Everybody loves Captain America: a nice guy who remembers what it is to be the runt of the litter and always knows how to do the right thing. And with his big box office victory this weekend (to say nothing of the positive fan response), he’s officially on top of the world. But it hasn’t always been easy for Cap. His comics didn’t always sell like gangbusters and the writers were forced to invent some pretty outlandish complications for his character. Then there were the less-than-exemplary attempts to spin him off into other mediums. Let’s have a look at the lowest moments in Cap’s career… moments that no one so awesome should ever have to endure.
Like a lot of Marvel superheroes, Cap had to deal with his share of knock-off heroes… notably John Walker, otherwise known at the Super-Patriot or the U.S. Agent. When Steve Rogers renounced being Captain America rather than acting as a stooge for the U.S. government, Walker got the job… as well as Cap’s costume. They even gave him a new Bucky, Lemar Hoskins, whose uniform ranks as one of the goofier embodiments of the Red, White and Blue you’ll ever see. Lemar traded up a bit when he became Battlestar, but still… the whole thing is just painful.
In Captain America #402-408, Cap investigates an outbreak of lycanthropy only to find himself defeated by a hypnotized Wolverine and transformed into a werewolf in a doctor’s lab. He’s supposed to be hypnotized too, but see, he still has part of his mind and… yeah, it pretty much blows dead bunnies. At least they had the decency to turn him back when they were done.
What?! The bastion of democracy taking down the leader of the free world?! Say it ain’t so! Yet that’s exactly what Cap did. Twice. It happened first in Captain America #175, where he unmasked the leader of the Secret Empire only to find out it was Richard Nixon. (Tricky Dick offed himself soon thereafter.) It happened again in Captain America #344, where the Serpent Squad put a chemical in the Washington, D.C. drinking water that turned anyone who drank it into a snake monster. Topping the list? Ronald Reagan, whom Cap pummeled into submission while blathering on about the ideals of our nation. At least he let the Gipper live.
Or not. If you think Spider-Man is the only one having problems on the Great White Way, think again. A musical based on Captain America was proposed in the mid-1980s, with music and lyrics by Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs. It never got off the ground… which may be a blessing considering Spidey’s fate (and that of Superman, whose own Broadway musical was far from super).
Remember the dark days before Blade and X-Men, when Marvel superhero movies were running jokes? David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury, a horrendous Generation X pilot… and a trio of Captain America movies that will leave even the harshest critics running for Chris Evans’ arms. The first two aired as TV movies on CBS in 1979, featuring Reb Brown as Steve Rogers. They involved a complete bowdlerization of the character’s origins, a chintzy plastic shield and a uniform that a five-year-old would turn his nose up at. Even the presence of Christopher Lee in the second film wasn’t enough to save it.
Ten years later, another movie version was attempted. It featured Matt Salinger as Cap and a much more accurate take on his origins (as well as the Red Skull, who’s Italian this time around). Even so, it couldn’t merit a theatrical release in the U.S. Instead, it received a barely noticeable video release in 1992.
We talk about Cap’s bad moments in a Meta sense here, with non-comic permutations and some silly comic stories. The worst two moments for Cap are ironically two of the best in terms of drama. The first is the incident which propelled him from World War II into the modern age: getting frozen in ice for twenty years until the Avengers could thaw him out. On the surface, it’s a great move. It makes him relative to a contemporary audience and ultimately gives him command of the Avengers. But coming around with your whole world gone, and everyone you know either older or dead has got to hurt… giving the otherwise upbeat Cap a real wound to heal.
Days don’t get much worse than the one where you die. After being indicted for treason during the “Civil War” storyline, Steve Rogers gets shot at the courthouse – in the back no less – and dies right there. Naturally, they bring him back short while later, but that’s neither here nor there. As Bucky Barnes and Wolverine head off to avenge him, the world’s heroes debate his legacy… until “what would Cap do” becomes so irritating that his ghost begs Thor to shut off the power grid so that he won’t have to listen to it for a few precious seconds. That’s no way to rest in peace… especially if you’re Cap.