Captain America is, without a doubt, the greatest representation of American patriotism and one of the greatest symbols of justice and freedom in the world of comics. It is, without a doubt, one of Marvel’s most emblematic characters, and one of the oldest ones.
If you’ve been in planet Earth for the latest 15 years you know him without a doubt, at least from the movies. Since the character has been around for almost 80 years, there are many stories in comics that can help you know the character better.
As a way to pay tribute to the one of the most iconic characters in the entire comic book medium and Western culture as a whole, here we have what we consider the eleven best Captain America comics, giving you a better understanding of who the character is, what he stands for and where you can enjoy him at his best.
A look at the origin of Captain America
The character’s origin goes back to the 40s, at a point where World War II was raging. Although the United States had not yet gotten involved, it was common sense and a matter of time that they would be, according to what one of its creators, artist Jack Kirby, said.
This is how Kirby and writer Joe Simon decided to create a character that could serve as a motivation and tribute to the soldiers that were heading to Europe for the war. A man that was the embodiment of all the characteristics and traits that made America at the time such a wonderful land to their citizens. This is how we got the legendary Captain America superhero came to be.
The story of Captain America is that of a young man named Steve Rogers. Born in a low-income family, his parents died during his childhood and adolescence. The character was set at the same time of his creation, that is, in World War II, and when he saw what was happening in Europe with the Nazi invasion, he decided to enlist in the army without success.
His physical weakness prevented him from joining the American army, despite the fact that he was extremely willing to be involved in the conflict. However, his insistence led him to be accepted in a parallel program where he was supplied with the super-soldier serum that gave him superhuman strength and speed, turning him into the main weapon of the United States to face the Nazi enemies.
That’s right, the same story we saw in the Captain America: The First Avenger film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe actually did a faithful adaptation of the comics in the movie…
Our list of the 11 Best Captain America Comics
11. Operation Rebirth (Captain America series from issue #444 to issue #454).
By the mid-90s, the idea of what Captain America represented was a bit lost in a day and age that was more interested in cynical, morally ambiguous antiheroes, having some stories that strayed from what Steve Rogers stood for. It wasn’t until writer Mark Waid, mostly known at the time for his remarkable run on The Flash, decided to go back to basics with Operation Rebirth. Instead of trying to rely on a dull nostalgia act, the author focused on retaking characters like Red Skull or Agent 13, adapting them to the times and giving a fresh take that was respectful to the essence of said characters while keeping things interesting.
The story begins with Cap on the brink of death due to the degenerative effect of the serum that gave him his powers. When he looked like he was going to die, Cap disappears and Waid begins to show the character’s true worth without actually showing it. Eventually, Captain America would appear better than ever thanks to the blood of his natural enemy, Red Skull, who needed him to retrieve the Cosmic Cube.
The story is, in a way, a celebration of what the character stands for and also an interesting way to make Steve go back to his roots after so failed attempts to modernize. Waid understood that you don’t have to reinvent Captain America; you just have to write good stories (what a concept, huh?). And that’s all it needs to be in our list of the best Captain America comics stories.
10. No Longer Alone!/Tomorrow You Live, Tonight I Die/The Strange Death of Captain America (Captain America series from issue #110 to issue #113).
This is a bit of cheating because these storylines are all self-contained and they are not related, but they all have one thing in common: they are the only three comic book issues that artist Jim Steranko ever did on the Cap series, working alongside the great Stan Lee.
Steranko is one of the all-time greats when it comes to comic book artists and his work, despite being highly regarded by the experts in the medium, often gets a bit underrated because he doesn’t get the plaudits of the likes of Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams or John Byrne.
Despite that, his three issues on Captain America are a delight. No Longer Alone! shows Cap fighting the Hulk and how his longtime friend, Rick Jones, deems the Bucky mantle, becoming Steve’s sidekick for many years. Tomorrow You Live, Tonight I Die shows Rick being kidnapped by Hydra and Cap has to rescue him in a thrilling action-packed issue. And The Strange Death of Captain America follows a bit of what happened in the previous storyline, but it focuses more on how Steve can have a secret identity once again to protect those he cares about.
These three issues not only shows a class example of how good Steranko and Stan were as a creative team, but it is also a period of Cap’s career that is often overlooked when discussing his best stories, so they are a nice read in that regard.
9. Captain America No More (Captain America series issue # 332).
An iconic history of the character that was published in 1987, written by Mark Gruenwald, one of the most important writers in the Captain America title (perhaps the most important), edited by legendary writer and editor, Jim Shooter, and the iconic cover was drawn by one of the best Marvel artists of the 1980s, Mike Zeck of Secret Wars fame, so we are obviously talking about a dream team in that regard. One of the most remembered images in Cap’s history, which shows him somewhat shocked in front of the United States flag, with the detail that the red stripes are turning into blood. Simple and great.
