Created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941, Captain America is the oldest of the premier Marvel superheroes; with his long publication history, he’s endured his fair share of retcons concerning himself, his background, and that of his supporting cast over the years.
Let’s take a look at the most significant retcons in Captain America’s history, and how Cap’s fans have reacted to the rewrites of their favorite Star-Spangled Avenger.
10 Loved: Frozen At End Of WW2
With the “man out of time” aspect now so crucial to Captain America’s character, more recent fans may be surprised to learn that this was originally a retcon introduced by Stan Lee in Avengers #4 as a way of reintroducing Cap. Captain America’s comic didn’t cease publication at the beginning of WW2 but instead continued until 1954, seven years before the debut of the Fantastic Four and the birth of the modern Marvel universe.
Ignoring the later (and ill-regarded) comics, it was established in Strange Tales #114 when the Human Torch faces a Captain America imposter, that Cap had disappeared at the end of WW2, paving the way for his reintroduction. Fans rejoiced at Cap’s return, and his status as a man lost in an unfamiliar world granted him mountains of new character depth.
9 Loved: Bucky – Teenage Assassin
James “Bucky” Barnes, Cap’s WW2 era side-kick, was a character dismissed by fans for most of his existence; he was even revealed to have been killed in Cap’s re-introductory issue, owing to Stan Lee‘s dislike of the kid sidekick trope prevalent in the comics of Marvel’s main competitor, DC.
Ed Brubaker, who’d long been a fan of Bucky, rewrote the character’s background in his landmark Captain America run, revealing Bucky’s “precocious sidekick” demeanor as a cover; he was actually a child assassin, assigned to perform field operations such as assassinations, which Cap himself, as a symbol of American heroism, couldn’t be seen doing. This retcon gave Bucky an edge that fans welcomed and paved the way for Brubaker’s next retcon of the character.
8 Loved: The Winter Soldier
Bucky had firmly been established as dead for 4o years by the time Brubaker took the reigns of Captain America; bringing him back was viewed as tantamount to resurrecting Thomas & Martha Wayne. That’s exactly what Brubaker did, and his audaciousness paid off.
Brubaker’s eponymous “Winter Soldier” storyline revealed Bucky had survived being thrown from the exploding drone plane, as depicted in Avengers #4, and been recovered by a Soviet submarine crew. Brainwashed and outfitted with a cybernetic arm to replace one lost in the explosion, he became the USSR’s premier assassin throughout the Cold War. The arc is ranked as one of the best Captain America stories ever told and was thusly adapted to film for Cap’s second outing in the MCU.
7 Loved: Baron Zemo In World War 2
Baron Zemo was fully introduced in Avengers #6; a Nazi scientist hiding out in South America, he was ostensibly an enemy of Captain America from his days in World War 2, and the one who engineered the accident that put Steve on ice and seemingly killed Bucky.
Plenty of later-published, WW2-set prequel comics starring Captain America feature Zemo as a villain, but if you go back and read the Captain America comics published in WW2, you’ll find no reference to the Baron; his past with Cap was a retcon done by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to give their new villain a personal stake in his war with the Avengers. Considering Baron Zemo remains one of Cap’s most enduring enemies, it’s safe to say fans that didn’t mind.
6 Loved: The Howling Commandos
In 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandos, a WW2-set war comic featuring a squad which, as you can probably guess from the title, was led by one Nick Fury. Despite the detachment from the superhero setting, the comic was canon to the Marvel universe, and a guest appearance by Captain America and Bucky soon came in #13.
While not originally a part of Captain America’s history, the popularity of the Howling Commandos in their own right led to them frequently appearing in Cap’s WW2-set stories; the MCU and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes both depict Cap fighting alongside the Commandos.
5 Loved: 1950s Cap An Imposter
Eventually, it was decided to re-canonize Cap’s post-WW2, pre-Avengers appearances and address the discrepancy of them head-on. In a four-part story arc, running from Captain America #153-156, writer Steve Englehart revealed that the 1950s, “Commie-smashing” Captain America and Bucky had actually been separate from Steve Rogers and James Barnes.
Instead, the pair were deranged fans of the originals, William Burnside and Jack Monroe, who recreated the super-soldier serum in an effort to become their heroes, but were put in suspended animation by the US government when their psyches degraded as a result of the flawed serum. This retcon cleverly tied Cap’s history together and gave him a new adversary in the process.
4 Loved: Peggy Carter
Similar to Zemo and the Howling Commandos, Peggy Carter has become such an important part of Captain America’s pre-frozen life that its hard to believe she wasn’t featured in the original Cap comics of the 1940s. Peggy debuted in Tales Of Suspense #75, retconned into existence as a French resistance fighter for whom Cap had fallen.
The retcon was done to give Cap a connection to his soon-to-be-introduced love interest, SHIELD Agent 13 (aka Sharon Carter, Peggy’s niece). Despite their existence hinging on a retcon, both Sharon and Peggy have become popular in their own right; Sharon remains Cap’s most enduring love interest, while Peggy has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the past decade thanks to the MCU.
3 Loved: Sharon Carter Resurrected
In a rather by the books, “stuffed in the fridge” moment, Sharon Carter was killed off in Captain America #237; it wasn’t a noble end, for she had been brainwashed into serving the villainous Dr. Faustus and died without a chance at redemption.
When Mark Waid began writing Captain America in the 1990s, he revealed Sharon to still be alive in #444, and she resumed her relationship with Cap. This was a resurrection most fans welcomed, future Cap writer Ed Brubaker among them, who joked that he would’ve had to revive her during his run if Waid hadn’t previously.
2 Loved: Captain America Reborn
The Death Of Captain America, the third major chapter in Brubaker’s run, was a well-received and riveting story, with Steve’s death being accepted by fans as a tragic and fitting send-off, whilst Bucky assuming his best friend’s role as Captain America. Of course, no one stays dead in comics, especially not someone like Captain America.
Sure enough, Captain America: Reborn revealed that Steve had not truly died, but instead had been “frozen in space and time” with his consciousness shifting across decades to different moments in his life while he lay in limbo. This was part of a plot by the Red Skull to steal Cap’s enhanced body for himself, but naturally, the villain’s plot was foiled. The subsequent storyline turned out to be the best of both worlds; Steve was back and made director of SHIELD, but he permitted Bucky to remain as Captain America. Thus, fans of both of the two men were pleased.
1 Hated: Hail Hydra
This is one of the most reviled moments in recent comic history, and proof that fans haven’t loved every rewrite of Cap’s history. The ending of Nick Spencer‘s first Captain America issue ended with the hero declaring “Hail Hydra,” and revealed that Steve Rogers had been a HYDRA sleeper agent the entire time.
Fans reacted with scorn reserved for sacrilege, for HYDRA’s values are antithetical to the ones Captain America is meant to embody. Whatever one thinks of the storylines the revelation spawned, it’s hard to deny the initial outrage at the moment which sparked them all.
Marvel's Captain America has received a lot of story retcons over his publication history. Here are 9 fans like & 1 they didn't.