Roughly a year into his acclaimed run on “Captain America,” writer Mark Gruenwald made a fateful decision that would split “Captain American” fandom into opposing factions. In “Captain America” #322 (art by Paul Neary and John Beatty), Gruenwald revealed that up until an event in the previous issue, Captain America had never taken another person’s life before. Throughout the rest of his run (which lasted nearly a decade), Gruenwald held tight to that belief. Captain America, as written by Mark Gruenwald, not only refused to kill, but also he would judge anyone who did kill unless absolutely necessary.
This approach was abandoned once Gruenwald left the series. It is also important to note that it was not the status quo for Captain America before Gruenwald’s run, as well. Whether you agree with it or not, Captain America has killed a number of times before and after (and, hilariously enough during) Gruenwald’s run. Here are 15 times that Cap’s actions caused the death of another human being.
15. REINSTEIN AVENGED
In the very first story in the very first issue of “Captain America Comics” #1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, we meet scrawny Steve Rogers who is volunteering for a military experiment because of his inability to enlist in the army due to his size. He is part of a very secretive program where the United States military was developing their own superhero, in response to an aside by the President that what the country needed was their own superhero, like the Human Torch.
However, once Rogers consumed the Super Soldier Serum and was transformed into the Super Soldier that Reinstein dubbed “Captain America,” a German spy burst into the room and murdered him, as no on knew the formula for the Super Soldier Serum other than Reinstein! Therefore, Captain America would be the only Super Soldier rather than the first of a Super Soldier army. An enraged Captain America punched the murderer and threw him across the room, where the spy stumbled into live wires and was fried until he was just ashes. Captain America noted that it was a well-deserved fate.
14. TUMBLING ASIAN GIANTS
One of the most awkward things about reading Golden Age comic books in the casual racism that you’ll come across in them at times, especially during World War II when it was de rigueur to depict Japanese people as basically yellow-skinned monsters. In the lead story in “Captain America Comics” #2, that approach was taken to an even greater degree as here, an evil businessman discovered a whole race of grotesque giants living in Tibet. He enslaved them and had them work for him, robbing banks and the like.
One of them accidentally wandered into the Army camp where Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes were stationed. Steve tried to use a machine gun on the giant, but it was to no avail. Bucky, though, killed it with a hand grenade in its face. The grenade did not leave a mark, though, which left them curious as to how it died, exactly. When Captain America was then captured by the giants, he learned the truth: they had lived their whole lives in silence in Tibet, so loud sounds are so painful that they are fatal to the Giants. Thus, after Bucky rescued Cap, they set off a loud cannon and killed all the remaining giants at once.
13. DEATH BY DINOSAUR
“Captain America Comics” #3 (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) had a few different points in the issue where Captain America killed someone, but we’ll spotlight likely the oddest one in the bunch. There had been a number of robberies at the museum by a mysterious flying criminal known as the Butterfly, who was robbing ancient Egyptian treasures being displayed at the museum. The Butterfly was no joke, as he murdered a guard on both nights that he robbed the place.
As it turned out, the killer and thief was actually the director of the museum. He was aided by Lenny, a simpleminded oaf who served him. This, of course, was Simon and Kirby referencing Lenny from the then-recent John Steinbeck novel, “Of Mice and Men.” Captain America hid inside the museum to stop the Butterfly, but first had to take on Lenny. Lenny was just too hardheaded to stop fighting Cap, even as Cap was beating him soundly. Lenny decided to try to throw a knife at Cap, but Cap luckily broke off a piece of a dinosaur skeleton and killed Lenny with it (Cap later then killed the Butterfly by knocking him to the ground, where he was killed by the impact).
12. CAPTAIN AMERICA, FLYING ACE
In “Captain America Comics” #5 (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby), a German-American man is beaten severely by a Nazi sympathizing militia. Simon and Kirby were rightly worried about Nazi sympathizers in America at the time (they sent Simon and Kirby enough credible death threats that the New York Police Department had to station police officers at Timely Comics offices to guard them). However, in this story, they presented a militia so well stocked that they even had their own air force!
Captain America infiltrated the militia and then tore them apart, including shooting their planes down with one of their own planes that he had commandeered! Cap also went hand-to-hand at one point, jumping on to the wing of a plane and then taking the pilot and throwing him to his death. These early Golden Age “Captain America Comics” by Simon and Kirby were just filled to the brim with Captain America and Bucky killing people left and right.
11. SABOTAGING THE SABOTEURS
After Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought Captain America into the Marvel Age of comics in 1964, they eventually gave him half of the anthology series, “Tales of Suspense,” where Cap would share the title with Iron Man (ultimately, when Marvel did their famed 1968 line expansion, it was Cap who would actually take over the series full-time as it was re-named “Captain America,” while Iron Man got his own series). However, after 10 issues or so, they decided to stop telling modern stories with Captain America in “Tales of Suspense.” So beginning in “Tales of Suspense” #63 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia), they began to tell World War II stories featuring Cap and Bucky, beginning with Captain America’s origin (this time around, by the way, Cap tries to keep the German spy from hitting the live wires).
