Captain America: The Winter Soldier features a surprisingly large number of Cap’s comic book associates among its cast, some of which you’re already aware of and others whose presence is a pretty big surprise. But that’s entirely appropriate, considering that Steve Rogers happens to have one of the most eclectic assortment of friends and enemies in the Marvel Universe. Here are 10 such folks I’d enjoy seeing crop up in the (already greenlit) third installment.
Click on, dear reader, for the roll call:
Captain America has the appearance and physique of a perfectly fit/healthy man in his mid-20s… and the mind/personality of Somebody’s Cool Dad. That means Cap cleans up when it comes to all of the “chicks with issues” that inhabit the Marvel Universe. Classic example: Rachel Leighton, aka Diamondback. A member of The Serpent Society (they all have snake nicknames, that’s kind of it) she falls for Steve Rogers at first sight and becomes and on/off ally/love-interest, eventually departing the Society to form B.A.D. Girls Inc.
William Burnside aka 50s Cap
Alright, this is a little bit complicated.
So, that whole thing where Captain America never actually saw the end of WWII because he was frozen and unthawed in (our) recent present? That was an early example of a Mighty Marvel Retcon. Originally, Marvel (at this point still called “Atlas”) just kept on publishing Cap and Bucky’s adventures after the war; rebranding him Captain America: Commie Smasher and switching his goals from beating back The Nazis to rooting out The Red Menace at home. Somehow, Cap just wasn’t as likable or compelling when he was pounding on “un-American” domestic traitors. Plus, the comics market changed tumultuously in the 50s and any superhero who wasn’t named Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman vanished for about a decade. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to bring Steve Rogers back in the mid-60s, the new frozen-in-ice backstory was added to let them ignore the Commie Smasher era entirely.
But comic fans being comic fans meant that the 50s Cap comics were eventually recalled/rediscovered by enough people that Marvel decided to address the continuity problem with another retcon. Commie Smasher Cap was actually an imposter named William Burnside, an ultra-patriotic American history scholar who had a super-unhealthy obsession with the legend of Captain America. He helped create a (flawed) replica of the Super-Soldier Serum, underwent plastic surgery to look and sound like Steve Rogers circa-WWII (seriously) changed his name to Steve and was ultimately drafted by the government to be the new Cap. That is until his bootleg Serum fried his brain, turning him into a racist, paranoid jingoist who went around pummeling anything (or anybody) he decided was “un-American” – a grotesque caricature of what people often (incorrectly) assume the “real” Captain America’s persona would be.
Eventually the military put Burnside in suspended animation for study, but he’s broken out to cause trouble in the name of “restoring” America on multiple occasions. At one point emerging as The Grand Director of National Force (which is basically The Klu Klux Klan.)
I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a sequel to me and apparently I’m in good company on that.
Sin (Sinthea Shmidt)
Sin’s history is sort of complicated and creepy (think BioShock‘s Little Sisters), but the short version is that Sin is The Red Skull’s daughter. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense in the comics, though she does eventually become the new Red Skull herself for a bit, which is one way of getting that character sort of back into the movies. She’s also been depicted as the lover of Crossbones, who appears in Captain America: The Winter Soldier in his civilian identity of Brock Rumlow.
The Human Torch (Jim Hammond)
You could call this one cheating, since technically this guy was already in Captain America: The First Avenger. When pre-Cap Steve and Bucky visit the Stark Expo, one of the centerpiece exhibits is a crimson-colored metal humanoid in a glass case marked “Phineas T. Horton’s Synthetic Man.” This is Jim Hammond aka the original WWII-era Human Torch – an android who, while sentient, bursts into flames when exposed to oxygen. Of note: In original comics-continuity, Hammond’s android body becomes the chassis for The Vision; who is scheduled to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron (presumably) with a new origin story and played by Paul Bettany (also currently the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S.)
Captain America was a werewolf for awhile. Yeah. That absolutely happened.
With all the actual telepaths and mind controllers running around the Marvel Universe, you’d think that a more conventional “Look into my eyes!!!” Evil Hypnotist wouldn’t be much use. But Doctor Faustus (real name Johann Fennhoff) gets by just fine. If you’re a supervillain, particularly in association with Red Skull, HYDRA or other Captain America foes, this is the guy you call when you’re looking to play mind games.
