This year, Captain America, the most patriotic superhero in American comic book history, turns 75. Between getting his superpowered juice back in this week’s comic, and Civil War hitting theaters soon, it’s been a great year so far for Steve Rogers. To celebrate, we thought we’d take a look back at Cap’s most American moments.
This story from Captain America #200—the cover of which had the most incredible subtitle of “On the 200th anniversary of the United States of AMERICA WILL DIE! And only Captain America can save it!”—is pretty bizarre. Cap and Falcon are working to stop a radical terrorist group, lead by William Taurey, from detonating a “madness bomb” that would turn the entire country insane.
But Taurey is more than just a nutjob. He’s the ancestor of a colonial traitor that one of Steve Roger’s ancestors, who was actually the Revolutionary War’s own Captain America, killed in a duel when he tried to warn the British about Washington’s approach on their forces. Taurey was desperate to avenge his traitorous ancestor with a bit of treachery himself, but Cap challenged him to a duel, and then basically forced Taurey to wuss out from pulling the trigger, arresting him and saving America from going insane. (Insert modern political commentary here.)
Perhaps the most absurd moment of overt patriotism on this list, this scene from Marvel Fanfare #18 is still pretty awesome. Cap is brought in to stop a gang of hooligans, disgruntled about paying high taxes, that are burning down buildings to extort money from the government. When he corners their leader, the goon attempts to burn a nearby U.S. flag... and Cap beats the shit out of him before he can.
Defeated, the criminal sets himself on fire to avoid being arrested, leading to the glorious moment above, of Cap running out of the burning building, flag in hand. Somewhere out there, a bald eagle is crying after reading this.
In more recent times, Steve Rogers has been through some crazy stuff—he’s spent the past year drained of his superpowers, a tired old man. But that, and the changing world around him, never stopped him from having faith in doing the right thing.
When SHIELD recently attempted to use fragments of a Cosmic Cube to alter the fabric of reality itself without public knowledge, both Steve and his current successor as Captain America, Sam Wilson, publicly decried the Intelligence organization’s actions. But there was conflict between Sam and Steve over how the information got out—a whistleblower leaked confidential SHIELD information that revealed the plan and put the lives of SHIELD agents in danger. Sam wanted to protect the leaker, but Steve championed the justice system—it was a noble act, but they had to pay the consequences for breaking the law.
It doesn’t at all sound patriotic until you see Sam and Steve argue in Sam Wilson: Captain America #2 over it, a reflection of how the two heroes truly differed, as Steve argues: if an American can’t believe in their own justice system, what kind of justice could they believe in? It might be a bit naive today, especially from Sam’s perspective, but it’s the sort of naivety that makes perfect sense for Steve Rogers.
In the original Civil War, Cap’s defense of a superhero’s right to operate independently (and with a secret identity) put him not just at odds with Tony Stark and SHIELD, but with the government and the public at large. On the run with his team of rebellious Avengers, Steve was standing against regulation as the ultimate arbiter of personal freedoms.
Eventually, after Spider-Man defects to his side, the webslinging hero asks Cap how he can go on fighting for what he believes in even with so many Americans against him, leading to Steve giving an incredibly powerful speech about the importance of even a single person standing up for freedom and what’s right. “No, you move” indeed, Mr. Rogers.
A common theme in Captain America storytelling is the dichotomy between Captain America being seen as a tool of the U.S. Government, and Steve Rogers believing himself to be aforce for the American people. Perhaps the most iconic of these moments comes at the climax of Captain America #332, part of a famous arc known as “Captain America No More!”
It began when Cap discovered that the upper echelons of the government, including a President who totally wasn’t Richard Nixon you guys, were actually members of a terrorist group called the Secret Empire. A group known as the Commission wants to put Captain America on a tighter leash, offering Steve an ultimatum: become an official government agent and perform missions on their behalf, or quit.
Steve Rogers chooses to quit, delivering a potent speech about everything that he stands for in the process.
Maybe you think declining the chance to hold the office of the U.S. President is not the most patriotic thing in the world. But Cap has constantly argued that the government is not an entity he wishes to serve, as much as he admires its systems and place in American society.
In Captain America #250, Cap finds himself in an awkward position when the thing he does serve—the American people—want him to hold office. There’s a huge push to see him become President, so when he eventually speaks up and declines, it’s not a moment of frustration: it’s Captain America telling people that basically ascending to the highest position in American society would not allow him to be free enough.
As you might have figured out by this point, aside from super strength, Steve Roger’s greatest superpower is the ability to give a damn good speech.
The very first issue of Captain America Comics came out a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor that would bring the United States into the second World War, but it was a politically-charged clarion call from Joe Simon and Jack Kirby—a man clad in the American flag taking the fight to a threat unlike anything the world had ever seen. It’s a moment that’s been homaged and parodied since—this week’s Sam Wilson: Captain America #7 cover is a direct homage, for example—but at the time, as the comic reached hundreds of thousands of people, it was inspirational.
You know what the strangest thing is though? Cap doesn’t fight Hitler in the issue. It’s just the cover art—and yet, 75 years to the month later, it’s still Captain America’s most iconic moment, and definitely his most patriotic.