. He yells to Bucky to jump, but Pvt. Barnes is determined to disable the explosives and save the plane. Seconds later, a tremendous explosion rips the plane apart, the force of the blast throwing Cap clear. As he falls toward the frigid waters of the North Sea, Cap screams in horror as he sees Bucky’s body consumed in the fireball.

Cap hits the water hard and blacks out. He has a vague feeling of drifting through a long, cold dark.

Then nothing.

November 1962 – Slowly, Captain America regains his senses. His mind is in a fog at first, his thoughts jumbled and his perceptions distorted. His body feels stiff and damp and cold. He hears muffled voices, the faint hum of engines, and the buzzing of an insect near his face. Then, he is shocked awake as the memory of Bucky’s death returns, and he leaps to his feet and scuffles with his rescuers. A moment later he collapses, overcome with grief. However, his years of battle training quickly take over, and he realizes that he is inside some kind of vessel, a highly-advanced submarine, and he turns to confront the strangers surrounding him. He first sees a man in scarlet and gold armor, then a hammer-wielding muscleman with long blond hair and a red cape. He is startled to see a twelve-foot giant in a red costume, and then discovers the insect he heard is in fact a woman. Naturally, he suspects they must be a new band of Nazi super-agents, but during a second brief altercation, he determines that they are Americans and stops the fight. For some reason, these people seem dubious that he is really Captain America, but he soon convinces them he is genuine. They introduce themselves as Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, and the Wasp, all members of a team called the Avengers. Cap is stunned when they then claim that the Second World War has long since ended, and that he has apparently been “frozen” in suspended animation for nearly 18 years. Though they seem sincere, he just can’t bring himself to believe it. He tries to tell them about Bucky’s death, to explain how he came to be in the water, but he struggles to remember more than the most basic details. He is disturbed that he can’t quite remember who it was they were attempting to capture or where it had all happened. Wearied by the mental effort, Cap retires to a bunk as the Avengers assure him they will be back in New York in a couple of hours. Though confused, suspicious, and disoriented, Cap succumbs to exhaustion and falls asleep.

When Cap awakes, the ship’s engines have gone silent. He finds the vessel deserted; his rescuers have left him behind. Prepared for a trap, he climbs a ladder out of the escape hatch and emerges into the bright light of day. What he sees, however, is the skyline of New York City—much as he remembers it, but also much changed. Strange new buildings stand among the more familiar towers. He recognizes that he is on a pier in the East River, and sees oddly gruesome stone statues of the Avengers standing nearby. Some weird monument to the team, he thinks. Wandering into the city, he notes the unfamiliar fashions worn by the people in the street, and marvels at the automobiles, which look like something out of science fiction. After following the river north about 20 blocks, he comes to an imposing edifice with the world’s flags arrayed around it, and discovers it is the headquarters of something called the “United Nations.” East River Drive is now a huge highway named after Franklin D. Roosevelt. New York has changed. The truth of the Avengers’ assertions is undeniable. Steve Rogers has suddenly become a man out of time, a modern-day Rip Van Winkle. His mind reels. The war is over. And the world has moved on.

Still feeling weakened, Cap finds his way to a nearby hotel and checks into a room. While pulling off his boots, he sees that televisions have become commonplace and he stares dumbfounded at the evening programming. He feels drained of energy and unable to focus his thoughts. He searches his memory but his mind is filled with darkness. He finally falls back onto the bed and drifts into a fitful sleep. However, he is soon awakened by an intruder, whom he first mistakes for Bucky. The young man gives his name as Rick Jones, and says he has followed Cap’s trail across town in search of the Avengers. The boy is clearly agitated, and makes vague threats involving someone called “the Hulk.” Cap volunteers to join the search for the missing team, and they set off immediately. Rick takes him to the local headquarters of a nation-wide network of young ham radio enthusiasts called the Teen Brigade, whose members don’t quite know what to make of Captain America. They begin studying news photos of the Avengers’ arrival at the pier, and in an enlargement Cap spots a man in the crowd of reporters holding what looks like a futuristic gun rather than a camera. Rick then enlists all Teen Brigade members in a city-wide manhunt for the man in the photo.

