As the shining beacon of hope and pride and all that is good in the Marvel Universe, Captain America has long been about the mantle, not the man. And Marvel Comics history totally backs that argument up. While fans may recognize Steve Rogers as Captain America (whether in comics or in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), he's not the only hero to have donned the Star-Spangled suit and shield over the years. In fact, the concept of Captain America has spread through time, space, all of reality and the multiverse. Captain America has existed in the past, the present and the future, from the far-flung world of 2099 to alternate histories.
And Captain America hasn't always been a great guy or gal, depending on who's under the scaled blue armor. Captain America has been an agent for evil, an all-powerful cosmic god capable of wielding the Infinity Stones and just a simple guy from Brooklyn. Captain America has been a lineup of iconic Marvel Comics superheroes and anti-heroes, from The Falcon and Peggy Carter to Bucky Barnes and The Punisher. There are also plenty of unknowns who have suited up over the years, whether in Captain America's absence, as a sidekick or as a companion character. But if there's one thing constant in the entirety of the Marvel Comics Universe -- it's Captain America. So sit tight as we break down every person ever to don the shield and suit, ranked by just how darn good they were at being Captain America.
26 PITT'O NILI
Let's kick things off with an imposter, shall we? Prior to and during the events of Secret Invasion, Captain America and numerous other heroes were taken out of commission and replaced by Skrull sleeper agents, hailing from the devious Skrull Empire.
This shape-shifting race of invaders did some major damage to the core of the Marvel Universe and the concept of trust among the community of do-gooders, but to kick things off, Pitt'o Nili had to get to work. With that, we'd have to say he's probably the worst at being Captain America, along with Hydra Supreme Cap, who's questionable origins kept him off of this list.
25 CARL ZANTE
For every good dude to head out into the world as Captain America, there's always a bad one ready to balance the scales. Carl Zante, better known as the low-time villain Acrobat, masqueraded for quite a bit as Captain America, robbing banks and taking scores in Steve Rogers' absence.
Of course, he was always quickly thwarted by the likes of the Human Torch and, well, just good ole' police officers. And of course, Cap took Acrobat out of commission from the "hero game" when returned. All it took was one hit of his shield.
24 GLENN REEPER
Glenn Reeper's time as Captain America is a bit of stretch. Why? Well, he was a film actor during a period of time, and portrayed Steve Rogers' Captain America in a number of serial films titles Adventures of Captain America, with production duties handled by the aptly-named Democracy Pictures.
He didn't fight real crime, but he did eventually get to meet both Captain America and Bucky Barnes on the set of one of his films. Plus, his costumes seems to tease a bit of what we'd eventually see in more modern Captain America costumes.
Yes, of course Marvel Zombies was going to make it onto this list. While not quite as effective as the Steve Rogers we know, the Steven Rogers of Earth-2149 was still a master tactician, he just happened to be a zombie now.
And in typical weird fashion, he had his brain swapped with T'Channa, the son of Black Panther, and so he had all the excuse he needed to jump back in action since his body wasn't totally decayed anymore.
22 JAMES DORE JR.
You thought we'd be done with alternate realities by now? Not a chance. James Dore Jr., as well as his father, were known as American Eagle, the Squadron Supreme take on Captain America from Earth-712.
Looking like a cross between Magneto and Falcon, American Eagle spent most of his time as the costumed crimefighter, eventually meeting up with the classic Avengers squad as an antagonist, along with the other members of Squadron Supreme. While not Captain America in name, he had a similar history on his home world.
21 CLINTON MCINTYRE
Clinton McIntyre never took on the name of Captain America, but his costume and shield and close proximity to Project: Rebirth made him a fit for this list. Known as the once-evil Protocide, Clinton was used as a weapon by the terrorist group Advanced Idea Mechanics after being thawed out from his cryogenically-frozen slumber.
His trajectory is similar to that of Steve Rogers, but he was deemed too unstable, making it awfully easy for A.I.M. to take advantage of him.
20 JOHN WALKER
While John Walker has been more recently known as U.S. Agent, he did don the Captain America mantle in Steve Rogers absence. His stint as the hero was tragic, though, with his identity publicly revealed and members of his family were ended by some zealous villains, and this sent Walker on an absolute rampage.
And if you know Captain America, it's not really his style to take guys out for good unless absolutely necessary. This led to a confrontation between Walker and Steve Rogers, who told Walker he was "unworthy" of the Captain America mantle.
