In 1940, as World War II raged, a wave of patriotic heroes covered the comic book pages. Yet Captain America remains the most iconic of the bunch. Everyone knows the story of Steve Rogers, a young man who wanted to serve but was hopelessly unfit. Given the Super-Soldier serum, Steve became the perfect fighting man and one of a kind when the serum’s creator was taken out by Nazi agents. As Captain America, Steve helped win the war only to be frozen in ice at its end. Thawed out decades later, he’s become the leader of the Avengers and a true icon of the Marvel Universe. His fame has expanded in the movies thanks to the great performance of Chris Evans to let a new generation love his work.
As you’d guess from such a long-lived character, Captain America has seen a few different looks over the years. The costume is iconic yet Steve has shifted it up a bit now and then. That’s not counting various versions of him from alternate realities. There’s also how some other characters have taken up the mantle of Captain America as well. Some were short-lived while others exist in other realities. Yet, they all stand as good examples of this amazing hero with the shield and promoting the American dream against all odds. Here are 20 versions of Captain America ranked worst to best, showing how our favorite hero has gone through so many interesting changes.
20 HYDRA CAP
It’s one of the most controversial moves Marvel has made in years. When Steve Rogers was restored to youth by the cosmic-powered Kobik, it looked like a great thing. What no one knew was that, influenced by the Red Skull, Kobik had altered Steve’s mind. Steve now believed he’d been a life-long agent of a noble HYDRA. This backfired on the Skull as Steve took him out to take control of HYDRA himself. Steve acted the good guy while making his plans to finally have HYDRA take over the country.
Having the Sentinel of Liberty be a dictator was a surprising sight. Steve still thought he was totally in the right, and ignored the fact that so many heroes were against him. He even donned a wild green armor version of his classic outfit. Realizing her mistake, Kobik allowed the pure Steve to return and beat down his enemy. This Steve gets points for his genius work manipulating everyone but it’s hard to really support what he did.
Mark Gruenwald is hailed as one of the best Captain America writers ever. But even he could produce some duds. A major one was in a wild 1992 storyline as Cap is investigating a series of wolf attacks. Cap is worried that John Jameson (who has a history of becoming the Man-Wolf) might be responsible. A villain called Nightshade is drawing various wolf-themed heroes to her (including Wolfsbane and Wolverine) as part of a wild plot for power. Capturing Cap, Nightshade injects him with a substance to turn him into a werewolf too.
Thanks to the Super-Soldier serum, Cap is able to maintain control over himself despite his wolf nature. Somehow, the sight of a wolf in the outfit and shield is so nutty that it actually works. He’s naturally put back to normal but counted it as a wild experience. Incredibly, Sam Wilson got into the exact same situation when he was Captain America. Somehow, the “Cap Wolf” thing happens to shield bearers.
In a 1976 storyline, Cap discovers that the head of the evil Secret Empire is a high-ranking government official. It breaks Cap’s spirit in America and he decides he can no longer represent it in his costume. He thus takes on the identity of Nomad, going around in a frankly terrible outfit to fight crime. It didn’t last long as the Red Skull would make his return and Steve realized it was better to face him as Cap. That relit his spirit in America and he left Nomad behind.
The Nomad identity would later be used by Jack Barnes who had been the Bucky to the 1950s Cap. The two had both been psychologically damaged but Jack was trying to redeem himself. He became a gritty figure before meeting his end at the hands of the Winter Soldier. It’s a pretty low period in Steve’s life.
17 US AGENT
A huge shake-up for Cap came in a bold 1987 storyline. When a government Commission declared that Steve had to do their bidding to continue as Captain America, Steve was resistant. He thus decided to just quit the role altogether. The Commission turned to John Walker to become the new Cap. While having enhanced strength, Walker was short-tempered and far more brutal in fights. It reached a breaking point when a group called the Watchdogs took out his parents and Walker went on a bloody rampage.