Through the night and into the morning the search continues, as the Teen Brigade members call in leads and Captain America follows up on them. With a mission to carry out, Cap feels his mind clearing and his sense of purpose returning. Running along the rooftops of the city makes him feel refreshed and energized. Finally, one of the leads pays off and Cap spots his quarry through a window. Without hesitation, Captain America crashes into the apartment, but his arrival brings several gunmen bursting through the door, firing away. Instinctively, Cap hurls himself into their midst, easily overcoming them with his fighting prowess. He disarms the man with the strange gun and pulls off his mask, revealing him to be a green-skinned alien. The gunmen flee in horror. As the strange being surrenders, Cap compels him to admit that the “statues” of the Avengers on the pier were in fact the heroes themselves, turned to stone by his unearthly technology. The remorseful alien also reveals that he committed this crime as part of a deal with the Sub-Mariner, who promised to raise his sunken spaceship in return. The name strikes a dim chord of recognition in Cap’s beclouded mind, but he dismisses the thought to focus on the matter at hand—the resuscitation of the Avengers.

Cap and Rick escort the alien back to the pier, to the warehouse where the petrified Avengers are in storage. He reverses the settings on his gun and returns the team to normal. Moved by the alien’s plight, the Avengers agree to salvage his ship with no strings attached. It is morning again by the time the Avengers locate the ship, sunk just off a small uninhabited island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Grateful for Cap’s help, the team has invited him and Rick to see this adventure through to the end, and so the super-soldier joins Giant-Man for a deep-sea dive to examine the wreck. By afternoon, they have completed their preparations, and with the help of Thor’s enchanted hammer, they succeed in freeing the craft from the sea bed. Impressed by their teamwork, Cap begins to wonder if he might find a place among the Avengers. Though he can’t remember why, he seems to feel he belongs on a team of superheroes. Before he can broach the subject though, they are attacked by the Sub-Mariner and his blue-skinned warriors. A sudden explosion hurls Cap into the sea, but he quickly recovers and swims back to the rocky shore. However, awed by the sheer power of Iron Man and Thor, as well as the devastating weaponry of the Atlantean warriors, Cap decides to hang back to observe the battle, taking the Avengers’ measure. But when the Sub-Mariner announces that he holds Rick Jones hostage, Cap leaps into the fray. He frees Rick, then battles the Sub-Mariner, unaware that they had once been comrades-in-arms. The island is rocked by the launch of the alien spacecraft, and the Atlanteans retreat to the ocean depths, convinced their foes will die when the island sinks. The tremors subside, though, as the ship disappears into the sky, and the Avengers regroup. Impressed by what they have seen of Captain America, the Avengers offer him full membership on the team, and he accepts.

Upon returning to New York, the Avengers invite Cap to stay at the team’s headquarters in the Stark mansion on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park. There he meets the team’s benefactor, a world-renowned inventor named Tony Stark, and is also introduced to the butler, Edwin Jarvis, who prepares a room for him. During supper, Cap learns from Jarvis how the Allies ultimately won the war, and is shocked and saddened to hear that President Roosevelt did not live to see the final victory. He learns also of the devastating nuclear bombs that ended the war with Japan and ushered in the so-called Atomic Age. Cap is not so surprised to discover that General Eisenhower was elected president a few years after the war, and listens intently as Jarvis gives him an overview of the current state of the world, particularly with regard to the “Cold War” against the Soviet Union. The more Cap tries to recall his past, the more he realizes how much he seems to have lost. Much of the war now seems like a blur. Over the next couple of days, Cap finds himself at the center of a media frenzy, but he devotes himself instead to his training regimen, trying to determine if he has suffered any permanent physical damage as a result of his years in suspended animation. Only by keeping busy in this way can he stop himself from dwelling on Bucky’s death.

For his first official mission, the Avengers take Captain America to New Mexico to search for the Hulk, a mysterious green-skinned brute with superhuman strength who has been terrorizing the region for many months. Unfortunately, the trail is cold, even though the Avengers have enlisted the help of Rick Jones, who clearly knows more about the Hulk than he’s willing to tell. Hearing news reports that the Hulk is now on a rampage in New York City, the Avengers race back to their Fifth Avenue headquarters. Cap notes the concern in his teammates’ faces as they learn the Fantastic Four, the preeminent superhero group of the day, has failed to stop the Hulk’s rampage. Finally, the green goliath arrives at the mansion to confront his former teammates, and Captain America gets his first look at the incredible Hulk. Fueled by rage over a perceived betrayal, the Hulk attacks the entire team at once, and Cap is awed by his sheer unstoppable power. The brawl only ends when the Hulk grabs Rick, smashes through the wall, and storms off. The Avengers catch up to them down the street and Cap occupies the Hulk until his teammates arrive, but then things go awry when the Fantastic Four interfere in the battle. For a moment, Captain America mistakes Johnny Storm for the original Human Torch, but he has no time to pursue the fleeting memory. Taking advantage of the confusion, the Hulk again grabs Rick and makes his escape. The Avengers and the Fantastic Four work out their mutual frustration and agree to work together to capture the Hulk. Thus, the two teams pursue their quarry to a construction site on East 63rd Street. The half-finished skyscraper is demolished in the battle, but despite the best efforts of the assembled heroes, the Hulk manages to dive into the river and escape. Though disappointed, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four part on friendly terms, and Cap has a moment to get acquainted with Mister Fantastic and the Thing, both of whom are veterans of the Second World War. Captain America then returns with his teammates to their headquarters to inspect the damage before they all go their separate ways.

