It is said that Captain America’s legendary shield is so mighty, when he throws it, all who would dare choose to oppose it must instantly yield. Alright, maybe that’s just a lame pun relating to an old cartoon theme, but the point stands: Captain America’s shield is one of the most iconic symbols in comics, right next to Superman’s “S” and Batman’s car. It’s the perfect symbol of Cap’s personality: what better weapon for The Living Legend of World War II than something meant to defend? Originally a traditional badge-shaped shield in his 1941 debut, Cap adopted the discus shape we’ve all come to know in his second appearance and held onto it for years.
The shield is in an odd place right now. Previously held by the likes of Rogers, John Walker, and Bucky Barnes, current bearer Sam Wilson recently relinquished the shield over his distaste with the current political climate. Poor timing, since Steve Rogers has taken over the free world, now standing revealed as a Hydra traitor, and arguably comics’ most evil monster. But at least his shield is still pretty cool, so here are 16 things you might not have known about Captain America’s mighty shield.
16. IT’S A GIFT FROM THE PRESIDENT
Captain America evidently had a hell of a time between Captain America Comics issues one and two, with his jaunt to Wakanda and quite a few encounters established as taking place with his original triangle shield. After leaving the original badge-shaped shield in Wakanda as a show of good faith, he used a replica shield of that shield for a time. At some point in-between the issues, the discus shaped shield was developed.
The discus shield is usually attributed as being a vibranium-adamantium alloy, but this originates from a typo in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Captain America #303 states it’s a vibranium-steel alloy, but the vibranium-adamantium origin has persisted. Captain America #255, published in celebration of Caps’ 40th anniversary, establishes the shield as being gifted to Rogers by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the second phase of Project Super-Soldier.
15. IT ISN’T TECHNICALLY STEVE’S
Steve Rogers is pretty fast and loose with who gets to wield the shield, and these days it’s generally conceded that he gets to decide who is and isn’t Captain America, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, even to this day, Captain America is still explicitly a military creation, and his uniform and shield are technically the property of the US government.
This point is driven home in Captain America #332, where the US Government ordered Rogers to function as a government operative on the grounds that Captain America was a US soldier first and foremost. Cap denied and returned the shield (and his uniform) rather than surrender his freedom to operate. Steve briefly became The Captain while John Walker became the new Captain America, but Walker’s ultra-violent tendencies led to the return of Steve as Cap not too long after.
14. IT ABSORBS ENERGY
Created my metallurgist Myron MacLain, the shield’s composition is typically referred to as vibranium-adamantium or vibranium-steel alloy. The shield’s actual composition is a mystery, as MacLain fell asleep during the process and is unaware of what factor created the successful mix. Pouring the mix into a tank hatch mold, MacLain created the one of a kind discus shaped shield Cap would use for the bulk of his career.
The vibranium component is what makes the shield so unique, thanks to the metal’s ability to absorb kinetic energy. The absorption has allowed Cap to survive being struck by the likes of the Hulk or even a blow from Mjolnir. Notably, the shield will even allow Cap to survive a fall at terminal velocity, with Cap often leaping from planes and landing on the shield.
13. IT’S DOUBLED AS A WINDSCREEN
Captain America had a notable jaunt on television in 1979 with Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Starring Reb Brown as the Star-Spangled Avenger, Steve Rogers here is the son of the original Captain America, given a “super-steroid” to save his life and begrudgingly picking up his father’s mantle. The films are a clear product of their time, coming off as cheap and somewhat hokey.
The shield for these movies is a bulletproof plexiglass, primarily clear with a few painted segments. This shield notably doubles as a windscreen, attaching to the front of his motorcycle. Not that he needed it, as Brown’s Cap wore a motorcycle helmet in lieu of a traditional cowl. He also doesn’t have nearly the skill of his comics counterpart; though the shield returns to him when tossed, it lands limply at his feet instead of being caught.
12. WAKANDA HAS THE ORIGINAL BADGE SHIELD
Captain America Comics #1 hit newsstands in 1941 and promptly caught the attention of MLJ, the publisher who would one day become Archie Comics. MLJ published a character, The Shield, who wore a badge-shaped shield as a chest piece and Captain America’s shield bore enough of a resemblance that they launched a lawsuit against Marvel, then known as Timely Comics, over the likeness.