Meanwhile, Steve had taken up a new outfit as simply the Captain. He and Walker fought as it would turn out the whole thing had been set up by the Red Skull. Steve took back the mantle of Cap while Walker used that costume to become US Agent. He’s not bad in combat but his harsh attitude doesn’t lend itself well to the mantle of Captain America.
16 PRESIDENT ROGERS
A classic Roger Stern/John Byrne issue has a third party approach Cap with the idea of running for President. While tempted, Steve turns them down, feeling it’s better he works to help America outside of politics. In What If? vol 1 #26, Cap decides to run after all. It’s a tough campaign but in the end, Steve is elected. He unmasks himself to the world and does his best to help America.
When he heads to South America for a summit, Steve discovers it’s a trap by the Red Skull. He ends up sacrificing his life to stop the Skull’s attempt to conquer the world and is revered as a true icon. Another What If? issue has Cap also elected President following World War II. But this Cap soon turns into a brutal dictator who rounds up “undesirables” into camps. The real Cap is found in ice and exposes the imposter as (of course), the Skull.
15 REVOLUTIONARY CAP
The idea of Captain America in the Revolutionary War is just a natural one. At first, it seemed a dream sequence but it would come out that Steve’s ancestor (also called Steve Rogers) donned a costume to fight for the colonies during the War of Independence.
This included stopping a traitor who was about to lure George Washington into a trap by the British. Two hundred years later, that man’s ancestor sought revenge on Cap for his family. This Cap had a cool outfit that fit into the time period. He even carried a makeshift shield which may not have been so tough but then again, firearms weren’t as powerful in 1776.
14 YEOMAN AMERICA
Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s run on Avengers is considered one of the best in the title’s history. Their first story arc had Morgan Le Fay using an enchanted sword to remake the world in her image. It was now a medieval-styled Earth with Morgan as its evil queen.
The Avengers were made into her loyal servants with nice new outfits. Cap became Yeoman America, leader of the team and he was, of course, a bold fighter. However, Morgan underestimated Cap’s will as he was able to break through her spell. He later got other Avengers to his side to help defeat Morgan. It was a brief story but Cap sure got a cool fantasy look for his traditional red, white and blue outfit.
13 IRON CAP
Bullet Points is an intriguing alternate reality series. The starting point is that Dr. Erskine is shot before he can complete the Super-Soldier serum. Thus, Steve Rodgers remains a 98-pound weakling. Steve still begs to fight for his country, not caring about the risk. As it happens, Howard Stark has just developed a suit of armor that works as a one-man tank. After some training, Steve is soon out there as Iron Man. Inspiring the troops in this world as well, Steve is a hero who helps win the war.
Later in the series, Peter Parker is the one transformed into the Hulk. Steve dons his armor again to battle him for a rough conflict that ends with him crushed. But before that, the story nicely illustrates how Steve could be just as much of an inspiration if he was wearing the Iron Man outfit instead of his suit.
12 CAP 2099
Marvel’s 2099 line takes place in a time where corporations rule America. A storyline seemed to have Cap revived into this time and was trying to win back America. It turned out this was an imposter with a very dark side. In the Spider-Man 2099 title, it was shown that Roberta Mendez had become the new Captain America and she was a great heroine. However, her masters at Alchamex had given Roberta a split personality so that she had no idea of what her costumed identity was up to.
This Roberta traveled into the past of the main Marvel universe for some crazy adventures. She was a great athlete with the same strength and reflexes as the regular Cap and was. aided by the technology of the future in her battles. While her split personality weakened her, Roberta was able to integrate both sides into a true heroine for the future.
11 EARTH X CAP
Alex Ross and Jim Kruger’s massive epic takes place in a future Marvel where a plague gave everyone on Earth super-powers. Society has fallen in various ways as Norman Osborn rules America. The Super-Soldier Serum kept Steve from being affected, making him one of the few normal humans left. Ross draws Steve as a battered and scarred figure literally draped in the American flag and feeling lost in this world.
