The greatest hero in the Marvel Universe didn’t start out that way. That hero was Captain America. In the beginning, he was a short, scrawny and sickly looking fellow, and in essence the stereotypical spitting image of most kids who read comic books. However, he would go on to be the ultimate hero for the Allied Forces, a symbol of patriotism during World War II and the central hero of the Marvel Universe. He is the one who gathers the heroes with the rally cry of “Avengers Assemble!” and leads them into battle.
He is the hero that all the rest of the superhuman (and even mutant) community looks up to. When the Marvel Superheroes find themselves on a strange world where they would fight the Secret Wars, the question arose over who should lead them. Captain America was nominated and a few objected. Thor declared, “I am a prince of gods. I do not pledge my allegiance to many of mortal stature! This man I will follow through the gates of Hades!” Even Professor Charles Xavier, the most powerful mutant telepath on Earth said, “I’m also good at reading hearts – -no man in existence equals your courage.”
Thor had so much respect for him that on the one year anniversary of Captain America’s death he used his hammer to create an electromagnetic pulse to create a nation wide moment of silence for Captain America as talking heads debated everything from who he’d endorse in the 2008 elections to what he would name a health spa. In Thor’s culture, a warrior as noble as Captain America would be given more honors then that. He believed that the man deserved to rest in peace, and trivial matters should not disturb it. For Thor, it was the very least he could do for his old friend and team mate, though he wished he could do more.
Even after Captain America was killed in the aftermath of the Superhuman Civil War, Tony Stark could still say that he was his best friend and the man who steered him like a rudder with a ship. He expressed how wrong it was that Captain America should be dead, and that he should be standing by his side. Further, when the man behind the mask was dead, his former sidekick Bucky took up the Shield, not so much as he believed he could be Captain America, but he didn’t want any one else to have it. He felt that a if a thug or a creep were to take the shield, they could besmirch the legacy and symbol of Captain America, and only he could honor the man.
In fact during one of their many missions during World War II, Bucky pondered this himself,
“I see how they (the other soldiers) look at Cap—some of them wonder what is it that makes Cap so special. Is it the costume? His physical Strength? His fighting abilities? It’s all of them sure, but there’s one more thing. In my mind the most important thing that makes Captain America so great … yeah… one thing … that makes Captain America great is Steve Rogers.”
Yes, Steve Rogers, the man behind the mask and shield of Captain America. This loyalty to the man that was “Steve Rogers”, is further reiterated in the movie, Captain America: The First Avenger. Shortly after Cap has successfully freed Bucky and many other captives from a Nazi stronghold, Cap is put into active duty and is allowed to pick his own team to accompany him on his dangerous missions to take down one of Hitler’s top goons, Johann Schmitt. Steve asks Bucky if he is ready, like the rest of them to follow Captain America.
“No,” replies Bucky. “I’m gonna follow Steve Rogers, the skinny kid from Brooklyn who was to dumb to back down from a fight.”
When we first meet Mr. Rogers (no pun intended), he is a five foot four, scrawny weakling who is desperate to serve his country in WWII. However, Steve is declared 4F by the military, and is told to go do something else like be an air raid warden or help collect scrap metal. He knows there is something greater to fight for, something even worth dying for. That thing was his country.
Rogers was an orphan. His father died in World War I, and his mother from influenza. His mother could tell that he dreamed big and encouraged him to follow those dreams even though he would have to work harder. As she died, she told him:
“People are gonna spend your whole life taking one look at your body and telling you what you can’t do. But they can’t see like I do. It holds a heart ten times its size. You got no quit in you. Just promise your mama… you’ll use your head too. Fine line between fearless and fool hardy.”
Even after being rejected several times, he keeps on trying to get accepted into the army. While the recruiters appreciated his spirit, they said no. One even told him he was saving his life by not letting him in. Based on their observations, and the facts in front of him on their medical reports, he didn’t stand a chance. In the movie Captain America: The First Avenger we see that after yet another rejection he tries to take his mind off of it and relax by catching a movie.
This attempt is short lived and he doesn’t even make it to the cartoon. During the Newsreel before the show a loud mouthed jerk makes nasty remarks about the soldiers and the war effort. Steve tells the punk to shut up and show some respect. Their argument is taken outside where Steve tries his best to hold his own in a brawl against the punk. Even when most like Steve would turn and run he keeps going.
Bucky intervenes in the fight and tries to cheer Steve up with a double date to no avail. He still wants to join the fight and he’ll try again and again. After his fifth attempt at enlisting, an older gentlemen named Dr. Abraham Erskine, comes to see him. He asks him, “Do you want to kill Nazis?”
Steve tells him, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I just don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they are from.”
During a conversation with Thor, Steve tells him, “It was never about politics. It was never about me, it was about the country.”
Erskine can see, and hear that Steve has something few have. He has a good heart. Already he possesses the compassion, nobility, honor, humility and decency that his future compatriots Iron Man and Thor would have to learn. Steve has seen in the papers and the Newsreels just what is going on in the world. He knows that the war is going to go on for a long time and the Nazis are nothing but bullies who will step on everyone. If someone doesn’t fight them and put a stop to their cruelty it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the world will be under that tyranny forever. Erskine approves him for what is called project Rebirth.
