Movies & TV / Columns

The Best Heroes Who’ve Been Captain America

May 17, 2017 | Posted by Steve Gustafson

I’m Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to check out 411mania’s Comic Book Review Roundtable, every Thursday! Read up on the best reviews and let us know what you’re reading as well. Click to read the latest Comic Book Review Roundtable! All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1, Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1, and more!

Now, on with the show!

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Last week we asked, “Should We Be Worried About the Comic Book Sales Slump?”! Here’s what some of you had to say:

JestersTear: “Like almost any other problem, it’s a combination of factors and not any one thing.

Bad / lazy storytelling

The whole “replace with a woman / minority” issue which itself is made up of multiple facets from racist morons to people who are sick of pandering for pandering’s sake. It also ties in to the bad / lazy storytelling reason, as many times these changes feel forced instead of a natural story.

For Marvel, price is an issue. $5 a shot for a comic book is ridiculous, especially when they’re asking you to buy 10-20 issues a month just to keep up on the latest “big event.” And hey, speaking of….

“Big events.” Speaking as someone who was around for some of the first major crossover events such as Secret Wars, Crisis, etc, I quickly tired of watching this grow from a yearly event that took a few months crossing over into 2 or 3 books a month to a never-ending chain of one event leading right into another and every month the vast majority of the books in the company were labeled as crossovers.

Not giving new titles a chance – about 3/4 of the list above are issues that are on #10 or lower. Half of them are on issue 6 or lower. That’s no time to build an audience in an age where we’re used to procedurals instead of “villain of the week” storytelling. The first story arc is just finishing up or is finished and there has been no real time for the creative team to react to the fanbase to see what is and is not working and make changes. I know a lot of people that don’t even bother to buy a series until the first trade comes out so they can read the first story arc and decide if they’re going to pick up the book. Many of them do that because they don’t want to drop the aforementioned extra $5 for a new comic just to have it suddenly cancelled – something Marvel is famous for if it’s not Spider-Man or the X-Men.

I’m sure others can add more reasons to this list. There are a LOT of things that need fixing with the big 2, and I honestly don’t see it happening.”

Gil: “Big Events and Crossovers seem to be my problem with Marvel books. Totally Awesome Hulk was great, but when the Banner incident happened outside of his book, the feel for Awesome Hulk’s book changed drastically. I read Spider-Man (Miles), but not Spider-Gwen so it felt like I was skipping issues reading Spider-Mans book during their crossover.

I also think longer stories suffer in comic book format. Especially costing $4 an issue. 5 issues into the Hulk book (she-Hulk) and Its all Jen so far, no She-Hulk in sight. Slow burn is burning money!

The D.C. Comics I read (Nightwing, Aquaman, Titans) seem better, But I’m not liking the constant reboot. With the New 52, I didn’t like the Wally West I knew vanish. With Rebirth, they killed Tim Drake! WTF!?!”

Kano: “It is simple … Events and lack of continuity, why should I invest time in a series when it can be jettisoned in a year for one with brand new characters, team, numbering?
And why invest money in a series when the constant event comics culture would necessitate investing in all the tie ins a lot of which suck?”

mochuf “Sales of 20,000 per month is a cut-off point for cancellation? When i was a kid a comic would get cancelled if it couldn’t sell 100,000 per month. Do digital sales make up the difference? Otherwise how do these publishers stay in business?

I have to say that the constant re-boots/events and poor writing has soured me on current comics. I keep buying bound collections from the 80’s and 90’s but the current stuff is pretty weak.”

Ziriak: “I think it’s oversaturation looking at all those titles. Or maybe piracy? I’m assuming they can all be found online for free like most other media.”

Chip McFetters: “Once upon a time, you could pick up a Savage Sword of Conan off the rack and be entertained by an involved storyline for a fraction of the price of one of these flimsy comics the big companies keep churning out. Where did all the value go?”

John Titor: “Nope not worried at all. Feel bad that the next generation probably won’t get to experience the joys of comicbook collecting/reading as past generations have.

Personally, Im enjoying the slow melt down as the companies scramble to save face and spin things, then come up with excuses, blame the “times” or medium itself, and now finally as a last resort – blame the fans. It’s funny that many of the same people who vilified the image guys, the 90s and Jim Shooter – people who were involved in some of the most successful boom periods in comics…are now the ones who have all but destroyed the comic book industry.

There hasnt been anything worth reading in years, so it’s not as if it’s a real loss, and thanks to dropping back issue prices, collected editions of expensive classic issues and torrents to fill in any gaps those last two things can’t fill…I can’t possibly “catch up” on all the old comics I want to read the way it is…much less worry about quality new stuff that hasn’t and probably won’t ever be produced.

It’s funny how I’m sure many of us cringed at the clone saga and thought how could it be worse? I know I did. Well seeing Peter (the conscience of the marvel universe) Parker make a deal with the devil to dissolve his marriage proved me more wrong than I thought possible.

On a slight positive note, while I don’t read any Marvel on principal, and DC as far as reboots and stories isn’t far behind, I really do like the current crop of artists at DC and will flip through my brother’s current stuff.

It’s funny I’ll flip through a Previews books and the landscape of comics as far as titles/family titles and universes look so alien to me, I feel like a senior citizen going to a metal concert.”

Gold Any Ranger: “There are several possible factors that could be contributing.

1. Cover prices. Casual fans aren’t going to pay $3.99 or more an issue. And Marvel has had a few recent books (Amazing Spider-Man #25 and X-Men Gold #1 with cover prices of $10.) Not counting variant covers with even higher cover prices.

2. The proliferation of collected editions. Within a month or two of a storyline wrapping up, you can buy the entire storyline in a trade paperback. And that can be more reasonable that paying for the individual issues.

3. Piracy. There are scanned copies of the releases every week on Torrent sites. A case of “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.”

Lowercase Jay: “I’ve said this a few time when this subject is brought up the problem with comics is a complete lack of creativity and overrelying on gimmicks. Nobody seems to create anthing anymore couple that with lazy storytelling and this is what you get.”

We had a TON of great comments and replies last week. To read them all CLICK HERE! As always, thanks for the input!

This week we ask…

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Best Heroes Who’ve Been Captain America!

Secret Empire is here and, good or bad, people are talking! Marvel has taken a beloved character and turned Captain America from a true superhero and American patriot and turned him into a Hydra spy, who’s been that way all along. We’ll come back to cover <i<Secret Wars after it wraps up but all this talk about Steve Rogers had 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 fill the (very big) shoes of Captain America?

The first person who comes to mine is John Walker. A Mark Gruenwald creation who was originally Super Patriot, 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 he went through a crisis of confidence in himself and America.

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.

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.

It’s 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.

Naslund fought crime as the Spirit of ’76. After the supposed deaths of of Rogers and 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 was 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 is the most recent one to carry 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?

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That’s all the time I have. Check out our Comic Book Reviews tomorrow and see you next week!