Marvel has a long history of superheroes, and Captain America is one of their oldest. From World War II to the modern day, Captain America has fought in his share of battles. He’s faced legendary foes likes the Red Skull, Adolf Hitler, Baron Zemo, and many more. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to dive into the catalog of a superhero with such a long history, but fortunately, we’ve gathered this essential reading list for any readers looking to read some of the best stories starring Marvel’s most patriotic Avenger.

CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1:

In 1941, the Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America, and his young ally, Bucky, appeared for the first time in CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1. The cover said it all: with Cap punching the Fuhrer himself, this comic promised action, adventure, and the ideals of America. It doesn’t hold back. Starting off with the origin story in which Steve Rogers gets his powers and Bucky becomes his partner (which is filled out in greater detail in CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE), it distills everything you need to know about Cap in 8 quick page-turns, delivered with energy and gusto by Joe Simon on script and Jack Kirby on art. The dialogue is crisp and direct while Kirby’s art drives an energetic story where every action Steve takes packs a punch. Sure, it is a bit simplistic in its storytelling, with the Nazis all but twiddling their mustaches on every page, but it’s also a lot of fun and shows how the core values of Captain America have changed very little in over 75 years.

captain america 1
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

This issue also features another 4 short action tales and one prose story, each showcasing Captain America stepping up and doing what needs to be done. Steve is always ready for action while Bucky is a wily young pup ready to give the Nazis what’s what. The last story of the bunch is the most interesting: “Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull.” This is the first time we see the scarlet villain, bringing death wherever he goes. He is a callous and cold archenemy, the antithesis of everything Steve stands for. Even though the Red Skull dies at the end of the story, he’s resurrected in CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #3, where we find out that the Red Skull that died was only a servant of the real Red Skull. CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 is a perfect snapshot of what Captain America is, where he got his powers and what he stands for, plus it’s a lot of fun to read.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE #1 The Classic Sentinel Of Liberty

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE is quintessential Captain America. Jeph Loeb cranks out a script that Joe Simon would be proud of while Tim Sale channels Jack Kirby in an art style that packs a kapow, a whak, and a whoomph to boot.

Captain America: White #1 by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Set just one month after Cap is found and awoken from the iceberg that held him in suspended animation for the guts of 30 years, it’s full of action, drama, and history. Steve Rogers is coming to grips with a future where he has lost nearly everyone, but his most grievous loss is James Buchanan Barnes, ‘Bucky.’ He begins to remember how it all started to fall apart, when Bucky died and Steve began to fall into the Atlantic, but the reminiscence changes to a more upbeat time, when Steve and Bucky met Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos for the first time. Part of the story is chock-full of nostalgia for a more innocent age, yet the brutality of war is never far away. The storytelling manages to bridge the gap between modern storytelling and an era where a cliffhanger is only a page-turn away.

During the early Simon/Kirby years, it was all about the adventure and taking it straight to the Nazis. When Stan Lee brought Cap back, he was a man out of time who struggled deeply with the loss of Bucky. In this series Loeb/Sale build on Bucky’s and Cap’s friendship, showing moments where they clash, bond, and fight well together as a team. It’s a touching story of brotherhood and friendship between two young men set against the backdrop of a grim and grey war. Yet, it also shows Cap at his finest, a beacon of hope, a weapon on the battlefield, and a leader of men, all the while coming across as a regular guy just doing his best for the country he loves.

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If you’re looking for a recently published Marvel book that captures the best of what the classic comics were like, you have to pick this up.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: MAN OUT OF TIME

Mark Waid and Jorge Molina bring us an updated take on Cap’s first days in the modern world. See, this is one of the issues with superheroes: most of them are essentially immortal as we continue to tell stories about them, so their origin stories need constant updating or tweaking, or the characters’ immortality needs to be explained. In this case, the retelling of Cap’s discovery by the Avengers, and his adventures in the days following, are a welcome story by Waid.

Captain America Man Out of Time
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

His updated take shows us a Cap that is not confident, that is lost, and whose fears are communicated better than in most versions of this story. His dismay at being unable to rescue the various teammates that he loses during his time-jumps shows us that Cap will always care more about others than about himself. Cap also finds that he truly belongs at no point in time–he’s been in the future too long to enjoy the past, and he’s too unfamiliar with the future to be truly comfortable. However, Mark Waid uses Radiohead in a very clever, very subtle way to wrap up all these themes at the end of the story.  It’ll give Radiohead fans chills.

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For new Captain America fans, this is a great way to connect with the hero and understand what it means to be the Man Out of Time. It’ll also help you understand the comic stories that first connected him to the Avengers–there’s even a reprint of the original issue in which Cap was first found by the Avengers included in the hardcover version of the book!