19 WILLIAM BURNSIDE
William Burnside's time as Captain America also felt a bit tragic, all things considered. After successful attempts to uphold the mantle from people like Jeffrey Mace, William decided to become Captain America himself.
There are a lot of factors that prevented him from being the beacon of hope he so often idolized, but that didn't stop him from getting a Bucky of his own and taking on some of Cap's most terrifying rogues. It seemed that he suffered from a bit of imposter syndrome, and this led to his removal from the superhero game.
18 WILLIAM NASLAND
Originally known as the Spirit of '76, William Nasland's quest to mock Captain America turned serious when Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes were apparently gone.
William was quickly recruited as one of many in attempt to keep the mantle of Captain America alive, so he donned the shield and suit, but kept his silly colonial hat, and teamed up with the Invaders to keep hope alive for the return of Steve Rogers and his companion. As far as replacements go, he did a pretty solid job.
17 SHANNON CARTER
Shannon Carter of Earth-982 became Captain America in all but name. As the cousin of both Peggy Carter and Sharon Carter, Shannon took up the mantle of American Dream, originally starting as a tour guide at Avengers Mansion.
She eventually joined the Avengers under her aforementioned identity and used a self-designed suit and slew of weapons, including miniature shields she could use as projectiles. She idolized Captain America, and with physical training and determination, she got as close as possible to taking the mantle on for herself.
16 ROSCOE SIMMONS
With two quick failures in the books, Captain America finally found a somewhat worthy successor in Roscoe Simmons, a Captain America superfan who finally got to step into the shoes of the Star-Spangled Man. He was also the only one between Bob Russo, "Scar" Turpin and himself to actually get the blessing of Cap and permission to use his all-too iconic shield.
Unfortunately, when the Red Skull found out that it was Roscoe behind the mask and not Steve Rogers, he stopped him. But hey, this pushed Steve to get back to being Captain America, so we guess it all worked out?
15 DAVE RICKFORD
Dave Rickford's career as Captain America was fairly short-lived, gaining his powers from the Power Broker with an assist from Nick Fury. The goal? Convince Steve Rogers to come back and be the Captain America we all need again. But Dave actually did a solid job, taking down some big-time criminals and almost getting himself turned into a M.O.D.O.K.
As you can expect, Steve Rogers came to Dave's rescue and told him if he kept things up, he'd be done. This whole deal convinced Steve to get back into the game.
14 FRANK SIMPSON
No, this isn't the Frank Simpson you all know from the main Marvel Universe, the villain Nuke. No, this Frank Simpson comes from the pages of the Ultimate Universe, where a legacy soldier took on the role of Captain America while Steve Rogers was frozen in ice.
This new Captain America tattooed the flag on his face and served as a solider for the military. In a lot of ways, he mirrors Frank Castle, just with a bit more "legality" behind his quest for vengeance.
13 FRANK CASTLE
Somewhere, in a deep, dark alternate reality, Frank Castle took on the mantle of Captain America. Actually, it's not that dark, other than Frank having to go through a similar tragedy to that of the prime Marvel Universe. On Earth-81223, Frank Castle loses his family to a crew of mobsters and is later injected with the Super Soldier Serum.
In this reality, Frank Castle wore the mantle with honor and even joined up with the Avengers and trained a mentee of his own. Good on you, Frank! Oh, and there's that time in the main universe that Punisher donned Cap's cowl.
12 JOSIAH AL HAJJ SADDIQ
Josiah al Hajj Saddiq's father was Isaiah Bradley, known as the first black Captain America. And while his father had an iconic career as the Star-Spangled Man himself, Josiah took to the role (albeit without the name directly) with abilities and passion as the best of them.
Josiah operated under the guise of Justice, whose costume was similar to Captain America's with scale-mail and all, except with the addition of a red eyepiece. He even had his own shield, the Double V, and with a mercenary career behind him, he was able to be a stellar carry-on of the mantle.
11 JEFFREY MACE
Jeffrey Mace spent most of his superhero career as either Patriot or Captain America, idolizing Steve Rogers as the symbol of hope that he is. He spent plenty of years fighting crime until he learned that he had cancer.
He had previously retired to go back to being a reporter, but this time was different. Steve Rogers let Jeffrey fight one last time as Captain America, and a few months later he succumbed to his illness. He passed away with Steve Rogers by his side.
10 MISTY KNIGHT
During Sam Wilson's stint as Captain America, Misty Knight took the opportunity to take up the shield and say "About time!" to a chance to masquerade as the Star-Spangled Man. It was a nice bit of fan service, but it also showed just how iconic she'd be in the role.