Marvel, particularly the Captain America-adjacent corners of it, has an occasionally alarming number of bad guy groups that function as thinly-veiled Marvelizations of Neo-Nazis and The KKK. Hate-Monger ran one of the more extreme examples, up to and including his pointy Klan-style hood. A second, unrelated Hate-Monger who led a group dedicating to hunting and murdering illegal immigrants was fought and eliminated by The Punisher in the aftermath of Civil War.
Oh yeah, but that first one, though? He turned out to be Hitler. That’s kind of important, too.
The Bradley Family
In the ultra-controversial miniseries Truth: Red, White & Black it was revealed that the U.S. Army had performed awful (and historically-inspired) experiments on unwitting Black servicemen in an attempt to replicate Dr. Erskine’s lost Super Soldier Serum. The only subject to survive intact (and with Captain America-style super-strength) was Isaiah Bradley. He subsequently undertook a suicide-mission (in a “borrowed” spare Captain America uniform) to stop Hitler from stealing the new formula and wound up imprisoned (with his existence largely hid from the mainstream public) for decades for his trouble.
He’s eventually contacted by Steve Rogers in the present (who’d also been lied to about the situation as well, and is not pleased) who seeks to make amends, but much of the damage has been done. The (flawed) serum has left Isaish physically and mentally malformed (an aging hulk with the mind of a child), though still a figure of honor among Marvel’s black heroes. In addition, he has two superhero relatives: son Justice (aka Josiah X, “the Muslim Captain America”) and grandson Elijah, The Patriot.
Super Patriot/U.S. Agent
William Burnside is not the only evil reactionary version of Captain America. There’s also this better known nutcase, John Walker. He started out as a minor Cap nemesis named Super-Patriot but was (suspiciously) selected by the U.S. Government to become the new Captain America when Steve Rogers quit rather than follow military orders he didn’t believe in.
Walker turned out to be too unstable for the job, and meanwhile Rogers donned a new black uniform and continued to fight crime as The Captain. The whole thing turned out to be a Red Skull scheme behind the scenes, and Steve reclaimed the mantle after defeating both of them. Walker, looking to make amends, inherited the black uniform and was rechristened U.S. Agent. He’s still a nutcase, but most of the time he’s now a nutcase that occasionally serves a purpose.
Here’s how morality and the political outlook of the Marvel Universe generally works: Captain America is always on the right side. Even if he starts out on the wrong side, it’s so the right side can be established as the right side by his joining it. Cap is supposed to be the best possible American, so he becomes the writer/publisher’s image thereof.
So it was a big deal when, as part of an uncharacteristically downbeat set of stories running off and on from issue #270 to #296, Captain America became the first Marvel superhero to openly support gay rights… at least to the greatest degree allowable at the time.
Short version: Arnie Roth was Steve Roger’s tough-guy friend/protector as a kid (in the comics, Bucky Barnes is a younger child Steve doesn’t meet until the war) who seeks out Captain America’s help as an old man in the present to help find his roommate, Michael, who has been kidnapped for nefarious purposes by Cap’s enemies. (A more comprehensive retelling can be found here).
You weren’t allowed to explicitly say “gay” or depict same-sex physical affection in comics back then, but the dialogue in these stories was as close as you could get – leaving zero doubt that A.) Arnold and Michael are a couple and B.) Steve is 100% okay with that. To erase all doubt later, Cap’s enemies kidnap Roth and brainwash him into a self-hating grotesque (an obvious takedown of “repairative therapy”) who rants about how he’s a “freak” and that the Nazis were right about “his kind.” It’s up to Cap to snap him out of it, partially by way of the following monologue:
“No matter what words they force out of your mouth, you know the truth! You are not a freak! You’re as good and decent a man as I’ve ever known! They cannot corrupt your love for Michael any more than they can corrupt my love for Bernie!” (“Bernie” was Steve’s girlfriend at the time.)
Because Captain America always does the right thing.