THE ULTIMATES

To coincide with the beginning of a new millennium, Marvel launched a new imprint of comics in the early 2000s, Ultimate Marvel. Brian Michael Bendis’s decade-spanning run on Ultimate Spider-Man is possibly the most well-known book to have come from this imprint, but nothing truly compared to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s brilliant take on the Avengers, THE ULTIMATES. Have you ever dreamed of what life would be like if the Avengers formed in a modern, post 9/11 America? This is the world that Millar builds amongst Hitch’s beautiful, cinematic pencil work.

Captain America in the The Ultimates
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Why would an alternate reality version of the Avengers be included in an essential Captain America list? Well, this is the most well-known Captain America origin, as it is the one used for Captain America in the MCU. It is also one of the best portrayals of Captain America as the team leader of the Avengers/Ultimates. His 1940s American morals and beliefs clash with his teammates, whose crippling levels of narcissism outshine their individual brilliance. THE ULTIMATES cleverly depicts the development of modern America and how the “American Dream” changed so drastically in sixty years, with Captain America at the heart and soul of this depiction.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: DEATH OF THE RED SKULL

The Red Skull is one of Captain America’s most iconic villains, even if the movies haven’t quite done his character justice. Thus, it’s understandable that such an iconic fight as a battle to the death between these two WWII-era titans would make our essential reading list. This collection will introduce new readers to several of Cap’s most important villains, like Baron Zemo, Red Skull, and Sin, Red Skull’s daughter, though at this point, she’s going by Mother Superior.

Captain America: Death of red skull
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

This collection spotlights some of what makes Red Skull such a compelling villain. At the end of the day, he’s just an evil man in a mask; unlike the movie version of the character, he has a normal face and no super strength. He is just a man of pure evil. Readers will get to witness his hatred towards the Jewish people, the homosexual community, African-Americans, Pacifists, and perhaps most importantly, Cap himself. We also get to see Red Skull’s full biography. In a finale that shows Cap defeating Red Skull physically, emotionally, mentally, and ideologically, Captain America proves that he is truly Marvel’s greatest sentinel of liberty.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: STREETS OF POISON

Batman may have VENOM, in which he deals with abusing the performance-enhancing drug that beefs up Bane, but STREETS OF POISON illustrates the problems with drug abuse in a more powerful way. As a response to the War on Drugs that was going on in America, Captain America got involved. Unfortunately, during a drug warehouse explosion, Cap inhaled some Ice, a new form of crack, which ultimately bonded to Cap’s super soldier serum.

Captain America Streets of Poison
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

It’s not easy to watch Cap succumb to the paranoia, hallucinations, fevers, and emotional outbursts that come with the Ice. He eventually flips out on his partners, his friends, and even his girlfriend. Eventually, Cap gets the Ice clear of his system, but he sacrifices his super soldier serum to do so. It’s a powerful, if a bit preachy, statement about what true heroism is.

Another thing that’s great about this story is that you get to see Daredevil, Black Widow, and Diamondback on the good guys’ side of things. Representing the side of evil, there’s Bullseye, Kingpin, and, again, Red Skull.  If you love when comic characters cross over, you’ll love this collection.

MARVEL KNIGHTS CAPTAIN AMERICA

Marvel Knights is another Marvel Comics imprint, and it’s widely known for its mature portrayals of Marvel characters. What’s most interesting about MARVEL KNIGHTS’ CAPTAIN AMERICA is that it took on an American event that was still taking a toll on Americans at the time. This was the story of Captain America dealing with the effects of 9/11.

Captain America vol 4 by John Ney Rieber and John Cassaday
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

MARVEL KNIGHTS’ CAPTAIN AMERICA could have taken the easy route and used the story to promote anti-Islam propaganda, but writers John Ney Reiber and Chuck Austen with artists John Cassaday, Trevor Hairsine, and Jae Lee did the opposite. They told a Captain America story that dealt with him fighting terrorists, yes, but also questioning an American government that was possibly supplying terrorists as well as confronting his own position in past and present wars. How does America’s involvement in outside wars affect the rest of the world? It’s an epic, morally ambiguous series that shows a side of Captain America readers rarely get to experience and a must-read for fans of the character.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER

You may know it as the second Captain America solo film, but it was a comic book long before. WINTER SOLDIER resurrects and develops one of the most important characters in all of Cap’s history, and it is way more powerful than the Batman storyline, UNDER THE RED HOOD, which tells the exact same story about an unpopular sidekick that Batman had lost about a decade prior. Bucky’s death was first written in 1963 in AVENGERS #56, so there was a lot more time for the effects of this death to be written about, and it influenced numerous stories before Bucky’s resurrection as the Winter Soldier. It didn’t hurt that Bucky was a very popular character during his time helping Cap fight Nazis.