Not only is she one of the strongest-willed characters in the Marvel Universe, but she's no stranger to fighting intense threats and being seen as a leader. She does use a gun though, not to mention her incredibly versatile robotic arm.
9 CAROL DANVERS
Carol Danvers is the Captain America of the incredibly popular Marvel Comics Mangaverse. She's stacked with powerful superhuman abilities, so she dons the suit and shield on her quest for revenge on the likes of Silver Samurai and Lady Deathstrike. As far as alternate realities go, this is a pretty great take on the iconic Captain America.
If Captain Marvel ever took on the role in the main Marvel Comics continuity, villains beware, because the Power Cosmic mixed with the Star-Spangled Man is a match for a crime-free world.
8 SAMANTHA WILSON
In the alternate Earth-65, made popular by Spider-Gwen, Samantha Wilson is the current Captain America. An alternate take on both Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers, this new Captain America started as a student-turned-soldier and the first African-American woman to become an official pilot in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol.
She's intelligent, fast and incredibly powerful, sporting nigh invulnerability and the Super Soldier Serum. She could easily put up a fight with the best of 'em. The Captain Americas, we mean.
7 ISAIAH BRADLEY
Isaiah Bradley made history when he became the first black Captain America, but his influence on the Marvel Universe didn't stop there. In addition to a stellar career as the Star-Spangled Man, his son Josiah went on to become Justice and his grandson Eli the new Patriot.
Isaiah had a role in everything from the core Avengers team to the wildly popular Young Avengers, most recently offering a blood transfusion to Eli to keep him alive and in the game. This gave Eli those same Super Soldier Serum abilities.
6 ROBERTA MENDEZ
Roberta Mendez is the incredibly intelligent and powerful Captain America from Earth-23291, better known as the home reality of Spider-Man 2099. And so, this Captain America 2099 thwarts crime and represents all that is good in a futuristic timeline.
When she's sent to present day, Roberta Mendez suffers from a sort of split-personality disorder, in which she lives her day-to-day as a woman with a husband and children, but they're not really there (they're elsewhere in the timeline). She then transforms into Captain America, often assisting Spider-Man in his present-day adventures.
5 SAM WILSON
Sam Wilson is easily one of the best representations of Captain America to-date. Not only did he arrive at a time when Marvel biggest heroes were being elevated by incredible new stories for characters like Thor, Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man, but Sam Wilson charted his own path as the Star-Spangled Man.
His issues were grounded, and his leadership skills in the Avengers were unmatched. And on top of all of that, he easily has the coolest Captain America costume of all. Wings and the shield? Sign us up.
4 DANIELLE CAGE
While Danielle Cage has only officially become Captain America in an alternate reality, we can't help but feel like the daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' heroic trajectory will eventually catch up to the main Marvel Universe. With that in mind, she easily comes close to topping our list.
Danielle Cage is the embodiment of a happily ever after in comic books, and her parentage is proof that good things can happen to superheroes. So a world where she becomes Captain America? That's a future we'd like to see someday.
3 BUCKY BARNES
When it comes to friends and partners of Captain America, there's no one like Bucky Barnes. His character development has been incredible, from legacy sidekick to brainwashed assassin to literally the beacon of peace and hope for the world to see.
Bucky Barnes took up the mantle of Captain America when the world needed that symbol most, and while he might not be the best person to take on the mantle, he definitely tried his hardest, and it's something we wouldn't be opposed to seeing again in the future.
2 PEGGY CARTER
Surprise! For those not in the know, Peggy Carter was first introduced as an alternate Captain America in the video game Marvel Puzzle Quest, but she quickly became a fan-favorite phenomenon. She made her comics debut in the latest run on Exiles, in which Peggy Carter accompanies a group of multiverse-hopping misfits on a quest to save reality.
But when you really think about it, Peggy Carter could and should have been Captain America all along. She's fierce, strong-willed, a master tactician and a leader of armies. If that doesn't sound like Captain America, we don't know what does.
1 STEVE ROGERS
Well, here we are. Though there are plenty of alternate options for the role of the Star-Spangled Man, plenty that would do the mantle justice, when it comes to Captain America, you can't beat the classics. Steve Rogers (not the Hydra version) is the embodiment of pride and hope in not only the Marvel Comics Universe but the world abroad.
He's a beacon of will, one that serves to be the perfect reminder in times of trouble and the perfect representation of people in a time of peace.