I say “best answer that you’re ever going to get” because this answer really doesn’t make any sense, but, well, this is it.
The oddest part of the shield ricocheting is the fact is that the special vibranium/steel alloy has a unique reaction to kinetic energy, a reaction that is different even than standard vibranium. You see, the concept of vibranium is that it absorbs kinetic energy, so that you can have a vibranium shield, get hit in the shield with tremendous kinetic force, and instead of sending you flying, the vibranium will absorb the force of the blow so well that you’re barely knocked backwards.
Here is an extreme example, when Thor hit Cap’s shield with the full force of Odin (Thor was the All-Father at this time, so he had the same power as Odin)…
This was enough to send Cap flying and even dent the shield, but look at what it COULD have been, ya know? He used the full Odin Force there!!
Okay, so why does that matter? Well, the point is, if the shield absorbs kinetic energy so well, then shouldn’t it specifically NOT ricochet? Shouldn’t it just absorb the energy from hitting the wall and stop dead? Probably. But let’s just say that the shield is a SPECIAL mix of vibranium and steel, and somehow it is able to be thrown in just such a way that it DOES ricochet.
The other tricky thing is that the edges of the shield are obviously sharp…
But Cap can catch the ricocheted shield and not cut himself (like these two separate sequences drawn by Andy Kubert in Captain America #25)…
So here’s the deal. First off, here’s the Official Marvel Handbook on the shield…
And here’s a telling bit from Fallen Son #3, where Clint Barton is able to have the shield ricochet to him….
So the answer is basically a two-parter. One, the shield’s properties work in JUST such a fashion that they allow the shield to keep rebounding without losing force (or losing little force) and two, Cap is just SO skilled at throwing it that he can see the angles in such a way that the shield will always return to him…
and he can throw it in such a way that he can control whether the sharp edge of the shield hits something or not.
Basically, don’t ever play pool against Cap. He will crush you.
Does any of that really make a lot of sense? No, not really. Really, the true answer is that it is magic, but this is the closest you’re going to get to a real answer.
Thanks for the question, Randy! If anyone else has a question, drop me a line at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org!
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