He does whip himself back into shape to take on a psychopathic youth calling himself the Skull who is controlling armies through mind control. The sequel series had Steve sacrificing his life and then becoming a warrior angel in the afterlife. It’s a huge saga with Steve becoming more than just a man and embracing his status as a symbol.
10 ISAIAH BRADLEY
A major twist to the Captain America mythos came in 2001 with the Truth mini-series. Steve uncovers the dark history behind Project Rebirth. Before the Super-Soldier serum was refined, it was tested on various African-American volunteers. Several of them suffered horrific side effects and it’s clear they were used as the army wanted to test it out before giving the serum to a “real” American. Isiah Bradley was the one true success of the group, as he was granted super-strength and stamina.
Isiah broke out of his camp to go on a secret mission behind enemy lines, and he was badly injufred. Thanks to the serum, Isiah lived a long time in very good shape and was even able to visit Cap. His grandson would become the hero Patriot and even Steve said he couldn’t match the heroism Isiah showed battling not just the enemy but his own country.
9 DANIELLE CAGE
Luke Cage is famous as the former Hero for Hire with his bullet-proof skin and super-strength. His wife, Jessica Jones, is also super-tough with a sardonic sense of humor. Both prefer wearing street clothes to costumes and often mock the craziness of super-hero lives. Which is why it’s so ironic that their daughter is going to grow up into an iconic super-heroine. In the Ultron Forever mini-series, a team of Avengers from across time are brought together to stop the crazy robot once and for all. Among their number is Danielle Cage, who is the future Captain America.
Danielle has inherited the super-strength of her parents, making her a serious force in the field. Her shield is not the original one but rather a copy that can be controlled by her voice for some nifty tricks. The character later worked with some other time-lost Avengers who were amazed at her role. Her parents may not approve but Danielle has proven worthy of the Cap name.
8 SAMANTHA WILSON
The 2014 Spiderverse event had Spider-Man meeting the Spider-champions of various realities. One had Gwen Stacy as a Spider-Woman and fans instantly loved her cool costume. The character became so popular that she got her own title which has explored a different Marvel universe. Here, Samantha Wilson was a bright engineer sadly held back by the prejudices of the time.
She was working with the Super Soldier program when Hydra agents attacked. When Steve Rogers was badly injured, Samantha was the one to undergo the process to become Captain America. She too was frozen and then revived to try and help the world. Besides HYDRA, she also faced the criminal group SILK and helped the world by defeating them.
7 ULTIMATE CAP
Marvel’s “Ultimate” line specialized in taking the classic Marvel characters and presenting them with a new edge. While this world’s Steve Rogers was much the same, he could come off even more of a super-soldier than the regular Earth-616 version. He could be very tough in fights and had no problem handling small armies of guys all on his own. He could also be a tad more jingoistic with his values of the 1940s. This was shown in the famous moment where he scoffs at an alien “Surrender? You think this ‘A’ stands for France?”
The character would be softened a bit into more of an inspirational leader. Indeed, he even finds himself elected President by a massive write-in vote when America is in crisis. This Cap sacrifices himself to try and stop Galactus to prove he’s not too different from the Steve we know after all.
6 PEGGY CARTER
In some classic stories, Peggy Carter was Steve’s first love, a secret agent he fought with in World War II. They later reunited although Steve found himself now drawn to Peggy’s grand-niece Sharon. Peggy gained further fame thanks to Haley Atwell’s performance in the first Captain America movie. That led to her getting her own TV series and fans loved her spark, humor, and toughness.
So it makes sense that Marvel would show a reality where Peggy is Cap. In Exiles, the team finds themselves in a reality where Steve was taken down by the Red Skull and Peggy took the Super-Soldier Serum instead. A fun bit is Peggy openly noting the irony of a British woman turned into an American icon. She only popped up in that issue but fans are hopeful for a return to see a fan favorite lady taking up the shield.