Feeling he has nowhere else to go, Cap offers to teach Rick some hand-to-hand combat techniques and military strategy, and finds him to be an eager student. Though Rick bears a passing resemblance to Bucky, Cap soon realizes he is rather a lonely and disaffected teen, haunted by experiences he refuses to discuss. And though Rick clearly has hopes of becoming Cap’s new partner, Cap doesn’t feel he can face shouldering that responsibility again, especially not while the fate of Bucky’s killer remains unknown.

December 1962 – Captain America takes a trip to Washington, DC to re-establish contact with the War Department, which he finds is now called the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, the government bureaucrats aren’t sure what to do with him. While at the Pentagon, he is saddened to learn that his old C.O., General Chester Phillips, has since died. Cap inquires after his personal effects, only to learn that much of his property, put in storage after he disappeared, has been lost. He is assured that if anything is found, he will be notified. Cap is then escorted to the White House for dinner with President John F. Kennedy, who tells Cap of his own service during the war aboard the PT-109. Cap tries to downplay his post-cryogenic amnesia, leading to several awkward moments. At the end of the evening, Captain America heads off into the darkness to wander the National Mall alone, wondering if there’s a place for Steve Rogers in this world of the future. Finally, he returns to New York, feeling frustrated and discouraged.

A week or so later, Cap is performing an acrobatic exhibition for the benefit of Rick Jones and his friends in the Teen Brigade when Thor arrives to summon him to an emergency meeting of the Avengers. Within the hour, the team jets back to New Mexico to investigate a series of disasters caused by powerful sound waves. Arriving at a military installation commanded by a General “Thunderbolt” Ross, the heroes find the source of the strange phenomenon is a huge boulder slowly pushing its way up out of the ground. Iron Man tunnels under the weird rock to discover that it is the primary weapon of an invading army of subterranean beings known as Lava Men, whom Thor has encountered before. Since the thunder god is the only Avenger capable of withstanding the intense heat of the Lava Men’s domain, Thor goes on alone while Captain America and Iron Man return to the surface to prevent any of the Lava Men from exiting the tunnel while Giant-Man and the Wasp try to figure out a way to safely destroy the monolith. However, things go from bad to worse when the team is suddenly attacked by the revenge-seeking Hulk. Captain America realizes that they can turn the situation to their advantage by maneuvering the Hulk into the right spot to destroy the boulder before its sonic blasts can do any more damage. The resulting implosion stuns the Avengers, and when they recover, they find the ground where the monolith stood has been transmuted into a sheet of glass. With the threat ended and the Hulk nowhere to be found, the Avengers head for home.

Iron Man brings an offer from Tony Stark to incorporate the latest technological advancements into Cap’s shield, such as a magnetic retrieval device and a communications system. Though dubious that such gadgets would be an improvement, Cap accepts the offer. Stark’s work is impressive, but Cap feels that the shield is now slightly off-balance. He decides to see if he can get used to it before asking Stark to remove everything.

The Avengers are soon called to arms again when New York City is menaced by a squad of super-villains. Cap learns that the Melter, the Radioactive Man, and the Black Knight have each recently fought one or another of his teammates and have now joined forces as the Masters of Evil. The villains wreak havoc by spraying Adhesive X, a super-strong glue, all around town. Captain America immediately recognizes it as the work of his enemy Baron Heinrich Zemo, jogging a memory of one of their previous encounters. The Avengers obtain an extremely powerful solvent from an incarcerated criminal known as Paste-Pot Pete and then initiate a bold plan with the help of Rick Jones’ Teen Brigade. Cap formulates a strategy that has the other Avengers switch foes, so the villains will be unfamiliar with their fighting styles and thus be at a disadvantage. As his teammates charge into battle, Cap leads the Teen Brigade to track down Baron Zemo, taking a canister of tear gas disguised as the super-solvent, which Cap knows Zemo will be desperate to get his hands on. As Cap confronts his old adversary once again, he is filled with a ferocious rage. However, Zemo attacks him with surprising confidence, having trained himself in the martial arts over the years since their last encounter. The fight ends inconclusively when Zemo’s treacherous pilot tries to shoot Cap in the back, managing only to graze his skull. The pilot is apprehended by Giant-Man while Cap recovers, but Zemo flees in his airship. The Avengers watch with satisfaction as Baron Zemo is forced to make an emergency landing after opening the tear gas canister. Unfortunately, the war criminal manages to escape from the police and get away. Cap vows to bring Baron Zemo to justice.

