Captain America is widely regarded as one of the most honorable and upstanding heroes in all of comics. And hey, what’s not to like? He is a born leader and fearless fighter. He’s a determined optimist who always wants to believe the best of people, hero and villain alike. And he has a stronger moral fiber than just about any other hero in the Marvel universe. Even before the super soldier serum turned him into an athletic hunk with an inordinate love for the American flag, Steve Rogers truly was among the best the world had to offer.
But sometimes, Cap lets that reputation go to his head and becomes a pompous, self-righteous parody of himself. Whether it’s turning on his friends or going way too far in his pursuit of justice, Captain America has suffered plenty of lapses in judgement over the years, and he’s usually not the only one suffering for his dubious decisions. We’re confident that Captain America would be the first to encourage people to reflect on and learn from past mistakes. And so, in that spirit, here are fifteen times when someone should have hit the Sentinel of Liberty in the face with his own shield.
15. WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?
Captain America’s friend Tony Stark hit a rough patch in the early ’80s. It was so rough, in fact, that he ended up a homeless, suicidal alcoholic. And what did Tony’s friends do to try to help him? Not much. Cap and the Wasp do go to visit Tony, once. Sadly, they spend their time griping at Tony for daring to have personal problems rather than figuring out what’s wrong.
A little later, Cap feels bad for his behavior and tracks Tony down to apologize. It would have been a good plan, if only Cap had followed it. Instead of apologizing, he snaps at Tony for being drunk, slaps a bottle out of his hand and walks away, claiming Tony is beyond help. And maybe that’s true. But Cap isn’t in a position to know that, given that he made no effort at all to help Tony.
14. AMERICA IS JUDGING YOU
The JLA/Avengers crossover is an adventure of epic proportions. The greatest superhero teams of two universes band together to stop the destruction of the multiverse as they know it, no matter what it will personally cost them to do so. This miniseries shows superhero comics at their best, but it does not always depict Captain America at his best.
At one point, the Avengers pay a visit to the DC Universe. There, they are taken aback by how much the public adores their superheroes. It’s quite a contrast to how suspicious and distrustful Marvel civilians tend to be. Rather than accepting this as just another difference between their worlds, Cap interprets all the hero worship as a sign that the Justice League are ruthless dictators who demand adulation. He makes sure to tell Superman that the next time he sees him.
13. STAY IN THE KITCHEN
Keeping the hero and his girlfriend apart is a popular trope in superhero comics. Usually, the reason given for their tragic separation is that the hero’s crime-fighting career is too dangerous, and if they become a couple, the girlfriend will inevitably spend all her time either concerned for his safety and/or kidnapped. But with Captain America and Sharon Carter, the burden of worry is shared equally between them. Carter is one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents. She is very well trained and risks her life for her country at least as often as Cap does.
Sharon generally handles her worry for her boyfriend fairly well. Meanwhile, Captain America, in a spectacular show of hypocrisy, insists that Sharon give up her career so he doesn’t have to worry about her anymore. Sharon refuses, and Cap (temporarily) dumps her on the spot.
12. NEGOTIATION IS FOR LOSERS
The goal of any war should be to end it as soon as possible. One would think that, of all people, a war veteran would know that. And yet, when Cap fought against Iron Man in Civil War, he puts exactly zero effort toward ending the hostilities quickly and peaceably. This is in spite of the fact that he gets a chance to negotiate a truce in Civil War #3.
In this issue, Iron Man suggests they talk things out. He and Cap even shake on it, but Cap apparently doesn’t see the shake as a peace offering so much as an opportunity to plant an electron-scrambler in Iron Man’s palm. The device causes Iron Man’s armor to short circuit, and the fighting continues. In fairness, there was plenty of questionable behavior from people on both sides of the war, but that doesn’t make Cap’s actions here any more palatable.
