A Brief History of Captain America's Costume
Upon yesterday’s unveiling of the new Captain America’s costume, I remarked that most of the great iconic superhero costumes belong to DC. While Marvel has lots of great characters, few of them display the same design flair found in DC characters like Superman, Batman, Hawkman, The Flash, or Green Lantern. Primary colors, chest symbols. These are the staples of superhero costume design. None of the X-Men, in my opinion, have this sort of classic image. Spider-Man does, The Incredible Hulk, with his bare chest and purple pants does, and Captain America does. Designed by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941, Captain America’s look has remained virtually unchanged ever since (though Steve Rogers has at times worn other costumes). The stars and stripes perfectly capture who he is.
Here’s the “Cap punches Hitler” Jack Kirby cover to Captain America 1, courtesy Wikipedia:
Over time his mask grew into a cowl covering his neck, and the shield went from triangle to circle. Here’s Kirby’s famous cover to Avengers 4 (IBID):
John Cassaday’s cover to Captain America volume 4 number 1 plays up the “iconic” take (IBID):
One interesting thing I learned recently about Cap’s costume comes from Marvel editor Tom Brevoort. Stan Lee had a rule regarding how it was drawn:
The stripe directly below the center star on Captain Ameica’s [sic] costume is red. This was the way Cap’s costume was approached for the longest time–though, again, certain artists in recent years have done it differently. Similarly, Captain America was the one Marvel character who possessed a cleft chin.
Cassaday breaks that rule above.
Ultimate Captain America
In March 2002, Marvel launched a book called The Ultimates. Part of their new “Ultimate” line, it featured a re-imagining of the Avengers, now cast as a government-sponsored superteam designed to combat the rising threat of supervillainy. Ultimate Captain America is here depicted as more of a soldier than a superhero. He’s often seen carrying a gun and substitutes his mask for a helmet. Designed by Bryan Hitch, his costume has a kevlar look to it rather than the chainmail design, his belt includes pouches for weapons and supplies, his boots are no longer cuffed, and his mask doesn’t have wings on it. Here’s Hitch’s cover to The Ultimates 11:
Ultimate Cap is sometimes drawn wearing olive drab pants instead of his combat uniform.
The New Captain America
Captain America volume 5, written by Ed Brubaker and penciled by Steve Epting, has been one of the finest runs on the series in its 65 year history. This series featured the shocking death of Steve Rogers in number 25. Since then, the book has followed Cap’s supporting cast as they investigate and deal with his death. In 34, a new character will take up the mantle, wearing a new costume designed by Alex Ross. Brubaker hasn’t said who it will be, but the look of the costume portends a rougher, more militant Cap, possibly similar to the version seen in The Ultimates. The new version incorporates a chrome finish, lots of black, and adds a triangular motif to the character’s chest reminiscent of the original shield carried by Rogers. Here is Ross’s cover to Captain America 34, from Marvel’s PR site:
And here is the cover to the same issue drawn by regular series artist Epting:
Here are some sketches by Ross:
It’s actually a pretty good design, but it feels like pulling on the Lone Ranger’s mask, the original Kirby/Simon costume being so perfect. The bright top set against the dark bottom is a striking contrast, but could end up looking top-heavy. We’ll have to see how it looks in the book to really be able to tell. I do like the visual of this new Cap with a pistol in one hand and a shield in the other. There’s some stuff from Brubaker and Ross in the above-linked article on Marvel.com, and Newsarama has posted an interview as well.
Captain America, in his World War II stories, had a sidekick named Bucky Barnes. Bucky’s costume is no where near as memorable as his mentor’s, but it was a nice contrast to Cap’s, using blue and red but containing no white nor any symbols. Bucky didn’t appear much after the mid-50s, and in Avengers it was announced retroactively that he had been killed at the end of WWII. Sixty- five years later it would inspire one of Marvel’s best new character designs, and Bucky himself would be brought back to life. Here is the classic Bucky, as drawn by Eric Wright on the cover of the Captain America 65th Anniversary Special (via Wikipedia):
Brubaker and Epting brought Bucky back to life as the Winter Soldier a few years ago, revealed to have been brainwashed and forced to work as an assassin since his apparent death. His look isn’t anything terribly fresh, but he’s designed to look badass and stealthy, and the design accomplishes this nicely. He retains the domino mask from his original outfit, picks up a bionic arm with a Russian star on it, and carries large rifles (IBID):
In 2005, to great confusion from the fans, Marvel announced a new titled called Young Avengers. It seemed to be a very DC Comics idea: a team of seeming sidekicks dressed like established characters. In execution, however, defied expectations and was one of Marvel’s best books of the year. Patriot, the leader of the group, appeared to be styled after Captain America and Bucky Barnes, though his actual origin is tied to the Truth: Red, White, and Black miniseries which revealed that the US Army had experimented on black soldiers before turning Steve Rogers into Captain America. Patriot is the grandson of the only surviving member of these experiments. Here Jim Cheung’s cover to Young Avengers Special 1:
I absolutely love Cheung’s design. Patriot’s costume invokes some of Bucky’s image, namely the jacket and domino mask, but has an embossed diamond pattern that recalls the chainmail on Captain America’s uniform. Patriot carries Captain America’s original shield, and also uses throwing stars. Sadly writer Allan Heinberg has been too busy with his day job writing television to do another run on Young Avengers.