After telling his origin, they get right into Cap and Bucky repelling German saboteurs from the American mainland. They capture a group of German saboteurs who landed here from a German submarine. They then load up a raft with explosives and Cap calculates the current before sending the explosives back to the submarine, killing all the Germans left on board.
10. STERANKO’S EARLY RUN ON CAPTAIN AMERICA
It’s simply amazing to look back at Jim Steranko’s Marvel Comics career and realize that he only drew three issues of “Captain America.” He put so much detail into them that they weren’t even released consecutively! Jack Kirby had to chip in and do a fill-in issue in the middle of Steranko’s three-issue run on “Captain America” (working alongside Stan Lee, who scripted the issues). Those three issues, though, remain some of the most influential ones in Captain America’s history, as they inspired not only future artists (50 years later and people are still homaging multiple sequences from those Steranko issues), but also future writers.
One area where Steranko broke from other writers of “Captain America” was that he had no problems having Cap kill people. Steranko was famously the writer/artist on Nick Fury’s adventures in “Strange Tales” and “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and he brought the same ruthlessness that Fury would sometimes use over to Cap. In “Captain America” #113, Cap intentionally positioned his motorcycle filled with extra flammable gasoline in it near some Hydra soldiers and then had Rick Jones shoot the bike, exploding it and killing all the Hydra agents.
9. RELUCTANT GUNNER
By the late 1970s, the “official” stance on Captain America when it came to killing was that he was very much against it, except as a last resort. This was even retroactively applied to his fighting in World War II. In 1977’s “Invaders” #21 (by Roy Thomas, Frank Robbins and Frank Springer), the Invaders, well, invade Berlin, to rescue a few of their members who were way behind enemy lines, including Captain America (Hitler at one point even has Captain America’s shield!).
When they rescue their comrades and get on to a stolen Nazi bomber to head home (this was the same bomber that Hitler had earlier been on, but managed to parachute to safety once the Invaders took control of the plane), they are besieged by German fighter planes. Thomas has Cap note that he hates guns, but due to the circumstances, he has to do his duty, so he aims the machine gun on the bomber and shoots down a number of German airplanes.
8. ASSISTED SUICIDE
The villain known as Machinesmith has had a strange career in comics. He debuted as robotics expert Starr Saxon, a Daredevil villain. He died in his first storyline, though, by breaking his neck while fighting against Daredevil. As it turned out, though, his robots rescued him and were able to transfer his consciousness into an android body. He then fought against the Thing in the pages of “Marvel Two-in-One.”
In the opening storyline of Roger Stern, John Byrne and Joe Rubinstein’s classic “Captain America” run, Machinesmith enlisted the help of the Dragon Man to force Captain America into fighting against him. Machinesmith, you see, was sick of the artificial extension of his life, but his programming would not allow himself to kill himself. So instead, he fought against Captain America with a multitude of android bodies, forcing Captain America to think that a central computer was what allowed Machinesmith to switch bodies back and forth. In “Captain America” #249, Cap destroyed the central computer, figuring he would trap Machinesmith in a single body. Instead, it turned out that that computer housed his consciousness and that Cap had inadvertently assisted Machinesmith in suicide.
7. CAPTAIN AMERICA, VAMPIRE SLAYER
In one of the final storylines in their sadly shortened run on “Captain America,” Roger Stern and John Byrne (along with Joe Rubinstein) brought Captain America to England, where he teamed up once again with his former Invaders comrade, Union Jack, who is now an older man. Years ago, Union Jack’s brother had become a vampire known as Baron Blood and fought against the Invaders during World War II.
In modern times, Baron Blood was trying to kill his older brother, the former Union Jack. Cap is assisted by Joey Chapman, who took over the identity of the Union Jack. They helped stop Baron Blood, but Blood made the strong argument that there really was no way to stop him other than killing him since he was a vampire and he could just keep coming after his family. Captain America reluctantly determined he had to kill Baron Blood, so he decapitated him with his shield in “Captain America” #254.
6. ULTIMATE ULTIMATUM
In a story that would prove to be very controversial as the years went by, Captain America took on the villainous Flag-Smasher and his anarchist organization, U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind) in “Captain America” #321 (by Mark Gruenwald, Paul Neary and John Beatty). U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. had hijacked a packed American passenger plane and taken the passengers to Switzerland as hostages. Flag-Smasher demanded that Captain America trade himself for the hostages.