Captain America Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

It’s one of Ed Brubaker’s finest books and an instant Captain America classic. If you loved the second movie, you can jump right into this one. There are a number of remarkable differences between the two, but the main ideas are in place. This one sets up for Brubaker’s overall storyline, which sees Bucky taking over the Captain America mantle for some time, so it’s a great place to dive in.

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CIVIL WAR

It’s no big surprise that this one’s on the list. Of course, it’s a huge Marvel Universe event that includes all of their characters, hundreds of crossovers, and dozens of issues, but at the core of the conflict, it’s Cap vs. Iron Man, so it makes our list. Captain America is anti-registration, opposing the Superhuman Registration Act that would force anyone with powers to register their identity with the government. While it’s not the first time he’s gone against the status quo, this is probably the most impactful his rebellion has ever been.

Captain America Civil War Comic
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Heroes on both sides make decisions that are out of character and unexpected. It shows how relationships, friendships, and morals can be tossed aside in the face of trying to do what’s right, and in that fight, it’s really easy to miss the little things while focusing on the big picture. The storyline is clearly written from a biased perspective, and Cap is the sympathetic character. While this is a great entry point into the Marvel Universe in general, fans of Captain America will benefit the most.

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THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA

In the wake of CIVIL WAR, the Marvel Universe was left without a Captain America. Shot down by a brainwashed Sharon Carter on his way out of the trial, Steve Rogers died as he lived: fighting for the rights and freedom of American citizens. One of Brubaker’s best stories within his critically acclaimed CAPTAIN AMERICA run, DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA deals with the repercussions of the character’s death.

death of captain america
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Brubaker, alongside Steve Epting, Butch Guice, and Mike Perkins, spotlights CAPTAIN AMERICA supporting characters like Falcon, Sharon Carter, Bucky, and Iron Man as they deal with the loss of their beloved friend. DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA is also the beginning of a new era of CAPTAIN AMERICA, in which Bucky Barnes takes on the shield. The arc may focus on the death of an icon but is a redemption story at its core. Interested in the Winter Soldier from the MCU and want to see more of him? Start with DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA.

FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA

Yes, the titles are similar, but we promise this is a different book. Technically, this one doesn’t really have much Captain America in it, but it spotlights the importance of the character to the Marvel Universe and all the characters in it. The collection is a 5-issue series. Each issue is titled after one of the stages of grieving and follows one particular character who is experiencing that stage.

FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA - SPIDER-MAN by Jeph Loeb and David Finch
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Whether it’s Spider-Man remembering Cap saving him from the Hulk or Patriot trying his best to honor the flag, it’s easy to see just how much the character means to everyone. By extension, no matter who you love in the Marvel Universe, Cap almost automatically becomes someone you love too. It doesn’t matter how many times I read it, I can’t make it through Tony’s eulogy without tearing up.

To really see what Captain America means to the Marvel Universe, FALLEN SON is one book that you can’t miss.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CASTAWAY IN DIMENSION Z

How do you follow up Ed Brubaker’s modern classic run on Captain America? By completely switching gears with Rick Remender. While Brubaker went down the espionage route with stories set within the spy genre, Remender decided to go in a different direction. It starts out as a typical adventure with Cap and Sharon Carter finding out about a spy ring beneath New York when suddenly it turns into a sci-fi epic with Steve being transported to another dimension.

Captain America Castaway in Dimension Z
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Remender confesses that his favorite era of Captain America was when Jack Kirby was writing and drawing Cap’s series from 1975 to 1976. One of Cap’s villains, Arnim Zola, made his first appearance in Kirby’s run. What better villain for Cap to go up against in a brand new adventure? Zola puts Cap through the wringer, hunting and torturing him in a lost dimension for over 10 years. But that’s not all, Cap has a son! This re-ignites memories of Steve’s own childhood and the struggles of a young immigrant family. But if Rick Remender isn’t enough to whet your appetite for some sci-fi Cap (of course it is!), John Romita, Jr. joins the series for the run, drawing crazy sci-fi environments brimming over with danger. This story really pushes Steve to the limits both emotionally and physically and asks the question: How far can you push Captain America before he gives up hope?

During an emotionally charged 10 issues, very far! At times brutal, at times bloody, CASTAWAY IN DIMENSION Z never veers away from showing how truly strong Cap is, no matter the situation.

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There you have it!  With these titles, you can’t go wrong.  These will just get you started, though!  There’s lots more Captain America to discover!

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