This amazing four-part miniseries—the first devoted solely to Captain America—is written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn by master of facial expressions Kevin Maguire, and elaborates significantly on Cap’s earliest days, providing additional details and emotional weight to Steve Rogers’ desire to serve his country, the Project Rebirth procedure and the training that preceded and followed it, and his early days as a costumed adventurer and national symbol. The first issue covers quite a bit of this ground, actually—and serves as the perfect comic to cover for the 400th post at The Virtues of Captain America Blog!
Our story opens with a view of movie houses on Times Square in late 1940, featuring some incredible films (although Margaret Sullavan’s name is misspelled).
As was the custom then, moviegoers were shown newsreels before the feature, and appropriately for the times, the one that night focuses on Adolf Hitler’s march across Europe, to which some in the audience react with boos and hisses, others with blissful neglect, and young Steven Rogers with shock and horror.
After the movie, Steve cannot forget what he saw, but his friends Patty and Eliot (introduced here) can’t bring themselves to care as much.
After (ironically) invoking contemporary comic strip hero Tim Tyler, Eliot mocks Steve’s patriotism before he makes the case, very popular in the United States before Pearl Harbor, that the country should stay out of the war in Europe, and suggests that Steve should enlist if he’s so concerned about the Nazi threat.
Alone, Steve mocks himself for his physical clumsiness and weakness…
…but when he arrives at Washington Square Park, his mind begins to change, and he rethinks Eliot’s suggestion.
Here we see the familiar scene of Steve applying at the Army recruitment center, where he attracts some attention before he even starts filling out the paperwork…
…which Steve wonders about, at least until he gets the results of his application.
It turns out young Steve Rogers may be scrawny for a reason, although naturally this does not prevent him from wanting to enlist.
Two more familiar faces now join the scene: General Phillips and Dr. Erkskine (who thinks Steve is “perfect, just perfect,” although his reasons are left vague). Phillips make sure Steve is sincere in his desire to serve, and then passes him on to Lieutenant Glass, who we can presume is the unnamed female character (only called Agent X-13 or Agent R) in previous origin stories.
While Steve packs and says goodbye to Patty and Eliot, we get the first mention of his artistic background, painting public murals under the Works Progress Administration, a federal jobs program initiated by President Roosevelt.
Watch little Stevie ride his first aeroplane… and get to know the lieutenant a little better.
(As opposed to earlier origin stories, Lieutenant Glass—sorry, I meant Cynthia—has a more prominent role here, starting out very similar to Peggy Carter in the film Captain America: The First Avenger.)
Of course, Steve is anxious about what he has agreed to, and on the first day, he is introduced to Project Rebirth…
…including several other candidates, each with a different physical and mental profile.
He also meets a very intimidating (and graphic) man named Lieutenant Colonel James Fletcher…
…whom Steve recognizes as a World War I hero nicknamed the American Eagle (who, I’m sad to say, is being mentioned here for the first time). Fletcher is more than familiar with all the candidates’ backgrounds, and he starts with Steve.
This information does not entirely sit well with other stories, as detailed in the Marvel Wiki page for this issue. For example, Steve’s birth year is elsewhere given as 1922, two years after his father is said here to have died—and even if Steve had been born in 1917, he’s shown elsewhere interacting with his father much past the age of five. (However, his mother dying when he was nearly of age is consistent with other stories, I think.)
We’ll skip the lengthy assessment and training exercises and the gradual narrowing down of the field of candidates to one, because we all know who the one is going to be. (I should mention that one of the candidates was a young Black Olympian named Jack Windmere, who was only knocked out of the running when he broke his knee in an accidental collision with another candidate. If history had worked out slightly differently, there may have been a Black Captain America long before Isaiah Bradley or Sam Wilson—assuming the government would have promoted him the same way they did Steve Rogers, which unfortunately is doubtful.)
It’s fitting that Steve is sketching a “brawny” man when Cynthia gives him the news…
…and soon Phillips and Erskine join the party, with the latter informing Steve that his work has only begun.
Below is the first of two fantastic training montages—cute the 80s soundtrack—which answers the question of how Steve Rogers “suddenly” acquired combat skill and knowledge after the Project Rebirth treatment. It also explains Cap’s martial arts background… and is that Nick Fury calling him a pantywaist at the end of the second row of panels?
Later, Steve mulls his chances with a Valentine’s Day surprise as he and Cynthia take a stroll, and Steve is forced to admit his inexperience with women…
…which leads to explaining his reasons for enlisting, focusing on his hatred of bullies (as well as his low opinion of the “good people who do nothing” in response to them).
“I’m not very good as speech-making,” ha ha—I guess the super-soldier serum and Vita-Rays gave him that too?
Below we see the second training montage, with Steve gradually improving, as well as revealing his dislike of guns.
Also, he’s still sketching, and cape or no cape, he seems to see himself becoming the next American Eagle (as well as smooching with Cynthia).
One week later, the day has finally arrived, and Steve undergoes the Project Rebirth treatment in front of a gallery full of prominent guests, one of them uninvited. (Or was he?) When all is done…
…he feels “thicker.” (That’s one way to put it, I guess!)
Dr. Erskine announces and reveals his achievement, and the part we know all too well happens next.
This launches a horrified Steve into action…
…even though he does not yet realize the extent of his new strength.
Afterwards, in Germany, the Red Skull—who is keeping close tabs on these developments—methodically assassinates the other men involved with Project Rebirth at the same time he tests a replicated version of the super-soldier serum on his own men (albeit without the benefit of the Vita-Rays). Meanwhile, the U.S. military works to hide its new secret weapon, who would rather fight than be hidden away (echoing a similar scene in Marvel Super-Heroes #3).
As they drive into Camp Lehigh, General Phillips explains how Superman successfully disguised himself as doofus Clark Kent for so many years…
…and Cynthia gives Steve a clear signal at literally the last moment. (Sigh.)
Steve keeps sketching, this time calling his character Mr. America—also the name of a Golden Age DC Comics hero who debuted in Action Comics #1 along with that other fella mentioned above.
Fletcher checks up on his asset, who is growing increasingly impatient and angry at his forced inactivity…
…and refuses to believe his superior officer when he says that Steve’s life, in these circumstances, is worth more than those who worked with him or are protecting him, especially Erskine and Dr. Anderson (who lived long enough in earlier versions of the story to help found the Invaders).
Steve quietly reasserts his position below, but Fletcher is clear about the young man’s future. Steve admires the older man’s bearing, and he can’t imagine now that he will possess the same himself before long.
He also ridicules the idea of him being the “perfect man,” but true to his humility, he’s more willing to believe it in terms of his physicality than his character (about which it would mean much more).
After he hears and then witnesses suspicious behavior, Steve finally sees an excuse to go into action… but as we saw above, he knows to guard his secret identity first.
Steve is positively giddy to be doing something again!
We get a full look at the new Mr. America when he surprises the saboteurs stealing munitions…
…but the issue ends on a particularly sharp note.
Is this the end of Captain America, before he even began? Find out next time, serial fans!
The Adventures of Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #1, September 1991: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Kevin Maguire (pencils), Joe Rubinstein and Tom Christopher (inks), Marie Javins (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #391-392, Avengers #337 and Alpha Flight #100, Infinity Gauntlet #3, Avengers #338, Thor #436, and Damage Control #4, Avengers: Death Trap — The Vault, and Avengers Annual #20, Namor the Sub-Mariner Annual #1, and West Coast Avengers Annual #6 (September 1991)
NEXT ISSUE: Adventures of Captain America #2 (November 1991)