As Steve goes through boot camp, he is picked on and ridiculed by everyone, but he shows a fierce determination to never give up. He figures out a quick solution to a problem posed to them. Finally, when a grenade is thrown at them, while the bigger guys dive away, he lands on it. The bigger, stronger men run away, but he decides to risk his life for everyone. It turns out it is only a dummy, but he demonstrates he is not just willing to fight for his friends, family and country but die for them.
Most importantly he shows he is a good person. Erskine urges for him to be the candidate for the project. Erskine knows for a fact that the wrong candidate can only create problems. He reveals to Steve that before he defected to the U.S. he was working on this project with the Germans as they tried to develop a super-soldier. Hitler had one of his best officers, a scientist by the name of Johann Schmitt working closely on the project. Schmitt injected the serum they were using into himself, however it had unfortunate side effects. It brought forth to a person everything that was inside them, and as summed up in Erskine’s words, “Bad became evil and good became great.”
For some one like Schmitt who was a monster on the inside, though he looked and seemed like a hero on the exterior, it brought for his evil qualities. For some one like Steve, who possessed traits like humility, compassion, heroism, bravery, intelligence and resourcefulness, it brought those to the surface. Erskine knew that the secret to making the perfect super soldier, was to find a man who was not a good soldier, but a good man. It had to be some one with a good heart, not a good body.
When Steve asks why him, Erskine replies, “Because a weak man knows the value of strength.” He knew that a strong man would only become stronger, and thus crave more power to the point he wanted full dominance. A weak man, especially one like Steve would remember where he came from and be true to his roots and to himself. He would know full well what it was like to have no strength and how to never give up.
This is not that far different in essence from say King David in the Bible, who despite the fact he was the youngest and smallest of his brothers had the better heart to lead. Or consider the advice of Yoda to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, “Size matters not? Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not.” Or even perhaps that of Lord of the Rings, wherein the Hobbits, the smallest and most insignificant creatures prove to be the ones to save the world. Steve, much like David, Yoda or a Hobbit possesses great inner strength of character and Erskine can sense that, even in only talking to him.
Sure enough, Erskine proved right. Steve was chosen and became what they thought would be the first Super-soldier. However a Nazi spy snuck in, killed Erskine and destroyed the data. As he died, Erskine’s last words to Steve were remember, not a good soldier, but a good man.
Sure enough that is what he remained. Even after he fell in the ice and was thawed out decades later, he was still that same person. His girlfriend Sharon Carter, who first heard of him from stories from her aunt Peggy, once noticed that despite the fact he witnessed the darkest days of the 20th century, he still remained the same good man he had always been. His heart was not hardened by war and was filled with compassion and humility, a quality that made him the only other hero capable of wielding the hammer of Thor when the god of thunder fell in battle.
Even his death was an action of compassion. At the end of the Civil War story, when he saw the devastation that the war was causing he handed himself over to government authorities rather then risk further casualties. He was put on a public trail and then as he walked up the steps of the courthouse he noticed a sniper beam on the back of one of his guards. While a lesser man would let the guard die and use it as an opportunity to free himself, Steve jumped in front of the bullet.
Why would any man willingly do this? Because Captain America knew the value not only of strength but of compassion and of human life itself. He knew that the US Marshall who was guarding him should not die, when he was only doing his job. It turned out to be an elaborate plan by the Red Skull, but it was something his old enemy was counting on. He knew that the Sentinel of Liberty valued life and would risk his own life to save anyone.
However, if he were not Steve Rogers, Captain America would not have been great. It is because of his courage, his humility and his compassion that other heroes rally to him and look up to him, even the mightiest of heroes.
Brubaker, Ed and Steve Epting Captain America: Death of the Dream. April 2007. Marvel Comics
Brubaker, Ed , Butch Guice and Luke Ross Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? February, 2010. Marvel Comics.
Fraction, Matt and Stuart Immomen. Fear Itself Book 7. 2011.
(Film)Johnston, Joel Captain America: The First Avenger. Staring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke and Stanley Tucci. June, 2011. Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios
Kessel Karl, Chris Sotoymoyor, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Captain America: Rebirth. August 2011. Marvel Comics
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby “The Origin of Captain America!”Tales of Suspense #63. March 1965. Marvel Comics.
Loeb, Jeph et. all Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America. 2007 Marvel Comics
Millar, Mark and Steve McNiven. Civil War. 2005. Marvel Comics.
Robinson, James and Marcos Martin. Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary special. June, 2009. Marvel Comics.
Shooter, Jim and Michael Zeck Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars May, 1984. Marvel Comics.
Straskynzki, J. Michael and Oliver Copiel. Thor Volume 3, Issue 11. 2008. Marvel Comics
Van Lente, Fred, and Luke Ross, et. all Captain America: The First Avenger: First Vengeance.
( TV show) Wein, Len. “Old Soldiers” X-Men February, 1997. Marvel Entertainment/Saban Studios/Beuna Vista Home Entertainment.
This blog post is not endorsed, approved, prepared, or affiliated by Walt Disney Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios or any other parties or persons involved in the creation of the Captain America comic book character. The views and opinions are only those of the author and do not reflect the views or ownership of the Captain America character.
Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
2003 Marvel Comics, 2011 Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios