We first looked back at the top ten Captain America stories when writer Ed Brubaker stepped down from the title. It only makes sense, then, to take a second look now that <b>Captain America: The Winter Soldier</b>, based largely off Brubaker’s run on the title, is in theaters. <p>It’s a daunting task, as Captain America has been in service since World War II, both fictionally and as a comic book character. There have been some truly amazing runs during that 70+ years. <p>In fact, while the comic book story of <b>The Winter Soldier</b> is a personal favorite of one of our editors, after much debate it narrowly missed this list (don’t worry, Brubaker is still represented). And while we’re enjoying the stories since Bru, we’re sticking, at least for now, to the original list. If we started going through an honorable mentions list, we’d be here all weekend, and we, like you, want to go see the movie again. <p>Here are the ten best Captain America stories so far, and here’s hoping for 70 more years of patriotic action.
The true heroism of Cap comes, as everyone who's seen the first movie already knows, from who Steve Rogers was <em>before</em> he got buff, and there are few better comic book examples of this than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's retelling of the character's origin in <b>Captain America #109</b>. <p>Lee's melodramatic, sincere dialogue perfectly matches Kirby's bombastic, dynamic art in this pretty perfect take on a familiar story.
In many ways, Jim Steranko was an unexpected choice to follow Kirby on the <em>Captain America</em> title his work seemed more modern, less macho, than the King's but the three-issue arc he created with Stan Lee are pop art classics that seem as dazzling and contemporary now as they did when they first appeared more than three decades ago, bringing a new sense of cool to the Captain and upending the character's status quo by not only killing off Steve Rogers but turning the character into super spy as much as superhero.
A lot of what would become familiar Cap tropes were introduced for the first time during writer Steve Englehart's classic 1970s run on the book, including the idea of multiple Caps, the notion that Steve Rogers could (and would) abandon his costumed identity in order to find himself, and just the possibility of using Captain America as a way of exploring where America is at as a country and a culture in general. <p>Amazingly innovative, consistently entertaining and exciting, and sadly underrated, Englehart's Captain America may be up there with Brubaker's for the best portrayal of the character ever.
From the sublime to the... ridiculously sublime, perhaps. Jack Kirby's return to Cap took the character from nodding towards reality into a far more fantastic existence, typified by the character's trip through American history at the hands of the mysterious "Mister Buda." <p>It's easy to understand how fans used to an increasingly more serious version of the character would have been upset by Kirby's direction, but looking back at it now, it's an enjoyable, inventive and just plain <em>fun</em> story that considers Cap as icon just as much as Englehart ever did, just in a different direction.
Moving from <em>Bicentennial Battles</em> onto the monthly book, Kirby continued to make over his character by turning everything up to 11: the speed of the stories, the action and the scale. <p>Suddenly Cap and the Falcon got their missions directly from the President and the future of the country was almost always at stake, even if their missions took them outside America (and they did). Kirby was playing with the idea of what a superhero comic could be, and if it seemed goofy at the time and many thought that it did it seems revolutionary now, throwing out ideas that the medium is still trying to catch up with. Although his run lost some energy by its end, the first arc, in which an experimental device threatens to drive the entire country insane unless Cap and Falc can stop it, is just non-stop energy and a story recently touched on in Ed Brubaker's run.
Roger Stern and John Byrne's run on the character may have been abortively short – only nine issues – but it's an amazingly packed nine issues, including vampire Nazis, presidential runs and, of course, Batroc the Leaper. <p>Like all the best Cap runs, the two creators seemed energized rather than intimidated by the character's history, and that comes through in the way in which they present Cap: Clear-headed, direct and never anything less than the greatest hero he could be.
The highlight of Mark Gruenwald's lengthy run on the title, "No More" may have repeated certain ideas from earlier runs (like in Englehart's run, Cap quit and adopted a new identity, and also had a showdown in the White House), but there's more than enough here to make it a worthwhile return trip: The Serpent Society! Nomad! Diamondback! D-Man! And, maybe most interestingly of all, the introduction of the US Agent, who finds that stepping into the shoes of a living legend is much harder than he could've anticipated.
When Mark Waid took over the reins of the Star-Spangled Avenger following Gruenwald's departure, Cap was in a sorry state, having suffered through attempts to update him and bring him in line with the gritted-teeth and armored-shoulder-pads of the Image Comics-obsessed 1990s. <p>Waid and Ron Garney quickly took the character back to basics, in the process, rediscovering what made him so unique amongst the Marvel heroes and reminding readers that Steve Rogers was so much more than the costume and shield.
What started with a plot development that no-one saw coming very swiftly turned into Ed Brubaker's highpoint of a near-decade run, defining the importance of Steve Rogers by his absence and the influence he'd had, and inspiration he'd been, on those around him. <p>And in amongst all of this, there was also a story about an increasingly divided America and the ways in which those divisions could be exploited by old enemies that felt closer to contemporary reality than anything the title had seen in decades. Never mind <em>Civil War</em>; this was the Marvel story that really had something to say about the world we live in from the last 10 years.
Another Mark Waid story, this time updating and expanding a core piece of the character that is often overlooked: The culture shock Steve Rogers must have felt after waking up in the modern world after disappearing during WWII. <p>Waid's writing is sensitive and intelligent, and fills in a lot of blanks about Rogers' re-emergence that manage to make the character more human, and more easily identified with as a result. That Jorge Molina's art is pretty great doesn't hurt, either.