Captain America Best Comics (1961-1971)
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Captain America. The Sentinel of Liberty. The first time I saw Captain America was in the trailer for The First Avenger. And when I saw it, I just thought it was a stereotypical Hollywood action film with a stereotypical plot and a stereotypical character. And while I was kind of right about the first two, I was wrong about the last one. Sure, Captain America is called the perfect soldier for his enchanced strength and speed, but he doesn't consider himself that as he doesn't always follow orders. Instead he follows what he believes in. That's what makes him so great. As Dr. Erskine said in the film, he's not a perfect soldier but a good man. He's called Captain America not because he represents America but what America should be. He stands for freedom for all and is willing to break rules to do it. He's also one of the more tragic figures in Marvel as he is a man out of time, frozen in ice for decades and woken up after everyone he's known is gone, constantly trying to find himself in this new and complicated world and do what he believes is right. Captain America is a hero because he never compromises his values, even if it puts him at odds with others. But what truly makes him spectacular as that his real superpowers are just enchanced skills and natural athleticism. He takes on powerful supervillains with nothing but his bare knuckles and swift kicks as well as his physics-defying shield. He shows you don't have to have superpowers to be a superhero. His first appearance in this era of comics was in the Avengers but he eventually got his own series written by Stan Lee. While not as good as some of the other comics written by Lee, some still stand the test of time just like the man. Here are some of Captain America's best comics from 1961-1971:
9. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 72-74: The Sleeper Saga
Before this point, Stan Lee had only written small stories or tales about Cap's time in WWII. This was the first story set in Modern times that lasted longer than a single issue, setting the bar for what came next. When Cap learns that his old enemy, Red Skull, had planted sleeper robots to be awakened at this time to attack and reclaim the Third Reich, he springs into action. Unfortunately, the Red Skull's sleepers are giant robots with heavy weapons. And when they join together, they become nigh unstoppable. Kind of a high bar for the stories to come and a fun, thrilling read.
8. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 84: The Super Adaptoid
Featuring one of Cap's greatest battles. The Super Adaptoid, an android that can take on the fighting abilities of anyone it scans. And unfortunately for Cap, it just scanned all the Avengers. And it has only one mission: kill Captain America. Thus, Cap must fight for his life, basically fighting all his teammates rolled into one unrelenting fighting machine. 12 pages of pure, non-stop action as Cap desperately tries to think of ways to defeat something that can't be stopped. His only option: to die.
7. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 92-94: If This Be...Modok
When Cap messes up a SHIELD mission, he must now go save Agent 13 from the sinister science organization A.I.M. but on the way he discovers their new master MODOK. A living machine with the full power of the mind, MODOK is certainly one of the strangest villains Marvel produced that lasted longer than a few issues. In this story, Cap must fight through the legions of AIM soldiers to free Agent 13 as well as go against the giant floating head aka MODOK and his powerful mind bolts. Might have a few corny moments here and there, but the story itself carries through.
6. Tales of Suspense Vol 1 98-99, Captain America Vol 1. 100: This Monster Unmasked
The lead-in to Captain America's first official comic series in a while. Before, he shared a comic strip with Iron Man. In this story, Cap teams up with Black Panther to do battle with his old enemy Baron Zemo who has assembled a new army, one which Sharon Carter has infiltrated. The story is pretty simple but its change in size gives Stan Lee plenty of space to flesh it out and make it great. It also has Cap retire from the Avengers, wanting to go off and do his own things. This story is a non-stop thrilling read from beginning to end as Cap and Panther race around, fighting foes left and right, trying to uncover the mystery of the revived Baron Zemo while Sharon does her best to protect the man she loves from behind the scenes.
5. Captain America Vol 1. 143: Power to the People
After Stan Lee left the comic, Gary Friedrich took over. While he didn't have too many groundbreaking stories, he did start to make the story modern, making the women less damsels in distress by introducing SHIELD's own group of only women agents. Another one was this story, centered around the character of the Falcon. Someone is stoking the anger in the people of Harlem, making them hate all white people as well as anyone who is friendly with them. That includes Sam Wilson (Falcon) who is only trying to do things the right way. However, the deeper he gets into this, he begins to question his position as the partner to Captain America and eventually breaks away, choosing to act as a hero to Harlem and his people instead of a white man's sidekick. Like several other Marvel comics, this story centers on the issues of the Black community and how relevant it still is modern day as well as the dangers of mob rule.
4. Tales of Suspense Vol 1. 79-81: He Who Holds the Cosmic Cube
The Cosmic Cube. One of the most powerful items in Marvel, an invention of AIM that has the power to turn thought into reality. And now, it has fallen into the hands of the sinister Red Skull, archenemy to Captain America, who makes his return to modern comics. In this story, Cap must face his enemy who literally has omnipotent power and must find some way to defeat him. One of the most pulse-pounding stories Stan Lee wrote on the living legend that returns the Red Skull to prominence and is one that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.
3. Captain America Vol 1. 114-119: Coming of the Falcon
It is pretty incredible what Stan Lee was able to accomplish in this story. He brought back the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube in a new story (like the one above). Now usually when he does a rehash of an old story, it doesn't work as well. In this case, he goes above and beyond, probably because he has more room in the comics to do so. Here, the Red Skull switches bodies with Cap, forcing his own teammates the Avengers against him. Cap then winds up on the island of the Exiles, ex-Nazi soldiers who would like nothing better than to kill him. And it's there that he meets the Falcon and his actual falcon partner Redwing. Together, the two must defeat the Exiles and get back home to stop the Red Skull who's causing havoc in Cap's body as well as with the Cosmic Cube. This is one hell of a thrilling ride with so many twists and turns that you won't want to put it down right to the very end. Also, Lee goes bigger with the use of the Cosmic Cube which is great considering that the last story, while still good, didn't use it as much as it could have.
2. Captain America Vol 1. 109: The Hero That Was
The retelling of Captain America's origin. Told through Steve to Nick Fury in flashbacks, Cap explains how he became the man he is today. It's very clear where The First Avenger (2011) got most of its inspiration as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (who actually wrote the first origin of Cap back in 1940) shake up the origin of the hero for newer readers. It's Lee's sincere writing of the character that makes this issue stand out, showing how much it means to Cap to have this chance to help his country and shows how he became the hero known to the world as Captain America
1. Captain America Vol 1. 110-113: The Strange Death of Captain America
The highlight of Stan Lee's run on the character. Told like a noir film printed out on paper, this story shows Hydra going all out on their assault on Cap and his partner Rick Jones led by the sinister Viper (interesting note, she's the first female villain who isn't tempted by the hero's good looks or tries to seduce her enemy). This story turns Cap from a soldier to a spy as he has to use espionage to turn the tables on his enemies, using the oldest trick in the book to claim victory from apparent defeat. But this story would just be good without Jim Steranko's artwork which literally flies off the page with vibrant, beating colors that are truly a spectacle. This story also has one issue that honors Captain America as a hero as his story and legacy are retold for the audience to show how important the character is.
And that's Captain America. Truly one of the greatest heroes. His stories were good so far, but the next ones by Steve Englehart are what truly made him great. Can't wait. Next up: Namor the Sub-Mariner.