Movies & TV / Columns

Comics 411: Best Heroes Who’ve Been Captain America

November 16, 2022 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we discussed the Worst Written Supheroes. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Ken Wood: “The X-Men have had so many writers, it’s just inconsistent. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, and others will go from be well written to clearly misunderstood by the writers. Dazzler, Boom Boom, and Jubilee can all be interchangeable sometimes, written as characters with the exact same personality.

I’m going to say Superman and Hal Jordan have suffered pretty badly from poor writing over the years. People just don’t seem to know what to do with them. Hal went mad in a story that I admittedly enjoyed, though plenty hated, and then, because he was such a fan favorite, DC tried for decades to redeem. His character just seems stagnant and boring now. He went from being my favorite Lantern to the Lantern I’m least interested in seeing.

I’m going to put the Wildcats on this list too. They were one of my favorites back in the 90s. They have been rebooted a number of times over the years and, especially their most recent run, each reboot has been extremely disappointing. Their history with Team 7, and Gen 13, all the storyline that went into those stories back in the day were excellent. Too bad all that stuff never got expanded on in a good way, and probably never will be.”

theHomewrecker!: “Firestorm and Wally West and Wonder Man definitely!”

Gil: “Gonna sound like a broken record and say Hulk. Not saying he doesn’t have any good stories. He does. But the biggest problem about writing about him seems to be each new writer completely retconning or disregarding what the previous writers did.”

Zemo x2: “Spider-Man. Poor Peter has been subjected to so many badly written stories over the years. Sins past being a great example.”

Benjamin J: “Silk. Initially created seemingly for no other purpose than to be a fuck doll for Peter Parker, to indulge Dan Slott’s favorite pastime of trolling Spider-Man fans who hated the post One More Day status quo. One of her super powers was literally emitting pheromones that made Peter horny for her (and very specifically 616 Peter, as Slott went out of the way in Spider-Verse to stress that she didn’t have the same effect on any of the other hundreds of Spider-People around her at the time). She was given much better character development when other, less antagonistic creators got to write for her.”

Erick Rowan’s Beard: “Wolverine’s story during his feral regression, AKA when he didn’t have a nose for some reason, wasn’t bad, it was the design of him that I think pissed off most fans, me included. I think they were going for a design in which he looked like some primitive human, but they just made him look kind idiotic.”

Jake Fury – Gigi’s Toy Boy: “Lobo is a special attraction type character who is better with sporadic appearances. When he was in JLA every month the series was fine but he just wasn’t the same.

Wonder Man was great in West Coast Avengers as was Black Knight in Avengers. I never really thought of either as being more than B+ players.

Dazzler’s X-men run from Mutant Massacre to the Outback team was really good too. The disco thing was just a product of the time period in which she was created.”

Sodas and Fries: “I think Wonder Man is a character who’ll actually benefit in comics from whatever route they take with him in the MCU, cause let’s face it, if there’s a definitive Wonder Man in the comics, he’s never really made much of a dent despite his tenure, history, and links to other players. He deserves the kind of renaissance and reinvention that Carol Danvers got IMO, and I can see it happening thanks to this.”

More Shark Less Lasers: “Along with those already mentioned, I’ll nominate Marvel’s Sleepwalker. I remember EIC Tom DeFalco heralding the book as “(DC/Vertigo’s) Sandman done right!”

Ummmmmm. No.

As for Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, I still don’t know if it was a sign of Frank Miller totally losing his mind (as we’d see in some of his later material) or if the story was his personal cry for help, saying “please, I’m sick of writing Batman, if I turn in a really bad script will you stop asking me?” (hint – they didn’t)”

Too many great comments to list! Thank you to everyone who commented last week!

This week we discuss…

Best Heroes Who’ve Been Captain America

A newly released preview of Captain America and the Winter Soldier Special #1 from writers Jackson Lanzing and Colin Kelly, artists Kev Walker, JP Mayer, and KJ Diaz, and letterer Joe Caramagna adds some intrigue to history, mixing fantasy and reality as it reveals the secret origin of The Revolution, one of the members of the Inner Circle.

In case you didn’t know, The Revolution was just murdered by Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, who took his place among the Inner Circle, dubbing himself the New Revolution. Try to keep up. That story, told in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #6, hinted that the original Revolution was none other than actual historical figure Gavrilo Princip. I’ll let you Google him, if you don’t already know. 

Of course this got me thinking about the brave heroes who replaced Steve Rogers as Captain America over the years. Like people who’ve been worthy enough to have lifted Thor’s hammer, the list of heroes who’ve stepped in to be Captain America is a pretty select group.
We all know the story of Steve Rogers. A frail young man enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental serum to aid the United States efforts in World War II. Trapped in ice and survived in suspended animation until he was revived in the present day to become the long-time leader of the Avengers.

But what about the others who’ve stepped in to be Captain America?

The first person who comes to mind is John Walker. No spoilers but thanks to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I got to see a favorite character of mine come to life. A Mark Gruenwald creation who was originally Super Patriot, he’s a character that foreshadowed a landscape we’re currently in today. Gruenwald brought him back as the new Captain America in Captain America #333, replacing Steve Rogers as stepped down from the spot after the government decided they owned the Captain America persona and wanted Rogers to play ball. He declined. In stepped Walker.