This storyline shows us how the federal government requires Captain America to be a state entity, which Steve Rogers himself renounces, knowing that he represents the country, but not a government. He hands over his shield and uniform, adopting a new identity known as The Captain (it is also the name many fans know this story for), which is quite similar to the classic one he always uses, but in black, red and white instead.
Here is the confrontation between The Captain and the new Captain America that the government has placed, John Walker, with Red Skull in the shadows waiting to make his move. This arc shows us a side of the character where he discovers himself, identifying himself as something more than a simple soldier serving a government.
Really, one of the best Captain America comics stories of all time.
8. Monsters and Men
We can talk about one of the plots that marked a before and after in Captain America since the future works of the character would take many of the ideas that were presented here. Writer Jean Marc DeMatteis, mostly known for writing arguably the finest Spider-Man storyline of all time, Kraven’s Last Hunt (you can check our article here!), took the liberty of putting Captain America and Steve Rogers in the same story, as strange as it may sound: the adventures of the superhero were mixed with Rogers’ everyday problems.
In this sense, we can see a Captain America much closer to what the character historically was, the one who first spoke before fighting, using the words as a way to convince the enemy to understand his patriotic ideals before taking the situation to a battlefield.
DeMatteis also does a very good job of bringing back various iconic characters related to the character such as Bucky or some less relevant enemies that gain importance as the storyline progresses, such as Baron Zemo. Additionally, it manages to include a short parallel story of Sam Wilson and his political career, where his dark past comes to light, which allows us to delve a little deeper into the character of one of Steve’s closest friends and allies.
7. The Secret Empire (Captain America and the Falcon series from issue #169 to issue #176).
Just to clear this out: this is the 70’s story, not the stupid story where Cap takes over the world from some years ago… I´m thinking about writing a story about comics’ dumbest moments, and for sure that would be included.
Published in 1974, during the events related to Watergate that ended up leading to Nixon’s departure from the White House, this story of Cap’s showed us how the character abandoned his identity as a way to detach himself from the United States government because it had been corrupted by members of HYDRA. By leaving the mantle of Captain America, Steve Rogers assumes a new identity known as The Nomad, with an outfit quite different from the character’s iconic one.
As you can imagine based on his outfit, his name and his background, Captain America is the kind of character that tends to be used to express certain political opinions and statements, which often leads to be borderline caricature, but the reality is that this storyline manages to find a nice balance between the social commentary and the most important thing, which is the entertainment–this is mostly due to the fact that it was written by Steve Englehart, one of the best writers in comics and a man who was at his absolute peak during the 70s.
The Secret Empire is the story of Captain America and Falcon confronting an enemy immersed in the depths and in the highest positions of the US government through a form of story less cinematic than the current ones and much more in the style of the comics of the Silver and Bronze era, which may seem a little more difficult to appreciate for the less knowledgeable fans of this world.
If you want to get a really good glimpse of where Cap was standing during this decade, this comic is a very good reflection of that and a nice example of how you can use this character for political statements without turning him into a propaganda tool.
6. The Hero That Was (Captain America series issue #109).
There are few origin stories in comics that are more iconic than Steve Rogers’. The frail, weak young man with the strongest heart and values that managed to become one of the greatest heroes that the world has ever seen. So what happens when two legends of the medium, artist Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee, join forces to tell the story of Cap’s origin once again? This is what you get with The Hero That Was.
Stan and Jack are one of comics’ greatest duos and they truly shine here, delivering an updated version of Steve’s origin with great dialogue, remarkable art (I think this was around Kirby’s creative and artistic peak) and a much more balanced story which benefitted from an era where comic book storytelling was trying to evolve and move forward.
There are many retellings of Cap’s origin and some of them are actually worth your time, but if there is one that steals the show, it is definitely The Hero That Was. Definitely the one that you should read if you want to understand what the character stands for.
You can also find this story in the Captain America Omnibus, Vol. 1 which we previously recommended here.
5. Cap for President! (Captain America series issue 250).
As a way to celebrate Cap’s 250th issue of his solo series and the character as a whole, many different Marvel Comics writers worked together to deliver a very special issue–this is how we got the likes of Jim Shooter, Roger Stern (one of the architects of The Death of Superman storyline a few years down the line), Don Perlin and Roger McKenzie joining forces with legendary artist John Byrne in this issue. And it is a very special one at that.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Steve Rogers ever ran for president of the United States of America? If he has had so many problems with the government through the years and he is so highly regarded and admired by the people of America, why he doesn’t run for president to clean the corruption? A military man, a born leader, a pure heart and a great mind, he seems like the perfect candidate to be a great president. Well, this issue explores those very questions.