In the days that follow, Captain America is plagued by increasingly vivid nightmares which force him to relive Bucky’s death. Finally he has a breakthrough and remembers that it was Baron Zemo they were trying to capture that night—it was Baron Zemo who caused Bucky’s death. Cap’s determination to track Zemo down and make him pay for his crimes begins to border on obsession. Nevertheless, Cap agrees to attend the Avengers’ first annual Christmas charity benefit, an event which garners the team some good press. Cap is embarrassed when his teammates toast him as a “living legend,” and he responds by claiming to be merely a soldier trying to fight the good fight. At the team meeting afterwards, Iron Man steps down as chairman, and Captain America joins the others in electing Giant-Man to assume those duties. Though Rick is not allowed to vote, Cap encourages him to attend team meetings and offer his unique point-of-view. The day after Christmas, Cap is surprised to receive a package from the U.S. Army, containing an old metal strongbox and a scrapbook that Cap had kept early in the war. He immediately recognizes the strongbox as having belonged to his arch-nemesis, the Red Skull, but he is unable to recall the significance of the tattered and faded documents within. Perhaps, he thinks, the answer will come to him in his sleep.


Notes:

January 1945 – Captain America’s career during the later period of World War II was never shown in any great detail, but was limited to a few occasional flashbacks. However, I noticed that Bucky was conspicuously absent from several of these flashbacks. Also, in Captain America #109, Cap tells Nick Fury that one of his last missions with Bucky occurred just before the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day in June 1944. When compiling my timeline for the Original Marvel Universe, I realized Bucky probably turned 18 in 1944, and it seemed logical that he would officially join the service at that time and give up being Cap’s kid sidekick. This would also provide a simple explanation for why Jack Kirby drew him wearing an Army uniform rather than his costume in the flashback in Avengers #4 that showed his heroic death. Cap and Bucky’s adventure at Greymoor Castle was chronicled in Tales of Suspense #69–71, a story that clearly occurs after D-Day. Since Cap remembered the events in such vivid detail despite his post-cryogenic amnesia, it seemed likely this was his final adventure with Bucky, and hence carried special emotional weight. The girl Cap fell in love with during the liberation of Paris (in August 1944) was Peggy Carter, and their tragic love story was told in Tales of Suspense #77, although her identity was not revealed until several years later.

February 1945 – Steve Rogers’ final adventure with the Invaders was never shown in any canonical story, but the timing suggests the Yalta Conference would make the perfect backdrop for this Untold Tale of the Original Marvel Universe. Likewise, Cap’s subsequent team-up with the Destroyer is suggested by the need to get Cap to Berlin for his final wartime confrontation with the Red Skull. As set up in Invaders #34, the Destroyer was active inside Germany during this time, and it adds a cool dimension to the story. We witness Cap’s showdown with the Red Skull in Tales of Suspense #72, and get it from the Red Skull’s point of view in Tales of Suspense #79. Cap’s participation in the liberation of Diebenwald Concentration Camp was revealed in Captain America #237.

March 1945 – Captain America and Bucky’s fateful encounter with Baron Zemo is first shown in Avengers #4, though Zemo’s identity as the man responsible is not revealed until two issues later. Roy Thomas & John Buscema unnecessarily complicate the story in their retelling of these events in Avengers #56, adding giant androids and time-travelers to the mix. Their explanation for the Army uniforms, that Zemo dressed the heroes that way after knocking them unconscious, begs the question of why Zemo wouldn’t have kept Cap’s indestructible shield for himself. Clearly it would have been a most sought-after prize among Hitler’s agents. Fortunately, this entire revision can be dismissed as an alternate reality that the time-traveling Avengers were diverted to by Immortus, whose involvement can be traced to the very next story in the sequence, presented in Avengers Annual #2. Immortus pulls exactly the same stunt when he shows the Vision an alternate-reality version of his android origins in Avengers #133–135 in order to convince him he had once been the heroic Human Torch. You just can’t trust anything Immortus tells you. Similarly, Don Glut’s insertion of an entire adventure between Cap’s plunge into the sea and his lapsing into suspended animation, as seen in Captain America #220, does more to weaken the story than it enhances it. However, this addition can also be discounted, as the flashback is projected into Cap’s mind by Lyle Dekker’s machines. It is more likely that Dekker had encountered the second Captain America, William Nasland, but never suspected he wasn’t the original, and the tale got further warped when filtered through Dekker’s addled brain. In any event, Bucky’s death is a powerful story, and an important element in Captain America’s history, and it is only diminished when writers concoct elaborate scenarios to explain its minor details. Simple is better. Of course, the profundity of the story was completely destroyed in 2005 with the retcon that Bucky had survived and gone on to become a Soviet assassin called the Winter Soldier. But that is of no consequence to us here, as modern-day comics do not take place in the Original Marvel Universe. In the OMU, Bucky remained thoroughly, completely, and totally dead.

