Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a federal holiday to commemorate the memory of the men and women who died serving in the Armed Forces.

It's also the end of an interesting month for fans of Captain America. In his 75th year of existence, the Sentinel of Liberty has starred in one of the most critically acclaimed superhero films of all time, and he's been the subject of a controversial new storyline in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. Yet whatever his status in the comics, he remains an icon to the public at large, standing for the platonic ideals of the American nation at its very best. One of the best examples of what he represents comes from a series of one-shot comics telling of Cap's exploits in World War II and Iraq, with a shared focus on the ordinary soldiers fighting beside him.

Captain America: Theater of War was released from 2008-2010 as seven stand-alone stories by some stellar creative teams, and was recently collected in paperback. Included in this series is an early comic by current Mighty Morphin Power Rangers writer Kyle Higgins, writing with his C.O.W.L. co-creator Alec Siegel, with art by Augustin Padilla. "Prisoners of Duty" sees Steve Rogers, out of costume, caught in an explosion and waking up as a POW in a German castle. Gorgeously drawn with some brilliant action scenes, it's a great prison break story with a gutpunch of an ending.

 

Steve Epting

 

Other great entries in the series include "To Soldier On," by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Fernando Blanco, which takes place during the invasion of Iraq and uses the names of Jenkins' real life veteran friends for a story about coming back from the brink in more ways than one.

There's also Howard Chaykin's "America First," a '50s-set tale of Nick Fury and William Burnside (who operated as Cap and Steve Rogers after the war, hunting Communists and fifth columnists then went crazy; long story) learning to trust each other while combating a Joseph McCarthy analogue. Being a Chaykin story, there are big chins, big action and even a cool font by Dave Lanphear that mimics Cyrillic script for Russian characters.

 

Howard Chaykin

 

The story most appropriate to today, however, is "America The Beautiful," by Jenkins and Gary Erskine. It tells of a skinny, cowardly soldier named Bobby Shaw and his WWII friendship with Cap, which ends in a heartlifting and solemn way.

Most Americans, myself included, are probably related to or know someone who is a veteran, or who was killed in combat, so it's worth taking a moment today to think about the reason for the holiday. Even fictional stories like these can help us to make contact with the past, and understand why we honor those that have served and those that have fallen.

 

Paul Jenkins/Gary Erskine

 

Check Out More of the Best Captain America Stories