Because Steve Rogers is my favorite Avenger, and I spend a truly alarming amount of time obsessing over the character and the actor who plays him, Chris Evans, it's hard to admit that I once thought I hated the character. I thought this for two reasons: 1. I just assumed that any character named "Captain America" would be an uber patriotic, right-wing, conservative tool and 2. My first introduction to the character was the Ultimate Universe version of Steve Rogers--who is all those things. A quick word of advice from me: Please, for the love of the star-spangled man with a plan, do NOT let anyone's first introduction to Steve Rogers be the Ultimate version of the character. It's cruel and you will have the hardest time setting them on the right path.
It wasn't until the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) came along that I realized I had been horribly misled. I watched, and fell in love with, 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger and was like Wait. WHAT?? Yes, he IS patriotic (you would have to be to confidently step outside in *that* costume) but he's patriotic about the spirit of America. What America should be. What it promises to be. No one holds America to a higher standard than Captain America. Steve Rogers does not stan for America, y'all. There is no blind support coming from that corner. If something is unjust, unfair, or not right, if America doesn't live by her principles, Steve Rogers is going to be the first person to call it out. And that's the beauty and brilliance of the character. Where he's subversive. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby revamped a WWII propaganda character that looks like the ideal of what a perfect American soldier SHOULD be (white, blond, blue-eyed, tall, handsome, muscular, male), who you would expect to be everything I originally assumed he was, and then made him the complete opposite. It turns out that Steve Rogers is sweet, kinda dorky, open-minded, fair, liberal and progressive, and really Good. What a relief!
So let’s say you are a new Captain America fan, where should you start? What are the essentials, what are the things that are going to give you the best idea of who this character is? I have a few suggestions…
1. Captain America: Man Out of Time
Man Out of Time is my favorite Cap book. It’s the modern retelling of Steve falling/freezing in the last days of WWII, being found decades later by the Avengers and adjusting to the modern world (of the early 2000s). This book is the embodiment of why I love Steve Rogers and why he’s my favorite Avenger. The book also contains Steve's first comic book appearance. I consider this book to be essential and required reading for Cap fans. Fair warning: It is physiclly impossible to read this book and not fall in love with Steve Rogers. You have been warned. Here's a sample of the greatness of this book:
2. Civil War
Marvel's Civil War was the 2006-2007 event that I personally think is the best Marvel has done thus far. The premise of Civil War is this: a tragedy happens involving a team of young superheroes whereby a town of about 6000 people is obliterated. In the aftermath of the explosion, the public wants a scapegoat and the government calls for the regulation of powered people via a law called the Superhuman Registration Act. This law requires people with power to register with the government (and make their identities public if they are not already), agree to training, and work for the governement in whatever capacity the government wants. Iron Man is pro-registration. Captain America is anti-registration. The Avengers and best friends go to war. People pick sides. People die. The Marvel universe is forever changed. Civil War is a true Path to Hell story. This is a deep, layered and twisty, richly sprawling and incredibly emotional arc. Everyone has their story to tell, from their perspective. I recommend reading the entire thing, but I consider Civil War: Iron Man, Civil War: Captain America, Civil War: Spider-Man and Civil War: Front Lines (along with the main event issues) to be the absolutely essential reading. Fair warning: you will probably cry.
Oh, and if you don't already know this, do not expect the Captain America movie coming out next summer to be this version of Civil War. For several reasons (including many key figures either not belonging to Disney/MCU right now--like the Fantastic Four--or either not being established enough or introduced yet). This version is supposedly going to center around Bucky and the crimes he committed as the Winter Soldier and the aftermath of all the destruction and the creation of Ultron in The Avengers: The Age of Ultron.
3. Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I love these two films. Like, a lot. I think The First Avenger is the best origin story movie the MCU has done to date. I honestly think it's perfect. Like Man Out of Time, I don't think it's possible to watch this movie and not fall in love with Steve Rogers. Please also note that this movie is what turned me into a full-time Chris Evans stan fan (there will probably be an intervention one day that I will bitterly fight).
One of my favorite scenes from The First Avenger: Steve and Peggy's first conversation
The Winter Soldier is my favorite MCU film. I would tell you how many times I've seen it, but I am afraid of your judgement. Needless to say, I think it's perfect on all levels and it got me through some really rough times last year. I also think TWS is the best example the MCU has done of adapting the comic book for the big screen. Seriously. We fans gripe about many some of the other descisions regarding characterization and story changes the MCU has made (like why WHY?? are we stuck with the Ultimate Universe version of Clint?? When Matt Fraction's literally perfect, precious cinnamon roll, Clint Barton-who is also deaf-exists?) Damn you, Joss!!), but no one complains about the masterful retooling of the Bucky/Steve relationship.
I love every frame of this movie, but Steve's speech to SHIELD/Hydra is still a high point:
*I would also recommend reading The Winter Soldier comic by Ed Brubaker. There's a reason they adapted this story and why it works so well. Just be prepared for a lot more Sharon Carter and no Natasha. The MCU basically gave Sharon's role in the story to Natasha, most likely because Sharon hadn't been introduced in the MCU yet and they wanted to back off of the Steve/Sharon relationship in light of how the Steve/Peggy relationship and Peggy Carter herself was made so central to the entire MCU universe.
4. Avengers Assemble
Avengers Assemble is a cartoon series on Disney XD (which you can access on Netflix, YouTube, On Demand etc). The show is a mix of the MCU and comic book stories/canon. Which is a great way to play around with the material. One of the best things about the show is the lack of who owns what shenanigans we have to deal with in the MCU. All sorts of Marvel characters can pop up on the show. It's a great way to get your Avengers fix between movies.
The show is well done, really funny and oftentimes has better characterization than the movies do. For reals. Like if you are hankering for Hawkeye anything, watch this series. Picking a favorite Steve episode was really hard. This is one of the great Stony episodes, even though the whole show is, I swear, done by Stony (Steve/Tony) shippers. Great character interaction and development here. The episode is centered on Tony learning a lesson and it's really funny. I think this episode is a perfect example of the humor of the show. Here's the summary of the ep:
When Iron Man becomes too reliant on his own tech, Captain America challenges him to go without it for one full day. The challenge is accepted but made far more complicated when Stark takes them to the Savage Land. They discover Justin Hammer in his latest "get into the Cabal" scheme that involves mining the Savage Land for a massive Vibranium deposit. Stark must motivate a local pacifist Rock Tribe to take action.
5. This recollection/interaction between Young Avenger Patriot (aka Eli Bradley) and Steve
I think this speaks for itself. I cannot think of a more appropriate set of panels for the 4th of July or for this time in our country's history. This is why Captain America is important. This is why the character has been around for 70 years and is still popular, still relevant. This is why I, a queer black woman, love a super white (canonically) straight male character named Captain America who was born on the 4th of July.
**Steve Rogers is 95 and 97 years old because the year he was born depends on the universe. In the main marvel comic universe, known as the 616, Steve Rogers was born in 1920. In the MCU Steve Rogers was born in 1918.
Okay class! Now that you've been shown the light, be prepared for the inevitable fall off the cliff into the abyss of Cap fandom. 'But Niala,' you say, 'I like the character well enough, but not *that* much.' Oh, my precious child [rubs your hair], in the span of a few years I went from someone who hated the character to someone who went to work on July 3rd dressed like this:
I now love Captain America more than I love America (guess which one has never let me down?). You WILL be about that life, too. Eventually. Trust me. I didn't choose this life, it chose me. Then I accessorized the hell out of it.