Very few comic book characters in the entire history of the medium can claim to have the degree of influence, impact and symbolism that Captain America has enjoyed throughout so many decades in the industry. Steve Rodgers is not only one of the most important characters of Marvel Comics, but also a symbol of American values and everything that is great about its citizens, quickly becoming synonymous with the nation in the same way as the American flag.
The history of Captain America comes a long way and that is why it is very important to have a look at the creation of the character, establishing him from the beginning as one of the biggest symbols of the comic book industry.
Captain America’s Origins
Back in 1940, superhero comic book were a monumental success in the United States and they were aiming to expand more and more after Superman’s legendary arrival in 1938, which is why in the following years we saw the creation of many important characters that live on even to this very day, such as Batman, Captain Marvel (now Shazam) and Wonder Woman, but there was more to come in the horizon.
Writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby met around this time, quickly becoming fans of each other’s work, so they decided to work on their own comic together and that was something that sparked a very interesting creation for them: Captain America.
Timely Comics, which was the company that was going to become Marvel Comics later on, told them that they wanted a new superhero comic to jump on the trends started by Superman two years before and that is how both of these creators, who were freelancers that were trying to get as many jobs as possible, managed to get their first big break in the industry in terms of commercial and artistic relevance.
Contrary to what people may imagine, it was actually Joe Simon who came up with the iconic design for the character and wrote on the page that the name was going to be “Super American”. Later on, Simon decided that there were too many characters in the market with the word “Super”, so he decided to switch it to Captain America that, according to him, sounded a lot better.
The Development of Captain America
The idea was very clear from Simon’s perspective: to create a very patriotic character that was the embodiment of American values and someone who was going to be a reflection of the social and political subjects that defined the era in which Captain America was created. Hence the design with the colors of the American flag and the shield with the stars and so on, quickly establishing the iconic look that we know nowadays.
Timely Comics was willing to give Simon’s character a chance and they were preparing a monthly title, which is why the latter was worried that Kirby wasn’t going to be capable of delivering in such short notice, but Kirby, who has been known throughout the decades as someone who was extremely fast at delivering without missing deadlines, did it with no problem whatsoever.
Back in the early 40s, World War II had not kicked in yet, but Nazi Germany was already at full swing and Simon and Kirby decided to make an statement regarding Hitler’s reign with a super patriotic character that was more than willing to go against the Germans through the pages of comic books all across the United States.
That is why in Captain America #1 we see Steve Rodgers punching Hitler in the face; it was a very bold step in that particular time and it is an image that has transcended throughout multiple decades until our times.
The times were also complicated for both creators not only on a financial level, but also on a personal level because they started to get death threats for the first couple of weeks after the first issue came out due to the imagery of Cap punching Hitler. But as is normal with art, controversy helped and that first issue of Captain America ended up selling more than one million copies, resulting in Steve Rodgers quickly becoming a monumental symbol of patriotism through the entire country.
The War Years
The comic book industry during World War II saw Cap becoming the most important and commercially successful character at the time; American patriotism was becoming very important in a time where the United States needed a lot of support for their troops and their citizens that had to deal with the economic repercussions of the war–Captain America was a wonderful representation of all the positive traits that have defined American citizens through time.
That is why we can look back at those early Captain America issues and see him fighting not only Nazi soldiers, but also Japanese soldiers and Communists, solidifying Steve Rodgers not only as a representation of the United States at its finest, but also as a political statement on many of the threats that the country was facing at the time.
The comic book was a monumental success, with many of the issues during the war selling almost one million copies, which is something that is worth taking into account because that was a very specific timeframe where Cap became something that was going to be very important–that is why many writers throughout the years have done many recalls to this time in the character’s life and they have become intrinsic to it, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe which used Cap’s WWII foundation as their starting point in his story.
All of this represented the beginning of one of the most important characters in the history of comic books and one that would go on to define comics as a whole. Steve Rodgers would become a lot more important in many different ways through different ages and that is something that is worth pointing out: Captain America is an institution of all the different traits that have defined the concept of the superhero and what heroism truly is.
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created history in comic books and a big part of that is Captain America.