The next month, Cap has his modern shield but never explains why. It was finally explained 60 years later, in Black Panther #30. Here Cap reminisces about a 1940s adventure where he meets T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka. Presenting a chunk of Vibranium, T’Chaka asks for a reason to trust Captain America, who gives T’Chaka his shield to reflect their mutual respect. T’Challa later attempts to return the shield to Cap, but he insists it belongs to T’Challa. Presumably, the shield remains a Wakandan national treasure today.
11. BARON ZEMO SAVED THE BADGE SHIELD
In The Avengers #275, Baron Zemo leads his Masters of Evil into Avengers Mansion. There, taunting a captured Captain America, Zemo and Mister Hyde set about destroying his personal effects. Among them are numerous personal documents and photographs, and the second version of his original badge shield he carried. The Avengers eventually prevailed, but Cap was unable to recover the personal effects.
Twenty years later, Thunderbolts #105 features Baron Zemo infiltrating Captain America’s resistance in a Civil War tie-in. Zemo at this stage was using time travel abilities in an effort to act heroic, claiming he aimed to save Earth from a catastrophic event. Hoping to gain the trust of heroes, Zemo takes Cap on a jaunt through time that concludes in the modern day, with Zemo returning the footlocker containing his personal effects, including the shield.
10. A PURE ADAMANTIUM VERSION EXISTS
Ousted from the role by the government, Steve gave up his Captain America uniform and the shield. After a few months on the road, he returned as a hero with renewed resolve. Donning an all-black variation of his uniform he received from D-Man, Steve became known simply as The Captain and carried on unarmed for a few issues. Eventually, he reached out to Tony Stark and asked for help with a new shield.
Unpainted and fairly simple, the shield Tony created was made of pure adamantium. However just days later, Tony attacked the federal prison The Vault to destroy the guards’ armor, which was based on Stark designs. A part of the Armor Wars arc, Tony and Steve found themselves at odds, with Steve forcibly returning the shield to Tony afterward. Later, he received a new shield from Wakanda made of vibranium.
9. IT NEARLY DESTROYED THE WORLD
Returning from an alternate reality created by Franklin Richards, Steve went back to work barely missing a step as Captain America. In one of his first adventures back, the shield was lost and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Cap used a replica of his original shield from the Smithsonian for a time, as well as his energy shield, but during this time Tony Stark worked on recovering it from the ocean.
Upon retrieving it, the shield shattered. The vibranium within the shield was infected with a “vibranium cancer,” a shockwave which infected and exploded any vibranium it encountered and was soon to explode the Wakandan vibranium stockpile, destroying the world. Cap set out with the shield to absorb the shockwave, fully expecting to die. The shockwave had already been absorbed by Klaw, however, whose amplified shockwave blast inadvertently restored the shield in the ensuing fight.
8. IT STILL EXISTS IN THE 31st CENTURY
Cap’s indestructible shield has quite the lifespan, easily outlasting Steve Rogers. In a number of possible futures, it’s used by the likes of his daughter, Shannon Carter, who becomes the Avenger known as American Dream, or Cable, son of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor, who used the shield as a freedom fighter in the distant future.
Exceptionally notable is the shield’s presence in the 31st century and the original run of Guardians of the Galaxy. Coming into conflict with an entity called Force, Guardians leader Major Victory faced him in battle with the winner taking possession of the shield. Vance used the shield to rally his Guardians, struggling to live up to Cap’s reputation. Going so far as donning a replica of his costume, Victory would carry the shield for nearly 40 issues before giving it to the recently freed people of Badoon as a mark of inspiration.
7. IT’S A TOMB
The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect saw Bruce Banner transported to the future where he encountered The Maestro, an evil future version of himself. In this future, an aged Rick Jones maintains a trophy room with a number of items, including Cap’s shield. Rick is killed in the final battle, impaled on the claws of Wolverine’s mounted skeleton, and the shield plays a role in Hulk and Maestro’s final battle.
After the battle, Hulk cremated Jones’ body and affixes his ashes to the shield with epoxy, hurling the shield into space as a final tribute to Jones. A fitting end for Rick Jones, given his long time spent as a sidekick to some of Earth’s greatest heroes, including Hulk and a brief time spent as Cap’s second Bucky.