1945–1962 – Stan Lee abandoned much of previous continuity when he reintroduced Captain America, and later writers sought ways to salvage as much of the Golden Age past as they could. And so, as mentioned above, Roy Thomas revealed that shortly after Captain America and Bucky disappeared, replacements were recruited to prevent the blow to Allied morale that their deaths would have meant. William Nasland, seen previously as the Spirit of ’76 in Invaders #14–15, became the new Captain America, and Fred Davis, introduced in Marvel Premiere #30, became the new Bucky. When Nasland was killed in battle, the mantle of Captain America was taken up by Jeff Mace, formerly the hero called the Patriot, as revealed in What If #4. Mace was said to have retired around 1950, and there was no Captain America until a few years later. When Steve Englehart launched his celebrated run on Captain America with issue #153, his first story-arc brought the Atlas-era Captain America series into a semblance of continuity by revealing that an anonymous man had discovered Steve Rogers’s secret, along with a copy of the long-lost super-soldier serum, and assumed both his civilian and costumed identities, alongside a third Bucky (later identified as Jack Monroe). However, since these latest versions had not been exposed to the stabilizing “vita-ray” treatment (the missing element in all attempts to recreate Erskine’s success), they were soon driven mad and exposed as impostors by the FBI. The history of Cap’s replacements was explored further in Captain America Annual #6. Except for an obvious hoax perpetrated by a minor crook called the Acrobat, who posed as Cap in a plot against the second Human Torch (in Strange Tales #114), there were no other Captain Americas until the original returned. However, when Steve Rogers did reappear in the 1960s, many people seemed to know that he had actually disappeared in 1945, before the end of the war. Therefore, I conjecture that Fred Davis, who had been forced to retire as Bucky after suffering a debilitating gunshot wound (inspired by the story in Captain America Comics #66), had probably written a book telling the life story of James Buchanan Barnes and revealing the truth about Nasland and the third Cap (without naming Mace) to set the record straight. The book, probably called something like Bucky: The Life and Death of an American Hero, would have appeared in the late 1950s, and been well-known by the time Steve Rogers was thawed out in the autumn of 1962.

November 1962 – Captain America is revived in Avengers #4. Neither Cap nor the Sub-Mariner, who is suffering his own memory problems, has more than a vague recollection of the other at this point, and neither seems to recall their service in the Invaders (mainly because the team wasn’t created until about 12 years later). The Original Human Torch is currently deactivated, Toro and Spitfire have retired to lives of obscurity, the Whizzer is a drunken bum, and both Miss America and the second Union Jack are dead, which is why none of Cap’s former teammates look him up after his return. Cap ruminates on the extent of his memory loss during these early days in Captain America #247. The green-skinned “Medusa” alien was later identified as a member of the D’Bari race, and he probably got back to his home planet just in time for its destruction by Dark Phoenix. Poor sod. Captain America appears next in Marvel’s first big crossover event in Fantastic Four #25–26, with a brief wrap-up at the beginning of Avengers #5.

December 1962 – Cap’s trip to Washington, DC is not mentioned in the comics, but it is a logical course of action during this lull in the story, and it explains how he came to have the Red Skull’s strongbox in his possession in Tales of Suspense #72. Although General Phillips was finally used again (so he could be killed off) in recent years, it seems likely that in the Original Marvel Universe, he was already dead when Cap was resurrected. This further alienates Cap from his past, leaving him completely alone—a stranger in a strange land. The battle with the Lava Men comprises the rest of Avengers #5. Captain America uses Tony Stark’s “improvements” to his shield for about a month before getting rid of them just prior to Tales of Suspense #62. Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil attack in Avengers #6, where Zemo is revealed as Bucky’s killer. Incidentally, a younger version of Zemo appeared simultaneously in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #8, released the same day as Avengers #6. The first of the Avengers’ annual Christmas charity benefits was not shown in any canonical story, though Cap’s photo album / scrapbook first appears very soon after, in Tales of Suspense #59, which kicked off his new series of solo adventures.


OMU Note: The final canonical appearance of Captain America is in Captain America #383.



Next Issue: The End!