5 SOLDIER SUPREME
The latest addition to this list comes from the Infinity Warps event. Thanks to some cosmic shenanigans, various Marvel heroes are (literally) merged together. In another world, we get the classic story of Steve Rogers declared unfit for service but begging to serve his country. Instead of Operation Rebirth, Steve is attached to a project involving the use of magic. Steve is soon transformed into Soldier Supreme, a warrior using magic to help fight the Axis.
He’s joined by Dum Dum Fury and Bucky Wong to take on various threats including Dormammu Red. It’s a fun story with Cap using magic to create his shield and the idea that Bucky’s nickname of “the Winter Ghost” is actually literal. It’s a weird mix but it works for a really powerful alternate version of Cap.
4 BUCKY BARNES
In World War II, James Buchannan Barnes was Steve’s partner, Bucky. Not just a sidekick, Bucky was a tough soldier in his own right. He was caught in the same explosion that put Steve in suspended animation and was believed to be dead. Decades later, it turned out Bucky had survived and was brainwashed to become the Winter Solider. He and Steve fought briefly before Steve restored his memories. When Steve appeared to have been taken out, Bucky was encouraged to take up the role of Captain America himself.
His outfit was more military-inclined than Steve’s had been and made for serious combat. He would carry the shield but also armed himself with a gun. Thanks to his harsher training, Bucky could be brutal in fights but doing his best to keep up Steve’s legacy. When Steve returned, Bucky happily let him have the suit back, thinking he wasn’t right for the role. Yet for a brief time, the sidekick proved he was more than equal as a true hero.
3 SAM WILSON
In an epic storyline, the Red Skull swaps bodies with Steve Rogers. Washing up on an island, Steve meets Sam Wilson, a bird-loving smuggler. He trains Sam as his aide and even grants him a costume as the Falcon. Afterward, Sam became Steve’s loyal partner while also a hero in his own right. He’s had some controversial retcons but still there to help Steve whenever he can.
When Steve was rendered an older man, he chose Sam to carry on the shield as a new Captain America. Sam did well in the role, mixing the shield-slinging with his flying wings to be an effective fighter. He had to face some backlash from the public and was a lot more vocal on his opinions than Steve had been. Sadly, this was during the “Hydra Steve” period that secretly undermined Sam’s efforts. Sam did take up the mantle to battle this evil Steve. When the true Steve returned, Sam went back to his older role. Yet he was a great choice to fill in for his partner as Captain America.
2 SUPER SOLDIER
In 1996, Marvel and DC joined together to create the fun Amalgam Universe. A series of one-shots that mixed characters from both sides together, it was a popular event. One of the “no-brainer” combinations was Superman and Captain America. In this world, Clark Kent volunteers to be injected with DNA found from a crashed Kryptonian ship. He takes up the identity of Super Soldier to fight the Axis. Frozen at the end of the war, he’s revived to try and serve the country again.
It’s a great mix of both characters, Clark flying around with the famous shield emblazoned with the “S” symbol. He battles Lex Luthor, who’s the vicious Green Skull and also leads the Judgment League Avengers. It’s a terrific showcase of what happens when two iconic American heroes are joined as one.
1 STEVE ROGERS
It’s a blatantly obvious choice but it fits. Steve Rogers will always insist it’s the uniform that matters, not the man inside it. But everyone else in the Marvel Universe disagrees. The fact is, it’s Steve’s background that makes him so unique. The scrawny kid from Brooklyn who volunteered for service despite his weak status. Steve still brings with him his classic 1940s values, always looking for the best in other people no matter what. He continues to insist he doesn’t represent the government but “the dream” of an America that stands as a symbol for hope.
A recurring theme in the comics is Steve just going around and doing this job like it’s so natural. He often doesn’t grasp his truly iconic and inspirational status to others. He’s tried the “secret identity” thing a few times but given it up. Being Cap is who Steve truly is and he can never let it go, and neither can his fans.