6. IT’S WILLED TO STEPHEN COLBERT
The death of Captain America was a media blitz, on par with The Death of Superman. Notable even on its own, the death truly resonated in the mainstream when late-night host Stephen Colbert read a letter from Marvel EIC Joe Quesada on air. According to the letter, Colbert was willed the shield in the event of Steve Rogers’ death.
The shield itself is believed to be a replica commissioned by late Captain America writer Mark Gruenwald. After Gruenwald passed away in 1996, the shield found itself in the Marvel Comics bullpen until it was given to Colbert in 2007, where it remained on display. Despite Rogers’ return to life not too longer afterward, Colbert retains the shield, which is displayed on the set of his current program, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
5. IT’S BEEN DESTROYED (A LOT)
Captain America’s shield has been shattered so often that we have another list dedicated to just that. It famously shattered in Secret Wars, repaired when Cap gained a portion of The Beyonder’s power to receive one wish. And as was mentioned on this very list, the shield shattered into pieces when it fell to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Most recently, it was shattered by The Serpent during the event Fear Itself.
The shield is notably difficult to repair because of its unique metallic composition, so there’s usually an excuse or two given as to how it’s fixed. For Fear Itself, Tony repaired it with the help of Asgardian weaponsmiths who infused it with Uru metal to strengthen it. The shield was displayed with a prominent scar as a result, which Cap opted to retain, but neither the scar or presence of Uru has really been touched upon since.
4. IT WAS REPLACED WITH AN ENERGY VERSION
After losing his shield in the bottom of the ocean, Cap briefly used a replica of his original badge shield he found in the Smithsonian. During the Live Kree Or Die! crossover a few months later, the shield is crushed. To replace this one, Sharon Rogers provided Steve with an energy shield built into his glove.
The new shield is dubbed a limited-range photon-accelerator, designed to simulate the vibranium’s ability to store and return energy. Steve only used this variation for a few issues, ditching it as soon as his original shield was restored by Klaw’s sonic attack. The energy shield did make a return when Steve came back from death and functioned as Commander Rogers, though it was rarely used during this era.
3. TONY STARK MADE IT WORSE
Tony Stark has a history of making adjustments or upgrades to the shield, and just as much a track record of making them worse. After Captain America was unfrozen and joined the Avengers, Stark attempted to upgrade the shield by adding a series of sub-miniature transistors and a set of magnets to his glove, Cap was able to somewhat control the shield. He soon removed them, though, as they upset the shield’s balance.
Stark has made at least two shields for Cap, as well. The pure adamantium version, which seemed to be a close approximation of his original shield, and a new version of his classic shield. Created after he lost the original in the Atlantic Ocean, the new shield was unwieldy and dangerous for Cap to use, as nothing could be balanced quite as well as his original.
2. CAP KNOWS WHAT THE SHIELD WILL DO (ALWAYS)
Steve Rogers has used the shield for the better part of his life, so it stands to reason that he’s incredibly skilled with it. Cap seems to have a complete mastery of the shield. Post-Heroes Return, he once threw it into the air and timed its return to mess with the head of a Hydra agent, implying it returned because he whistled for it.
It doesn’t just have to be when he throws the shield, though. Recently, in Captain America: Sam Wilson #14, Sam botches a shield toss and the end result is a government official being killed by Flag-Smasher. It’s revealed in the final pages that Steve, at this point still not outed as a Hydra operative, had moved Sam into a specific position and intentionally goaded him into throwing the shield, knowing he would miss.
1. NOT JUST ANYONE CAN WIELD THE SHIELD
Being able to use the shield isn’t just a trick, it’s a dedicated skill set that Cap has developed over the years. A number of people have carried the shield in attempts to carry on in Steve’s stead but were only able to use it because of extenuating circumstances. The likes of Bucky and Sam Wilson have been able to use it because of their proximity to Steve, and thus inferred skills from teaming up with him.
Clint Barton was offered the shield following his resurrection when Steve died in Civil War. Tony Stark was impressed with Clint’s ability to use the shield, as over 70 S.H.I.E.L.D. agents found themselves hospitalized or worse trying to use it. Hawkeye proved to be exceptional with the shield, thanks to his marksmanship and incredible accuracy, but ultimately refused the role of the new Captain America.
Got a favorite fact about Cap’s mighty shield? Let us know in the comments!