In this issue we get an updated telling of Captain America’s origin, first told in his very first comic, Captain America Comics #1, and retold more recently in Tales of Suspense #63. This time around, we get several new details that are considered essential to the origin, such as the Vita-Rays that, along with the super-soldier serum, comprise the treatment in Project Rebirth (here called Project Super-Soldier), as well as the scene, well-known from the film Captain America: The First Avenger, of a spindly young Steve Rogers being rejected by the Army before being chosen for the super-soldier program.
The issue opens with a WWII mission with Cap and Bucky, which we learn is being recounted by Cap to Nick Fury in the present day. After Cap reveals his anguish over Bucky and being a “man out of time”—to which Nick essentially says “boo-hoo”—Nick asks how he became Cap, which leads into the origin story itself…
…after a very dramatic close-up. (I will note that Cap generously and humbly gives credit to all who played a hand in his creation.)
Here we see the now-classic scene of Steve Rogers attempting to enlist:
What I find particularly interesting and admirable is his statement about hating war and bloodshed, but also his stronger belief that, if someone has to sacrifice for this war, he can’t let them do it for him without joining the effort himself. (Seeing that no other virtues are mentioned explicitly here, we might assume this is what made Steve attractive to the colonel that recruits him.)
After Steve is taken to the lab and injected with the super-soldier serum, the final step is the Vita-Rays—administered with a healthy dose of Kirby Krackle!
(In about forty issues or so, we’ll learn exactly how important the Vita-Rays are to the process when we meet somebody who skipped them.)
Below, we learn that the treatment was designed not just to create super-soldiers, but to benefit the health of all humanity, and an affirmation that it did not make Steve super-human but “merely” a near-perfect human specimen; this keeps with the description, seen many times to this point, of Captain America having “no super-powers.” More important for our purposes, Dr. Erskine—operating here under the codename Dr. Reinstein—emphasizes the importance of good character (“sound mind”) as well as a sound body in embodying this ideal person.
Erskine effectively gives Steve his mission as he dies in the younger man’s arms (although I doubt Steve needed to be told). Below, he shows that he heard and understood.
During Steve’s battle with Erskine’s killer, he see him proclaim about fascists’ underestimation of the people they hope to subjugate, and also openly accept his fate as the sentinel of liberty (which he comes to resent after being reborn in a different way in the 1960s).
How dark he looks in the panel in the bottom left panel above as he swears out his mission; this reminds me of another young man who swore vengeance on criminals after losing loved ones. (Wonder whatever happened to him…?)
After he finishes his tale with the familiar story of Bucky stumbling upon Cap’s secret, Nick gets all sensitive—and Cap doubles up on being morose.
Stay tuned for Captain America #255, when we’ll get an even more elaborate version of Cap’s origin, courtesy of Roger Stern and John Byrne.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #105-108 (September-December 1968)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #60 (January 1969)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #110 (February 1969)