With 70 years worth of stories to choose from, Captain America is one of the hardest characters in comics to make a Top 10 list for. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what I’m setting out to do here, sifting through the many great runs to bring you just ten of the greatest stories featuring Marvel’s Star Spangled Super Soldier, in time for this weekend’s debut of Captain America: The First Avenger. Keep in mind, any list like this is inherently subjective. You might hate some of the stories I picked with a passion; you might be outraged that I left out a story you consider a classic. That’s OK. This is my list of the Top 10 Captain America Stories, and you are welcome to share yours.
#10 – Captain America No More
This seminal storyline, running through Captain America #332-350 tells the tale of a diabolical plot by the Red Skull to destroy Captain America not only physically, but his status as an American icon. Through behind the scenes machinations, the Skull is able to get the U.S. government to force Cap out of his role, giving up his name and costume, both of which are given to an extremist named John Walker who goes on to prove himself unworthy of the mantle. Eventually the Skull’s plans are revealed, and Captain America is restored to his rightful place, but this story had effects for years to come, and gave us a compelling new character, who would playe the anti-hero to Cap’s traditional heroics; the USAgent.
#9 – If This Be MODOK!
Ah, MODOK. Only Jack Kirby could come up with something as insanely entertaining as gigantic evil genius head with tiny body in a floating chair. This storyline, running through Tales of Suspense #93-94, also features SHIELD agent Sharon Carter, teaming up with Cap to bring down MODOK and the science terrorists known as AIM. Full of all the crazy concepts and non-stop action that the Lee/Kirby team was known for. A true classic.
#8 – The Origin Of Captain America
The origin of Captain America has been told many times, first in 1941′s Captain America Comics #1, of course. But when Lee and Kirby retold the tale for a new generation in 1965′s Tales of Suspense #63, it had a certain extra flair. Even after all these years, there’s something inspiring about the tale of a scrawny weakling who despite his physical infirmities, is so determined to serve his country and fight for freedom that he’s willing to risk his life as a guinea pig in an unheard of experiment. It shows that the man inside the costume is what Captain America is all about.
#7 – The Coming Of The Falcon
The importance of the Falcon in comics history really can’t be overestimated. 1969′s Captain America #117 intrroduced him as the first African-American superhero in mainstream comics, at a time when most publishers steered clear of anything potentially controversial in an America still deeply seated with racial prejudice. He was not a caricature, like many black characters in comics had often been; he was a true equal to Captain America, a partner in every sense of the word. Stan Lee and Gene Colan showed the world an African-American hero that kids of all colors could admire and aspire to be like.
#6 – Operation Rebirth
Writer Mark Waid and artist Ron Garney revitalized the Captain America franchise in 1995 with this storyline, in which a dying Captain America is rescued by his archnemesis the Red Skull who needs his help against, of all people… Adolf Hitler! A brilliant story with dynamic art. Sadly, this run was plagued by editorial interference, but the opening arc still stands as one of the best Cap stories ever.
#5 – War And Remembrance
Another run that ended before its time due to circumstances beyond the creators control, Roger Stern and John Byrne were at their peak here, even though the pairing lasted a scant nine issues. Cap flirts with the presidency, fights Nazi vampires, and we get another excellent retelling of his origin with added crucial details… like Cap’s first meeting with President Roosevelt! It’s a shame we couldn’t have gotten more of this great run.
#4 – The Death Of Captain America
Who says they don’t make great comics anymore? Ed Brubaker proves them all wrong with his deeply engaging take on Cap, culminating in this storyline, spinning out of the Civil War event. Cap has taken a stand, and winds up not only losing his freedom, but his life. Even though he’s back now, the power of this story is not diminished; we all wanted desperately to see what happened next, and Brubaker did not disappoint us.
#3 – The Secret Empire
Some comics are just out to have fun. Other comics, like Steve Englehart’s Secret Empire arc have a more challenging purpose; to comment on the pressing issues of our day. 1974 was a turbulent year for America; the president was being touched by scandal in a way unheard of in modern American life. People were losing faith in the system… and shockingly, so did Captain America when he discovered that the leader of a secret cabal out to undermine the American way of life was in fact a “high-ranking government official” who operated out of the Oval Office. To readers, the implication was clear, and this bold storyline has gone down as a classic, for making the ultimate patriot rethink his faith in our system of government, and even choose to give up his role as an icon of the nation for a time.
#2 – He Who Holds The Cosmic Cube!
What if you held the power to shape reality in your hand? And what if you were an evil villain bent on world domination? We’d all be pretty screwed wouldn’t we? Thank goodness there was Captain America there to stop the Red Skull’s mad plans when the scientists of AIM crafted the ultimate weapon: The Cosmic Cube. This story is such a part of the fabric of the Marvel Universe that elements of it have been adapted for this weekend’s big budget blockbuster film. Of course, only comics have the unlimited budget than can show off the true power of a device like the Cosmic Cube.
#1 – Captain America Lives Again!
I know, it’s kind of a shocker to choose as a character’s number one story one that isn’t even from his own book. But Avengers #4 is where Cap made his triumphant return after years of being gone from comicdom. This one has it all, true believers; action as a revived Cap single-handedly takes down the mighty Avengers, pathos as we see his anguish at the fate of his partner Bucky, and drama as Cap must rescue the Avengers from a mysterious foe and prove his worth in the modern world. A classic in every sense of the word.
Questions or comments? E-mail Matt Adler.