Righteousness, worthiness, and resilience are words that have come to embody who Steve Rogers has become over his tenure as the titular hero, Captain America. Debuting in 1941’s Captain America Comics, the star-spangled man with a plan has become the rallying-point to earth’s superheroes in the realm of Marvel.
However, certain instances in his publication have shown a darker and more conniving Cap than the one usually depicted when you think of the character. An idol of perseverance, he has fallen victim to challenges and manipulations that have resulted in him being sullied and becoming the very things he’s stood against.
10 Ultimate Cap
Starting with an iteration that doesn’t differ too far from his 616-counterpart, the backstory of Earth-1610 Steve Rogers has a semblance of its blueprint. However, a few glaring personality traits make the character a flawed one. With the 1610-universe depicted as a more nitty and gritty one, Cap did not have the same strict moral and ethics code he would abide by. Though he was considerably stronger and faster than his main counterpart. Once going toe-to-toe with Ultimate Hulk, a few “highlights” to his lack of ethics was his persistent use of guns in combat, espousing a French slur after defeating his nemesis Herr Kleiser, and even manipulating Ultimate Hulk into devouring Kleiser thereafter.
9 Earth X Cap
Steve Rogers of Earth-9997, also dubbed Earth-X, would go through the Super Soldier program just as his main iteration would. He would fight on behalf of the Allied Powers, though his character would make a divergence proceeding his decline to campaign for the presidency. In this dystopian alternate reality where the future of Earth’s population is “mysteriously” imbued with superhuman abilities, Captain America is a disavowed superhero to the public after he appeared turned his back on them by declining to run for president. Chastised, Steve Rogers becomes a social pariah and dawns a tattered American flag garment, carrying on the fight for good whether the people wanted him to or not.
8 First Live-Action Adaptation
Our first live-action entry of Captain America tanked any prospects of any other Marvel character getting the same treatment for 30 years. Hitting theaters just three years after his 1941 comic book debut, Captain America (1944) was produced by the since defunct studio, Republic Features. This film saw Cap without the super-soldier serum and his iconic shield. The title hero wasn’t even Steve Rogers, but was a man named Grant Gardner.
Played by Dick Purcell, Cap amounted to a water-downed Batman-like crime-fighter, minus the wealth. The movie was anything but successful, leaving the fresh fans of the character frustrated with the live-action changes. The new-comers were also left dissatisfied by the questions it left.
7 Age of X Cap
When the mutant known as Legion has one of his many personalities break loose in an act of preservation, it warps reality to create a new universe where human-mutant relations are way more strained than they already were. Manifesting Earth-11326, the personality assumes the identity of Legions mother, Moira McTaggart, in this reality even earth’s non-mutant superheroes acted against the mutant population, that included Cap arresting and killing mutants. Steve Rogers and his Avengers work in accordance with humanity until Cap turns on his team once he realizes the error of his ways after killing Mystique, who was protecting a group of mutant children.
6 Meth Junky Cap
In a relatively short arc debuting in 1994, Streets of Poison saw Captain America being exposed to a substance called Ice (what amounted to comic book meth) in a factory explosion fronting as a drug operation. He’d subsequently become hooked and would go on violent rampages trying to upend the Ice influence. A cracked-out Cap strong-armed his way through the city drug-ring, eventually taking down the kingpin, Jerkweed. With the help of Black Widow, Daredevil, and Diamondback, he is taken to Avengers HQ to receive treatments and a transfusion, aiding Cap back to his sober self.
5 Informing Tony
Jumping to another live-action entry, In 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the split among the Avengers is safe to say not just one person’s error, but a group effort, or lack thereof. The fight for freedom versus security rings true from its 2006 muse, pitting Team Iron Man against Team Cap. However, the live-action adaptation took it a step further, making the climax much more personal and debatably grandiose in scope.
It was revealed Bucky Barnes, under Russian influence as the Winter Soldier, murdered Tony’s parents in 1991. The true fracture of the Avengers occurs when Tony realizes that Captain America was aware and didn’t tell him, severing any friendship the two might of had.
4 Age of Ultron
Here’s another dystopian storyline that saw the A.I. android Ultron achieve its aspiration of conquering the entirety of planet Earth. Writer Brian Micheal Bendis crafted not only a great story but one that many see as an in-comic book correction to the overall medium. After wiping out most of the earth’s inhabitants, only a smattering of heroes remains including Wolverine, Invisible Woman, and Luke Cage. Wolverine would travel back and forth through time trying to undo the events of his timeline, though unbeknownst to him, rupturing the space-time continuum. A moment of weakness is shined upon the Captain when it’s revealed the rallying-point for the superheroes had given up. Truly a sight to see the heroes constantly hide underground due to the lack of leadership that was present, while Cap wallowed in his own self-pity.
3 Bucky’s Death
To catch onto the teenage-sidekick trend that had been established by Batman and Robin, James Buchanan Barnes was introduced as the wingman of Captain America after discovering Steve Rogers changing into his costume. Though tweaked over the years, the bubbly character from the Golden Age was retconned to show Bucky as a specially trained agent, selected to accompany Rogers on his missions. The titular drone-explosion that resulted in Cap being frozen, was also the split in the road between what we the reader, and Cap knew, and what Ed Brubaker introduced in 2005. Not too soon after Steve is thawed proceeding his reemergence, the toll of personal failure had befallen Cap for not saving his ally.
2 Destroying the Mind Stone
In 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, The Mad Titan, Thanos, conquered the silver-screen in such a way that made the background villain of a superhero franchise, elevate to a pop-culture icon. The character anticipation was met and well worth the wait, because when it finally came time for Thanos to “do it himself” he did just that, collecting the stones, and quite literally, single-handily wiping out the Earth’s heroes, and half the universe with them. While clearly debatable as it goes against everything he stood for, in the grand scheme of things, Cap’s mantra of not trading lives blurs what would become one faucet of the detriment to the universe.
Widely accepted as the folly of Peter Quill, it is not hard to assume that Thanos would have no “destiny” to fulfill if one key component was destroyed. Maybe he’d go on a rampage with the five other stones, punishing the universe, one planet after the other as he was before. Who’s to say that’s not an alternate reality proceeding the events of Endgame?
1 Hydra Cap
Possibly the prime example of the common concept of Captain America being flipped on its head, Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire was a masterfully crafted story arc that revealed Captain America was a sleeper agent on behalf of Hydra. Through the Red Skull’s machinations, Cap’s history and memories are manipulated and rearranged by the sentient cosmic cube, Kobik, being indoctrinated into Hydras ideology of global domination. Deceitfulness had become the name of the game for this “new” Cap, tricking his superhero allies into scenarios and conflicts so he can operate unfettered. It’d ultimately be revealed that he’s duped everyone and circumvented the power structure with him at the top. However, as things in comics never stay changed, “classic” Cap returns as a manifested memory and brings Hydra Cap’s reign to an end.
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