Of all the founding Avengers, Captain America was one of them.
This is an egregious foray into sacrilige, but it’s how I felt about solo Captain America stories for years. The old guy? The boyscout without superman’s godlike ability? The star of one of the most unintentionally hilarious B-movies of all time? No thanks!
Needless to say, I’ve learned the error of my ways. Here are the best Captain America comics on Marvel Unlimited:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2004 – 2011) – Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting
Let’s get right to the point – Brubaker and Epting’s run on Captain America is both the influence for the upcoming film, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, and one of the greatest runs on any character in the modern Marvel era.
Is this a bit of an obvious selection given the run’s connection to the Marvel cinematic universe? Sure. All the more reason for you to start here if you haven’t read this series yet!
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This series revitalized Captain America, infusing the title with political espionage and grim realism, while staying true to the legacy of Steve Rogers as the keeper of the true American dream.
Right from the start, every element of memorable Cap comics – Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., Sharon Carter, Bucky Barnes, the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube (!!!!) – is in place.
There’s no question whether or not you should read this run before Cap 2 hits theaters. The only real question is how much of the title you should read. Issues #1 – #14 will get you the primary Winter Soldier arc, although the story keeps on racing forward from there.
Personally, I’d recommend reading Brubaker’s run all the way through, meaning issues #1 – #50, and then the series renumbers with #600 – #619. You will also need to factor in Captain America: Reborn & Captain America: Rebirth , which are separate from the primary arc. Don’t worry, I have your Captain America reading order.
Captain America: Man out of Time – Mark Waid, Jorge Molina
Presumably, if you know a little about comic books or watched Captain America: The First Avenger, you know the story of Steve Rogers and how he found himself a World War Two soldier trapped in our modern world.
Given this, I won’t recommend you immerse yourself in Golden Age Joe Simon & Jack Kirby Cap stories, or even Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s resurrection of Cap in Avengers #4. Don’t get me wrong, I love the originals, and in most cases (Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, etc) would highly recommend the comics from the 60’s over any modern revamp.
But then the miracle-worker Mark Waid goes and captures the guts of Cap so perfectly that I’m all but forced to recommend you read Man out of Time as a gateway into the character of Steve Rogers.
This is a great read, too, for fans of Cap as an Avenger. When selecting Captain America stories, it’s challenging to abstain from a simultaneous “best of the Avengers” list. Captain America is such a central part of Avengers history and while I have no data to back this up, is likely the most frequently recurring Avenger over the years (5 to 1 odds on the Wasp for anyone willing to count).
Man out of Time captures the best of both worlds, with World War Two era Cap immediately thrust into an Avengers world. This 5 issue mini series is highly recommended.
Captain America & Bucky: The Life of Bucky Barnes – Ed Brubaker, Marc Andreyko, Chris Samnee
First things first, Marvel Unlimited has this series mislabeled as “Captain America & Hawkeye.” It is actually Captain America & Bucky issues #620 – #624.
This is another fantastic 5 issue look into the World War Two days, this time from the perspective of Bucky Barnes. It’s amazingly easy to overlook, but Bucky is such a central component of Captain America, as important to Steve Roger’s avenging as Uncle Ben is to Peter Parker’s web-slinging.
Brubaker basically created Bucky for the modern era so it’s no surprise that he nails the voice and character of the “boy soldier.” Art from Chris Samnee (recently of Daredevil fame) helps solidify this story as absolutely essential, and a hugely relevant prologue to the Winter Soldier film.
Tales of Suspense – Issues #79 – #81 – Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Long live Artie Simek
While I may have said I prefer Mark Waid’s Captain America: Man out of Time, to the Cap that Stan & Jack built, that doesn’t mean they didn’t create basically everything amazing we know about Captain America today.
Of particular import: The Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube! Both Cap essentials come (back) to life within these pages of Tales of Suspense. If you like the surging imagination of early Marvel comics, then seeing the Red Skull use the cosmic cube to adorn himself in golden armor is an absolute thrill. In only three half-issues, Stan & Jack set the template for every epic Captain America battle to come. Of course they did.
For the young guns in the crowd, there was a time – a dark, ancient time – when Captain America and Iron Man shared the pages of a comic titled Tales of Suspense. Don’t freak out when the story starts with Iron Man getting his armor straight blown off by a tank. You can skip and proceed ahead to the welcoming arms of the Sentinel of Liberty.