I really enjoyed the storyline and Walker’s portrayal was a perfect contrast to Steve Rogers. He played the role from #333 to #350, surprising readers with its longevity and depth of character.

A pair of villains (Left-Winger and Right-Winger ) publicly revealed Walker’s identity to the Watchdogs (bad guys), who ended up killing his parents. Walker retaliated by killing most of the Watchdogs, which was pretty hardcore at the time. He captured Left-Winger and Right-Winger and ignited some explosives they were strapped to, leaving them horribly burnt and in comas. Again. Hardcore.

Walker’s Captain America had a dark edge to him and when Rogers came back to take back the mantle, Walker transitioned over to becoming U.S. Agent and has had a pretty up-and-down career since.

The 2003 limited series, Truth: Red, White & Black was supposed to rock the Marvel Universe to its core. Instead, it told a good story, full of potential but never really found its footing with audiences. Thanks to the new show, this story is finding the attention it deserves.

It introduced us to Isaiah Bradley, another volunteer for the World War II Super Soldier program of 1942, operated by “Reinstein” that used African American test subjects to re-create the formula that had been used to transform Rogers and duplicate that process.

Bradley is the sole survivor of his test group and takes a spare Captain America costume and a shield and fights the good fight. He destroys the Nazi Super Soldier program, kills some baddies, but is captured. Deciding to use him for experimentation, Bradley is saved, only to be court-martialed and imprisoned at Leavenworth.

Bradley is later pardoned by President Eisenhower and released. In a twist, within the black community, he’s a legend but he’s unknown everywhere else.

I thought the concept was realistic but the execution was lacking. I know some people had issues with the timelines and you also had your usual racist remarks but Truth co-creator Kyle Baker clarified the respective timelines of Bradley and Rogers in an interview saying:

“With Captain America, people get on my case for ‘changing’ Captain America. We got a lot of grief from the Captain America fans on that series until the fifth and sixth issues came out; when it turned out that we hadn’t tinkered with the continuity. Before that, everybody was very upset, because our story started with Pearl Harbor, and everybody knows that the first issue of Captain America took place before Pearl. Somewhere in the middle of the series, it’s revealed that Cap already existed, and we hadn’t tinkered with the timeline, and suddenly, the book is okay.”

I still feel he has some potential and wouldn’t mind a little continuity tweaking to see it fulfilled.

I always seem to lump William Naslund, William Burnside, and Jeffrey Mace together. All had brief and relatively unremarkable careers as Captain America and are little more than footnotes in Captain America history. I mention them here to save some of you commenting about them below.

Naslund fought crime as the Spirit of ’76. After the supposed deaths of Rogers and Bucky Barnes, President Harry S. Truman named Nasland the new Captain America. Nasland was killed while thwarting a plot to assassinate then candidate John F. Kennedy.

Like Naslund, Mace had been a superhero before, as the Patriot. After Nasland, Mace stepped up before retiring in the 50s to become a…reporter. He later died from cancer.

Burnside was a little more extreme. An uber-fan of Captain America, he went Single, White Female after finding the Super Soldier formula. He then went on to get plastic surgery and change his name to Steven Rogers. After some false identity adventures, playing bad guy for a bit, Burnside met his death thanks to a bullet from Bucky Barnes.

“There are days that are the worst days. There are days that tear hope down and stamp on it. Days when the horror gets so thick you think you might drown. But even on those days, we can stand up. We can fight. We can rise. And I will stand and fight and rise alongside you. My name’s Sam Wilson. I’m Captain America. And that’s what I do.” — Sam Wilson

Taking over for Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson was a fan favorite when it came to carrying on the shield. I’m a huge fan of Sam. Even though his Falcon has been written unevenly, his most recent adventures have really captured his character. While I was worried he’d be a Steve Rogers clone, he’s made Captain America his own and his stint has been a solid, entertaining one.

“Bucky” Barnes used to be an example of comic book characters who died and stayed dead. That all changed with a stunning and shockingly well done Winter Soldier storyline that brought James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes back.

Originally he was Captain America’s sidekick during World War II, who was thought dead after a fight with Baron Zemo. Little did everyone know, Bucky was captured and brainwashed by the Soviets into becoming the assassin, the Winter Soldier.

There was a lot of skepticism (and anger) over bringing Bucky back. Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Winter Soldier story arc was brilliant and quickly quieted any doubters. It brought him back in a way that was exciting and believable. It was done so well that it was used as the story for the Captain America sequel.

In the comics, Bucky comes back with no memory of his heroic days. He finally came around and took up the mantle of Captain America when Rogers was thought dead. His Captain America was a great blend of his ideals of a life lived as an assassin and his experience fighting for right. I felt his run as Cap could have gone on longer and wouldn’t have been upset if he was the permanent Cap. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Captain America has been since 1941. It’s telling that while his popularity has gone up, down, and up again, Steve Rogers has been the constant. While others have stepped in, it always comes back to Rogers.

Who’s your favorite, non-Rogers Captain America?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!