Cap flew to Switzerland and infiltrated U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. by knocking out a guard and taking his uniform (it was helpful that they all wore full masks). Cap managed to break into where the hostages were, but one of the U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. guards refused to obey Cap’s order to stand down, firing on the crowd of hostages with a machine gun. Cap had a machine gun, too, from the guard that he had knocked out and reluctantly used it to gun down the guard and save the hostages. Despite this clearly justifiable use of fatal force, Cap was very shaken by the ordeal, insisting the next issue that this was the first time that he had ever taken another person’s life.
5. ADVENTURES OF KILLER CAP
In 1991, as part of Captain America’s 50th Anniversary, Marvel released a four-issue prestige format miniseries by Fabian Nicieza, Kevin Maguire and Terry Austin (with Kevin West filling in for Maguire at the end of the seires) called “The Adventures of Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty,” which retold Captain America’s origins, updated for a modern era of storytelling.
The series was edited by a different person than the regular “Captain America” series (although the editor, Mike Rockwitz, actually did end up eventually taking over the regular “Cap” title while Gruenwald was still on the series), so despite the regular “Captain America” series making it clear that Captain America did not kill, killing was on the table.
In “Adventures of Captain America” #3, Cap and Bucky are waylaid by some German operatives, so when push comes to shove, Cap was willing to use a pistol to take down a number of Nazis, including at least one perfect headshot.
4. AMERICA DIDN’T KILL HIM, I DID
In the aftermath of 9/11, Marvel was in a weird place. They were already planning on a new “Captain America” series and it was going to involve terrorism, but obviously everything had to take on a whole other meaning when the series launched in 2002, presumably with an altered storyline (writer John Ney Reiber had a larger overarching story arc that looks like it was de-railed a bit) involving Captain America set against a terrorist named Faysal Al-Tariq.
Drawn by superstar artist John Cassaday, the first arc was a statement about the power of terrorism. In the end, Captain America is forced to kill Faysal Al-Tariq to prevent him from killing some innocent people that had been taken hostage. However, Cap determined that he did not want his actions to be seen as representing America. He wanted to make it clear that it was he, Steve Rogers, who had made the fateful decision, so he unmasked on live television to make that clear.
3. MODERN DAY STERANKO
One of the writers who was greatly influenced by Steranko’s short “Captain America” run (as well as his much longer run on “Nick Fury”) was Ed Brubaker, who relaunched “Captain America” in 2005 along with artist Steve Epting. Brubaker’s position on Captain America killing was that he agreed that Cap would not go out of his way to kill someone if there was a non-lethal way of resolving a situation, but at the same time, Cap was also not going to bend over backwards to keep himself from killing a bad guy.
This was shown in the first time that we see Captain America in action, as some terrorists are being lowered by helicopter on to a subway train. Cap uses his shield to cut off the rope ladder that was lowering them on to the train, and in doing so, one of the terrorists who was still climbing it, falls to his death. The other terrorists he takes down without killing them, but he then also uses his shield to knock the helicopter out of the sky. This has been the take on Cap that later writers have stuck with – he doesn’t actively try to kill, but he won’t worry too much if he does.
2. 70th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
“Captain America” #616 was a giant-sized celebration of Captain America’s 70th Anniversary. The main story, by Brubaker, involved Bucky Barnes, who was Captain America at the time (alongside Steve Rogers, who was still around, just not as Captain America, as he let Bucky continue in the role that Bucky had taken on when he thought Steve was dead). The back-up stories, though, told tales of various points in Captain America’s career.
Howard Chaykin wrote and drew a short story where Captain America befriended an artist whose husband had been killed early in the war. Their relationship started becoming more than platonic, when suddenly, her husband turned up alive. Like a lot of women of the era, she married her husband without really knowing him all that well (as he was headed off to war), so she was confused when he seemed different. As it turned out, this was actually a Nazi spy who had been given plastic surgery to look like her husband. Cap helped her out and very proudly killed the agent by throwing his shield at the spy’s helicopter.
1. ENDLESS WARTIME
In 2013, Marvel began a program of original graphic novels, something that they had not done in quite some time (with any regularity, at least). Their first one was “Avengers: Endless Wartime,” by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone. The story deals with a sort of doomsday device (or, as Iron Man referred to it, “Norse Nazi robot maggots…of death”) that Captain America thought had been buried long ago during World War II, but now was popping up again, so the Avengers had to take it on.
In the World War II scenes, Ellis and McKone show Cap kill some pilots, but what is most interesting is a conversation Cap has with Wolverine later in the story. In it, Wolverine basically voices the concern that readers had with Gruenwald’s “Cap has never killed until just now” rule: Cap fought in World War II, so how the heck did he not kill?
As Ellis alludes to here, it is almost an insult to other veterans, suggesting that if you killed during war, then there must be something “lesser” about you. Cap is a soldier and, in the end, when they have to, soldiers kill.
Do you think that Captain America should have a strict “no killing” policy? Let us know in the comments section!
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