Captain America: The Life and Times of the Red Skull – Issues #298 – #300 – J.M. DeMatteis, Paul Neary
For new Cap readers, the Marvel Unlimited option of Captain America comics from 1968 – 1996 is immensely intimidating. Captain America #100 through issue #456? You can read over 300 comics if you like, but that’s a LOT of watching Mr. Hyde get beat up by Cap for my tastes (which are actually very much in favor of Mr. Hyde beat downs).
In other words – these stories get repetitive and formulaic. Cap has a hard time coping with present day, he freaks out like a lunatic because Bucky isn’t coming back, he works a day job as a freelance artist for Marvel Comics (wait, what???!!!)… rinse, cycle repeat.
Fortunately, there are a number of gems, you just have to know where to look.
J.M. DeMatteis & Paul Neary do a particularly nice job with this “final” confrontation between the Red Skull and Cap. While Batman fans will likely see a lot of the Joker in DeMatteis’s rendering of the Skull, it’s an entertaining and insightful look at the evil in Cap’s world.
Captain America: The Captain – Issues #332 – #350 – Mark Gruenwald, Tom Morgan
No Captain America story from this 30 year period impressed me as much as Gruenwald’s “Captain America No More” arc. Nothing really comes close.
It’s stunning how much this 18 issue story arc (18 issues!) predates some of the biggest moments in Marvel Comics of the last 10 years. The makings of Civil War and the Superior Spider-Man are all right here, and done fantastically well.
Everything begins when a shadow council of the U.S. Reagan-era government demands Captain America operate as their agent, rather than independently. Cap heavily debates the decision, before deciding to give up the mantle of Captain America. Enter John Walker, the United State’s government new selection to fill the role of Captain America.
While this run does fall into to some serpent society related down issues, the beginning and end of the run make it all worthwhile. I was particularly engrossed in the series of 3 issues that showcase only the new Captain America and hardly mention Steve Rogers. The fan letters of outright rage and indignation alone are worth the price of admission.
Captain America #250 – Roger Stern, John Byrne
While it’s tempting to include Stern & Byrne’s Cap run (#247 – #255), I mostly enjoyed it for issue #250. Why is that you ask?
Captain America decides whether he should run for president.
It’s a pretty fun issue, and frankly raises some valid questions. If Captain America was alive, wouldn’t you want him as your president? Why wouldn’t Cap take office and serve his country in the most effective way possible?
Another good read, and if you keep going with the series from here, you’ll get to see Cap fight a Vampire in London. Never change, Marvel, never change.
Have a personal favorite Cap story of your own? I’ll be looking to add some more as I continue reading, so do what feels right to you in the comments.
I have an obscure, minor detail type of comic question that I feel like only a Captain America comic book expert would know. I started catching up on some comics but it was a little bit ago, but in Captain America: Steve Rogers #15, before Secret Empire started, after Beast did the operation on Red Skull… was there ever an actually issue of Sin breaking Red Skull out of SHIELD custody or is it just mentioned in Captain America: Steve Rogers #15?
My favorite Cap story before Brubaker and Epting’s run is “Armageddon” published in 1986 as Daredevil #233. It is the closure of the great Daredevil story arc “Born Again” by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. Cap has a large role in Armageddon and in my opinion this version of Cap is similar to the version by Brubaker.
Excellent, I know what I’ll be reading this weekend (and the next few after that…).
I appreciate that you narrowed the selection down, as you said, the classic run is very long and intimidating. I’m currently working my way through the classic Avengers and it has similiar problems as you mention for the classic CA run, though the permanently changing cast changes things up a tiny bit. I just got to the issues (in Avengers West Coast) where the “other” Captain America comes in, so this should perfectly fill in the gaps.
Nice. I never quite got the other Cap until I read this arc from Gruenwald. Makes so much sense now.
I looked at a few Cap-centric Avengers stories when I was putting this together, and almost tossed in the “Under Siege” storyline where Zemo raids the mansion. But there’s only so much Black Knight a man can take.
Thanks for stopping by!
Ronald Price says
Wonderful article as usual!
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed!