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A Captain America Comics Primer (When Marvel’s Reading List Just Won’t Do)

With the Captain America movie approaching, Marvel has listed it’s Captain America “required reading” and, predictably, it’s nothing of the sort and peppered with a lot of recent mini-series commissioned to have more product on shelf for the premiere mixed in among some of the more pertinent titles.

Want to read some good Captain America comics, but don’t know (or remember) where to start?  Your old pal, Todd, is here for you.

The highlights of Captain America are really 5 periods:

  • The Lee/Kirby Revival
  • The Englehart run
  • The All-Too-Short Stern/Byrne Sequence
  • Gruenwald and the New Captain America
  • Waid and Waid Returns
  • The Current Brubaker Series
Let’s see what’s available for order on Amazon, though your local comic book store might have some extra options lying around.

Captain America first hit newsstands in 1941.  While the original strips have an undeniable energy to them and a few are seriously strange, Captain America was strictly a kids comic back then.  The closer to present day you get, the older the intended audience level and it’s important to remember that.  The original strip are worth looking at as historical pieces, but you might want to start someplace else. The Lee/Kirby Revival In the mid-1960s, Captain America was revived after being frozen in ice towards the end of World War II.  His initial solo strip was in a comic called Tales of Suspense.  This run would feature some World War II storylines, as well as modern tales.  Your basic rogues gallery of the Red Skull, the Cosmic Cube, Hydra, AIM and Batroc the Leaper are all established here.




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A larger collection of this run in B&W

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The Englehart Run In the 70s, Steve Englehart took over for a memorable run, and the first one that really brought a political context to Captain America.  His major storylines were confrontation with the now-deranged/paranoiac man who wore the Captain America costume in the 1950s and “The Secret Empire” saga which tied the Watergate hearings to an criminal cartel and conspiracy.  That was followed by a period where Cap takes off the uniform out of disillusionment and briefly adopts the identity of Nomad, only to be drawn back into the fray.  Steve Rogers leaving and reclaiming his costume has become a trope twice repeated (thus far) in popular storylines.

Select stories in color:

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The whole run in B&W:

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The All-Too-Short Stern/Byrne Sequence Roger Stern and John Byrne had a short, but very fruitful collaboration where they totally nailed the character.  Amid well done superhero hi-jinx, they revisited World War II and even had an issue where Cap contemplated running for President.  If I wanted to hand a person a single book to sample Captain America, this would probably be it.

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Gruenwald and the New Captain America Mark Gruenwald had a long run as Captain America writer in the  80s and 90s.  The high point of this was a popular sequence echoing the Englehart run, where Steve Rogers refuses to become a government operative and surrenders his uniform.  His replacement, one John Walker, is wound a little too tight, but manages to hold on to the costume for a year or so, as Steve Rogers adopts the mantle of “The Captain,” before reclaiming the uniform.  Gruenwald stayed on Captain America a little too long and the art towards the end of his run was awful, so I’d stick to his flagship story.

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Waid and Waid Returns

Mark Waid wrote two memorable runs of Captain America.  The first was (unbeknownst to Waid at the time) a place holder after Gruenwald left and before a planned (and truly awful) outsourcing of the book to Rob Liefeld and Image Comics.  When the Image contract expired, Waid returned.  This was a superhero take on Cap, returning Cap’s 60s girlfriend/girl Friday, Sharon Carter – Agent 13 of SHIELD and remaking her from something of a damsel in distress into more of an Emma Peel-type.


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The Current Ed Brubaker Series Six and a half years ago, Ed Brubaker started writing the current version of Captain America.  Brubaker’s take on Cap is marked by a bit more realism of the character’s background.  This Steve Rogers is definitely more of a soldier than previous incarnations and the action is a bit more violent and benefits from a roster of artists with more photo-realistic styles than previous runs.  This run skews towards espionage.  While spy antics are a common theme in Captain America over the years, Brubaker hits it a bit heavier.  This is also one long storyline, a conspiracy that takes  quite a while to play out, leading into the Death of Captain America, continuing through the Captain America Returns (the weakest point of this run) and barely pausing as Steve Rogers _finally_ takes his uniform back this month after having a former sidekick take over while he was presumed dead.  Start at the beginning of this run and keep hitting the collection until you’re caught up. It would be very easy to pick this as the starting place over the Stern/Byrne collection, too.

The currently in print hard cover omnibus (very thick)

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The curiously out of print tpb of part 1 (your local comic shop might have this in tpb)

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There’s a lot more Captain America you can read, but if you’re just looking to try some, these are some good places you can start.

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