11. HAIL HYDRA
The most recent and most controversial of Cap’s shameful moments occurs in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. In this issue, we learn that Captain America, the superhero invented by two Jewish men for the express purpose of punching Nazis, is himself a Nazi. It’s not so much the image of an American icon pledging allegiance to a group of white supremacists that makes this moment so painful; Cap has been brainwashed and/or manipulated into working for Hydra numerous times over the years.
What makes this moment truly shameful is the comic’s insistence that Cap has secretly been a loyal Hydra agent since day one, which flies in the face of decades of characterization. Fortunately, this retcon has since been reversed, and Cap is back to being his normal Nazi-hating self.
10. CAPTAIN COMPASSION
Laura Kinney (aka X-23) is a teenage Wolverine clone trained from birth to kill on command. One of the ways her handlers control her is through a chemical called Trigger. The scent of it causes Laura to black out and go on an unstoppable murderous rampage. After killing hundreds, she is finally captured by Captain America and Daredevil. Daredevil is horrified by her story and wants to send her to Wolverine to help her heal. Captain America does not.
Throughout the interrogation, Cap is cold and unyielding towards her. All he cares about is reiterating her guilt and how she must pay for crimes that weren’t her fault. He even comes within a hair’s breadth of turning her over to S.H.I.E.L.D. before he finally thinks, hey, maybe the severely traumatized teenager deserves better than a lifetime as a government-controlled weapon.
9. A ROCKY START
The Avengers discover Captain America’s frozen but living body in Avengers #4. Understandably, they are eager to get him back to civilization and tell the world Captain America is still alive. When their submarine docks in New York, the Avengers are swarmed by eager reporters and photographers. Among the regular newsmen is a villain with a gimmicked flashbulb that turns the Avengers to stone statues.
When Cap finally emerges from the sub, the reporters are gone, leaving only the rock-hard heroes on the dock. Captain America shrugs off the sight of the statuesque Avengers and promptly gets distracted by some pretty women. Then he wanders off to explore New York, believing that his new friends just ditched him for some reason. Great critical thinking skills there, Captain.
8. WILL THE REAL CAP PLEASE STAND UP?
After Steve Rogers went missing at the end of World War II, America was left without a Captain for a few years. Then, in the ’50s, Cap fan Jeff Mace stumbles across the formula for the Super Soldier serum in some German historical archives. He injects both himself and one of his students, Fred “Bucky” Davis, with the serum. Well gee, who would have thought that the obsessive weirdo who got plastic surgery to look and sound like Steve Rogers couldn’t be trusted around kids?
At first, the new Captain America and Bucky prove just as efficient and heroic as their predecessors. But after a while, they start to lose it a little. They decide that all people of color are dirty commies who need to be violently eliminated. The government realizes Mace’s version of the serum was faulty and cryogenically freezes him and Davis until they find a cure.
7. LOVE HURTS
The cover of Captain America #65 looks pretty bad: Captain America wants to go on a date with a pretty woman, Grace Rhose, instead of helping Bucky bring down a local crime syndicate. When Bucky objects, Cap slaps him and tells him to scram. This isn’t just a gimmicky cover to grab a reader’s attention, either. In the comic itself, Cap actually kicks Bucky out of the house for daring to criticize his love life.
We’d like to say that Rhose brainwashed Cap into falling in love with her, but alas. Cap knew Rhose was a crime boss and pretended to fall in love with her so he could ultimately defeat her, but he was in full possession of his faculties the entire time. He could have just told Bucky his plan, but then he would have deprived himself of the chance to be an abusive jerk.
6. PEOPLE DON’T COME IN THAT COLOR
Captain America’s most famous World War II activities involve punching Nazis. However, they are not the only foe he fought back in the ’40s. The whole reason the United States entered the war in the first place was because of Pearl Harbor, so it makes sense that Captain America would occasionally end up fighting against Japanese soldiers.
