Posted: Apr 24 2015
by: Neal Haworth

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Origins and History of Captain America

Captain America, also known as “Cap,” is an iconic comic book superhero from the Marvel universe. Ever since he first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 over 60 years ago, he's been featured in dozens of full-length comics, movies, video games, merchandise, and other memorabilia. The white-red-and-blue superhero is even expected to take the spotlight in this summer's upcoming blockbuster flick, Avengers: Age of Ultron. While many superheroes have their own inner demons, Captain America is the epitome of all that's good and just.

The Beginning of Captain America

Captain America was the brainchild of Timely Comics writer Joe Simon and illustrator Jack Kirby. In 1940, Joe was sitting around the office one day trying to think of a new superhero. This was the beginning of the Golden Age of comics, so superheroes were in hot demand. Joe wanted to capitalize on this trend by producing a truly unique superhero that readers could relate to.

In his autobiography, Joe said he created the rough draft illustration of Captain America on a piece of paper, finishing the design by adding the title “Super American” at the bottom. He wasn't too thrilled about the name, though, as several other superheroes had the word “super” in front of their title. Joe then experienced a moment of genius, in which he decided to use the word “captain” instead, giving his newly created superhero the name “Captain America.” “There were too many 'Supers' around. 'Captain America' had a good sound to it. There weren't a lot of captains in comics. It was as easy as that,” wrote Joe in his autobiography.

After coming up with the idea of Captain America, Joe approached his boss at Timely Comics, Martin Goodman, asking for permission to proceed with the story. Goodman gave him the green light, at which point Joe teamed up with Jack Kirby to create the background and story arc for Captain America. With help from several other illustrators, the duo worked around the clock to turn the vision of Captain America into a reality. It wasn't long before Joe, Jack and the rest of the team had finished the first issue.

Captain America Comics #1

Just a few short weeks before Christmas, on December 20, 1940, Timely Comics launched Captain America Comics #1. This was a critical time in our nation's history, as World War II had been going on for a full year. America Comics #1 explored some of the elements of WWII, such as depicting Captain America battling Adolf Hitler. While some people criticized Timely Comics for what Captain America stood for, most people instantly fell in love with the patriotic superhero. The first edition was a huge success, with Timely Comics selling over a million copies.

Captain America's Shield

As the popularity of Captain America grew, other comic book companies began to take notice. One such company was MLJ (now known as Archie Comics), whom wasn't too pleased with the Cap's shield resembling their own character's logo. After receiving a formal complaint from MLJ, Timely Comics was forced to redesign Captain America's shield. Jack and Joe designed a new shield from scratch, which was later featured in issue #2.

Captain America: The Story Continues

With its characteristic round shield, Captain America and his sidekick Bucky continued to battle the Axis forces, as well as other threats to America and its allies. For the third issue, the legendary Stan Lee contributed to the Cap's story, giving him the ability to throw his shield as a weapon. This trademark move has since stuck with Captain America, as he's depicted throwing his shield in all of the Marvel movies in which he's featured.

To put the success of Captain America into perspective, it's believed that circulation numbers hovered around one million copies per month following its initial release. That's more than Time magazine and other notable news publications! In addition to the self-titled series, Captain America was also features in All Winners Comics, Marvel Mystery Comics, USA Comics, and All Select Comics.

Post-WWII Captain America

Following the end of WWII, Captain America – and pretty much every other comic book superhero – took a nosedive. The public's interest in comics began to fade, with sales dropping across the board. However, this didn't stop Timely Comics from continuing the Cap's story and legacy.

Rather than following the same linear story arc as previous issues, however, Timely Comics launched a new superhero team called the All-Winners Squad. This brought new popularity the dying franchise, boosting sales while placing Captain America back into the spot. Not long after, Captain America's sidekick Bucky was shot and wounded, at which point he was replaced by Captain America's girlfriend Betsy Ross (yes, the Cap had a girlfriend).

Post Silver Age

After the Silver Age of comics had come to a close, Captain America volumes 2-5 were launched. On August 2009, the 600th Captain America comic book was published, at which point it reverted back to its original numbering. The Civil War storyline was important for several different reasons, one of which was the simple fact that Rodgers was killed during the story arc. Ed Brubaker, the series writer, explained his decision to kill off him, citing the nuances of political views regarding the George W. Bush administration.

This wasn't the end of Rodgers' story, though, as it was later revealed that Rodgers was simply caroming through time. This prompted Rodgers to return back to the present day in the six-issue series Captain America: Reborn.

The Avengers

Captain America was brought back in The Avengers #4 (dated March 1964), in which the Cap's story was revealed: Captain America was flying an experimental aircraft over the North Atlantic Ocean when it was shot down, sending him into the icy waters below. The Cap spent several decades embedded in a block of frozen ice until he was thawed and brought back to life. This story arc was responsible for reinvigorating the franchise once again.

Kirby's Parallel To Captain America

In an interview with The Comics Journal, Kirby revealed some of his own personal background and it inspired him to create Captain America. The creator of Captain America revealed his troubled childhood growing up in the streets of New York.

There was one time they knocked me out and laid me in front of my mother’s door. And in order for my mother not to be shocked they readjusted my clothes and they saw that nothing was rumpled and I looked very comfortable next to the apartment door, so when my mother would open the door it wouldn’t be that much of a shock," said Jack Kirby. "There was violence because first of all, there were ethnic differences and names. If you were small, they called you a runt, and you had to do something about that even if there were five other guys. There were a lot of ethnic slurs, there had to be, and I think in that respect that through the fighting, through the adversity, we began to know each other.”

Captain America 3: The Civil War

In case you didn't get the memo, Marvel is working on a third movie installment in the Captain America franchise. Unfortunately, we still don't know much about Captain America: Civil War, other than the fact that Chris Evans will return to play the role once again. However, some sources claim that the film will take place after the events of Age of Ultron, in which the world government powers pass an initiative to regulate superhuman activity. This creates polarizing opinions between the various Avengers, splitting them into two factions: one faction that sides with Iron Man, and the other that sides with Captain America.

I'm going to assume that you're prepared for some spoilers if you've read this far – but you still might not be prepared for what I'm about to tell you. There's a growing belief among Marvel fans that Captain America will be killed off in the upcoming film, Civil War. Of course, this would make sense considering the fact that Captain America died in the comic book series Civil War. The good news is that he later came out alive – even after he died – but whether or not Marvel will take this approach with the film remains to be seen.

Are you a Captain America fan? Let us know in the comments section below!


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