In this issue we see Cap being offered the chance of being president of the United States, but he turns it down under the basis that he doesn’t have experience on the field, he is not well-versed on foreign politics and he is not an expert on many different elements that could be essential for the role, but as the story progresses we see a lot of different perspectives from heroes, politicians and citizens about how he is perceived as a presidential candidate and why they would vote for him if he ran for office.
Despite being heavily rooted in politics, I don’t think this issue is that political. It is more of a celebration of what Captain America stands for and how he is viewed by people from all walks of life. It is a very good example of a man who has done a lot of good throughout the years and how that has paid off.
Cap is a soldier and a warrior at heart. This storyline is, if anything, a reward for all his changes of fighting for a good cause. A reward for good, old-fashioned heroism.
4. Society of Serpents (Captain America series from issue #302 to issue #317)
Writer Mark Gruenwald developed a wide variety of concepts and characters during his almost 15 years in the Captain America title, but one of the most fascinating was the creation and development of the villainous group known as the Society of Serpents.
And the concept was actually quite simple: we have a bunch of snake-themed villains, so why not putting them together in the same group? This is how we got the Society of Serpents: a company of snake-themed villains that worked together to achieve common goals. And the fascinating part is that they work as an actual company, working in great harmony and dividing profit between each other with no major issues.
They are an organization with power and influence, so Cap has to bring them down, thus starting one of the biggest challenges in the character’s history and him having to use all his might and intellect to make a worthy challenge. Certainly one of the highest points of Gruenwald’s highly regarded run and a very good example of what you can do with a character like Captain America when good storytelling is applied properly.
Definitely worth your time.
3. The Death of Captain America (Captain America (2004) 25-42)
Ed Brubaker did a really great run in Captain America, one of the best in the Captain’s history in comics.
The story begins right after Civil War. After fighting in the “rebels” side, the Captain had turned himself in, and was being transported to court. Then, the unexpected happens, and Steve Rogers is shot to death. Sorry if you consider it a spoiler, I guess it shouldn’t be in a story that’s called “The Death of Captain America”…
What comes next are the impact and repercussions in the world and the characters around him. It also reflects a society increasingly divided, and how it’s enemies take advantage of it.
It’s really a story to enjoy, but also to reflect.
2. The Winter Soldier (Captain America series Vol. 5 from issue #8 to issue #14).
The return of one of the most iconic characters in the history of Captain America takes an unexpected turn (perhaps not so much if you saw the MCU movie) when Bucky, Cap’s faithful companion, returns to the scene as the Winter Soldier, a weapon that has been used by a Russian general (Alexander Lukin) in every major international conflict that has come along the way in recent decades.
The story takes us to Cap’s dark side (actually, it is not so dark, but by the standards of the character it is) since he has that internal conflict that the best friend he had during World War II is now an enemy with countless murders behind his back. Even the comic opens a new dimension in terms of the character of Bucky who went from being a mere advertising medium to attract young people to enlist in the army in the 40s, to being the one who did some atrocities that the Captain did not do.
All this only serves to turn the plot into something more psychological to the point that Steve Rogers himself doubts whether his memories are real and that his concept of Bucky was reality or not. As we already mentioned, the story has a much darker air than usual in a Captain America story, although it does not take away the interest.
It has become the most famous Captain America storyline from the comics due to the shock that it was seeing Bucky coming back as the Winter Soldier and obviously because of the MCU adaptation, but that doesn’t mean is overrated or anything along those lines–it is a very fascinating exploration of the character of Captain America and his origin in World War II, so it’s a story that you have to read.
1. Who will be the next Captain America (Captain America series issue #333)
Our top pick of the list of the best Captain America comics is the the story that is gives the background to the “Falcon and The Winter Soldier” Disney’s miniseries, this is it.
This issue kicks start an umbrella storyline of sorts, with the major plot being that Steve is no longer Captain America and that John Walker, stated by the government, becomes the new Cap.
This storyline is the best in Captain America’s history because it explores a very simple question: What makes Captain America be who he is? Is it the suit? Is it the power? Or is it the man? This is what the storyline, which follows up to issue #350, is exploring and Gruenwald does another phenomenal job here.
This comic book storyline is a very good example of how Steve Rogers makes the Captain America mantle be what it is and why he is the one suited to carry this monumental symbol of American values and kindness. John Walker proves to be much more than a government stooge and finds his own sense of individuality, which is a very good example of humanizing antagonists without falling in clichés.
This is definitely the best moment of Gruenwald’s run and one of the best storylines that you can find in the market to understand who Captain America is and what he stands for. And that is something that any comic book fan should understand in order to grasp this character’s monumental value in the medium.
A phenomenal story for a phenomenal character that never soared as high as he did during Mark Gruenwald’s legendary comic book run, which is something we should always keep in mind.
Hope you enjoyed our list of the best Captain America comics that you must read… as we always say: keep reading good comics!