What does not make sense, however, is that virtually every Japanese person Cap ever punched is depicted in as degrading a fashion a possible. They are drawn as fanged yellow demons rather than human beings. Even the ever-unpopular Nazis generally look more human than this. One hopes that the contemporary Captain America looks back on these comics with the same revulsion and regret as the rest of us.
5. PUNCH FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER
Feeling unappreciated, newbie superhero Falcon decides to prove that he’s just as capable as his partner, Captain America. While out on patrol, he sees the oft-beleaguered Spider-Man trying to escape the police, and off goes the light bulb. Falcon decides the best way to prove himself is to bring the webslinger to justice. Spider-Man manages to talk some sense into Falcon, but that’s only half the battle.
Falcon’s hawk, Redwing, had gone to fetch Cap when Falcon got into trouble earlier in the issue. The minute Cap sees Falcon and Spider-Man fighting, he assumes Spidey is in the wrong and throws his shield at him. Cap is all too eager to believe the worst of ol’ Webhead, and never mind that he’s known for years that Spider-Man is a good guy. Fortunately, Falcon explains the situation before Cap can really hurt anyone.
4. GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL
In Captain America #260, a few lucky crooks get the show of a lifetime. As they stew in the cells Captain America put them in, they bear witness to our hero being roughly thrown into a prison cell by two contemptuous guards. But this situation isn’t as bad as it looks. While being paraded through a prison in front of criminals he’s captured may have been humiliating, Cap did it for a good cause.
He planned his incarceration with the warden in order to test the prison security system. While Cap does prove that only a superhuman like himself could possibly escape, along the way he also gets into multiple fights with the inmates and inspires a mass jailbreak. The jailbreak fails, but it seems like Cap’s well-meaning stunt caused as many problems as it solved.
3. THIS FRIENDSHIP IS OVER
In the late ’80s, Steve Rogers resigned as Captain America rather than be forced to work for the government. The Captain America identity was then given to John Walker. Walker is the former head of the Bold Urban Commandos, a group of thugs who went toe-to-toe with Rogers several times in the past. But two members of the Commandos, now calling themselves Right-Winger and Left-Winger, feel betrayed by Walker’s promotion and resolve to make their feelings known.
Right-Winger and Left-Winger expose the new Cap’s secret identity to the world, an action that gets Walker’s parents murdered. This causes the new Cap to lose what few marbles he had left. After taking sadistic pleasure in beating the two almost senseless, Cap leaves them tied up beside an oil tank that he’s rigged to blow. As the tank explodes, Cap smirks and walks away.
2. BODY SWAP BOTHER
When Red Skull gets his hands on the all-powerful Cosmic Cube in Captain America #115, he knows exactly what to do with it: swap bodies with Captain America. As the good captain, Red Skull takes it upon himself to fire Cap’s sidekick, Rick Jones. By this point, the hapless Rick had achieved his goal of becoming the new Bucky a mere half-dozen issues earlier. Red Skull treats Rick so terribly that, even after Cap gets his body back, Rick doesn’t return as Bucky.
Meanwhile, the real Cap is trapped in Red Skull’s body. Desperate to get to Red Skull before he can do any permanent damage, Cap nearly causes irreparable damage himself. He hotwires a car and drives madly through traffic to escape the police officers hot on his trail, narrowly avoiding collisions with multiple innocent drivers.
1. EXTREMIST MAKEOVER: HERO EDITION
Captain America #234 begins in truly disturbing fashion. We see Captain America violently suppressing a race riot while screaming horrible things like “a white America is a strong America”. He ends the fight by condemning everyone who isn’t white and holding aloft a perverted version of his famous shield, this one featuring a swastika instead of a star.
Of course this is the result of mind control. Shady psychologist Dr. Faustus and the Grand Director, head of a KKK stand-in called the National Force, drug and hypnotize Cap into thinking he’s a rabid racist. In fact, the riot isn’t even real; it’s being staged for a live television broadcast. Lucky for Cap and the reader’s sanity, Daredevil hears the broadcast and comes to our hero’s rescue.
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