It’s easy to think Captain America has maintained his usual MO for decades, but based on the latest collection from Marvel Comics he’s actually changed quite a bit. Generally speaking, he’s always been about truth, justice, and the American way, but at times in his career, he’s steered away from following orders when doing the right thing mattered more than doing what he was told. This new collection features stories throughout the character’s history featuring his many costume changes, approaches to fighting crime, and more.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The star-spangled costume of Captain America has been a timeless symbol of hope and freedom since his days fighting Nazism overseas and McCarthyism at home. This historical retrospective of Steve Rogers’ various uniforms and super-hero mantles is a showcase of America’s ever-evolving sociopolitical landscape. From his early days fighting in overt patriotic garb as Captain America during World War II through his adoption of the predominately black uniform and title of the Captain at a time when he became a symbol of resisting absolute government control, Rogers has always worn his allegiance openly. Time and again, Steve has returned to Captain America’s red-white-and-blue iconography, proving that the symbolic clothing of the Sentinel of Liberty stands for a higher ideal than any one person or government can achieve.
Why does this matter?
At face value, this collection features every iconic moment where Captain America suited up in a new costume. It’s a fun collection since it happens to highlight these handmade highly haute-couture moments for Cap’s fashion sense. It’s also a quick way of seeing how the character has shifted, evolved, and changed over the years.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This is a wide sweeping collection housing appearances by Cap from the first appearance in 1941 all the way up to 2012. Artists involved include Jack Kirby, Sal Buscema, Tom Morgan, Dave Hoover, Ron Garney, Rob Liefeld, Mike Deodato Jr., John Romita Jr, Jesus Saiz, and Chris Samnee and each one puts their own spin on the character. Stories collected here sometimes end feeling complete while others end on cliffhangers. Telling a complete story isn’t really the point though as this collection selects key stories to show how the character’s costume changed, but also how his point of view changed over time too. From the always-smiling soldier to the bearded wanderer (Falcon calls it “facial foliage” at one point), to the man without a nation, there’s quite an evolution on display here. It goes to show you Captain America stands for something and sometimes he’s forced into a crisis as his identity is so closely tied to doing the right thing for his country.
Costumes range quite a bit in the middle of this collection, like his caped Nomad look, his black and red costume, and even his mechanical suit created by Tony Stark to allow Cap to walk when he was paralyzed. Other costumes are riffs on the original, like a blue and red costume missing the American symbols, or different looks to the mask and scaled armor we’ve seen in more recent stories like Secret Empire and Samnee and Mark Waid’s run.
A highlight in this collection is Captain America #180 when Cap decides he’s going to make his own costume. Not only does he fully admit it sure was swell the government came up with a costume removing the burden, but he also runs through a lot of different new names. Eventually he lands on Nomad, but options like “Captain Blood,” “Man Without a Country,” “Vagrant,” “The Freebooter,” and “Hobo” were options he mulled over. Written by Steve Englehart with art by Sal Buscema, this story has quite a clever action scene that’s so good I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it in a Marvel movie some day. As the now self-dubbed and dressed Nomad beats up some baddies in a movie theater, a film plays of the original Captain America. As he beats down on his enemies he thinks about the dialogue being said by himself and how ironic it is with his new direction. It’s a clever idea and helps add weight to the big change in costume.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
This is a clever idea for a collection, although I wouldn’t say I’d need to read it more than once. It’s a fun way to experience the many costumes and evolution of the character over the years, but since it doesn’t house one main story arc it’s light on reread potential.
Is it good?
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this collection, but it serves as an excellent way to honor Captain America. One might think he’s simplistic in his country-first mantras and red, white and blue costume, but this collection does a great job revealing how much this character has been tinkered with over the years.