The Many Sidekicks of Captain America
Now on shelves is Captain America and Bucky: The Life Story of Bucky Barnes, a hardcover collection by Ed Brubaker, Marc Andreyko and Chris Samnee detailing the untold origins of Captain America and Bucky Barnes. Bet you thought you already knew those origins, didn’t you? And now, post Fear Itself, with Steve Rogers resuming the Captain America mantle and Bucky presumed dead (but actually still alive and operating as the Winter Soldier again), Cap is once again sans-sidekick. For a guy who’s had as many sidekicks as him, it’s fair to presume he may be considering a replacement. So what does Captain America look for in a sidekick? Let’s take a look at his previous partners and determine why they’re so valuable. Why use a shield when you have a human one?
Well, of course there’s Bucky. The original teen adventurer! James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes has been an orphan, a mascot, a partner, a soldier, dead, a cybernetically-enhanced and mind-controlled killing machine, a solo hero, Captain America, dead, and presumed dead. The last seven or eight years have been busy for James. The original Bucky was a great character elevated to near-mythic status by his continuity-rewriting death in the early sixties. When writer Ed Brubaker resurrected Bucky early in his exceptional and still-ongoing Captain America run, he gave the character the epic he deserved. He’s the yardstick by which we measure all others. And beat them with when we find them wanting.
Ah, Nomad. Most famous for appearing as the baby-and-shotgun-toting Nomad in his own series, Jack Monroe first showed up in the early 70s Steve Engleheart/Sal Buscema run, in another big retcon in Captain America’s story. Since the new Cap had been frozen throughout the 1950s, the ridiculously anti-Communist stories of that era could easily be explained with a different Captain America and Bucky behind the bullying. So the government enlisted surrogates for Cap and Bucky, injected them with the Nazi version of the Super-Soldier serum (always a good idea), and used them to root out commies. When the serum drove them crazy, they were put into suspended animation. After being awakened, the Cap replacement becomes the Grand Director, Jack is eventually broken from his brain-washing and enlisted into service as Nomad. We like Jack for his moxie, the way he stood up for the LGBT community, his willingness to inject himself with stuff, and the Lone Wolf and Cub vibe of his solo adventures, but we love that he named his adopted daughter Bucky. R.I.P. Jacky Boy.
Okay, let’s get this over with. Rick Jones is a cool character who’s vital to the history of the Marvel Universe. He’s also a dick. Let’s consider: Gecause he was out teenybopping with some strange in what we’re sure was a clearly-marked nuclear testing site, he caused the creation of the Hulk, ruining Bruce Banner’s life and unleashing the most destructive force on Earth. Then, after a couple of months glomming onto the Avengers, he totally abandons Hulk because of one near death, then just walks up to Captain. America. And says “Hey old timer, mind if I assume the mantle of your dead partner? To serve as a constant reminder of your failure? And then never, ever even compare to him as a hero?” And then just wears the old costume? Jones must not be able to read body language. Cap did not take it well.
You have to love Jack Flag. Just look at him! He’s American Grifter! Once part of Captain America’s support network, Jack Harrison took up crimefighting in homage to the star-spangled one, and boy was he slick. He fought street crime at first, then got powers in the lamest excuse for a chemical transformation ever. Soon, he ended up under Rogers’ wing, and is still active in his support network. Along with one other…
Mnnh… Uh, there was this coed who was given meta-human abilities and brainwashed to hate all men. And then she met Captain America, broke her mental bonds, and fought crime at Cap’s side, wearing things like that. Because women didn’t have enough reasons to hate comics.
It would be insulting to refer to Falcon as simply a sidekick, but he’s spent more time at Cap’s side than any other on this list. After the reformed ex-con Sam Wilson hooked up with Cap in 70s, he’s been more like a partner than any other on this list. He’s even gone so far as to mentor Cap’s short-lived replacement when Steve Rogers gave up the mantle, even wear the costume to keep up appearances, and stay on as Bucky’s partner at Rogers’ posthumous request. Just like your favorite pet bird, Falcon is incredibly loyal, and would do anything Captain America asks. I wonder if he sits around thinking of degrading things for Falcon to do. Mmmm, debasement.
Ready for more retroactive continuity? Too bad! In the original comics, Betsy Ross met and fell in love with Steve Rogers while in the Army. Captain America (who couldn’t be Steve Rogers) inspired her to create an identity for herself as Golden Girl, and when Bucky was sidelined due a gunshot wound, she joined Cap as his sidekick. The retroactive continuity that kicks in when Kirby and Lee revive Steve Rogers changes her story a bit. The Steve Rogers she was in love with was actually Jeffrey Mace — an adventurer known as The Patriot — who replaced Rogers when Captain America went missing. And Jeffrey Mace was actually the second guy to replace him. Golden Girl and The Patriot (as Cap) had several adventures, until they retired and married. And because there truly is a circle of life, it turns out she’s Betty Ross’s aunt. Warm feelings of completeness and harmony. Feel ’em?
Hah! What a f***ing Red Shirt! If you’re a costumed adventurer, and your name is Fred Davis, then you’re going to die. The second retroactive Cap replacement was William Naslund, a.k.a. Spirit of ’76. There are two more horrible names for you. Spirit of ’76? Can you imagine the Red Skull saying that over a loudspeaker? With all those S-sounds and that accent? Gah! Naslund and Davis were the first replacements for Rogers and Barnes, and they died quick, horrible deaths. In brighter news, Davis used to be a bat-boy for the Yankees! That’s like sidekicking for the Devil!
Technically, this Nomad sidekicked for the Cap of an alternate universe, but that only makes her cooler! Rikki Barnes is the female Bucky from the Heroes Reborn universe, created by none other than Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld. And she’s still cool! After winding up the mainstream Marvel Universe, the gutsy and whipsmart Barnes assumed the Nomad identity and formed the Young Allies in an attempt to get the real Captain America’s attention. Things have been busy for Cap what with death and time-travel and everything, but who knows what the future brings?
Why, we’re all Captain America’s sidekick! Every time you buy a war bond, go spotting for Nazi subs, or turn in suspicious-looking individuals, you’re helping Cap out in his fight against evil! Even in the midst of a decade-long conspiracy action epic about the importance of personal freedom and defiance of institutions! Junior Caps unite!
(This article is purely for fun and not a rallying cry for psychos in their own Cap costumes. Those boots aren’t entirely red, they’re just sort of reddish-brown, and mostly just slopped on the bottom and the sole… oh…)