Who’s Who in Captain America

by | Jul 24th, 2011 | 12:58PM | Filed under: Movies, Other Bits

The new movie Captain America: The First Avenger is a well-crafted wartime adventure that both stands on its own as solid summer entertainment, and works as a lead in for next year’s big Avengers super-group blockbuster.

But the latest Marvel superhero movie is also filled with little tips of the shield to Marvel comic-book continuity, not just in its main heroes and villains but many other characters drawn directly from Cap’s 70 years of four-color publication.

Here’s a Geek Guide to Captain America‘s supporting cast. So now you’ll know why the fanboys and girls around you are cheering when Neal McDonough yells “Wahoo!” (No, he’s not a Cleveland Indians or UVA fan, or sports fisherman.)

Read my full review of Captain America: The First Avenger here.

Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)

Cap was created in March 1941 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for Timely Comics, but after a series of WWII adventures, the character’s popularity waned in the early ’50s. However, in 1963 Stan Lee and Kirby revived the character for their newly named Marvel Comics by having a young Avengers team find the WWII hero in frozen suspended animation in the Arctic. That “man out of time” angle became a key part of the Rogers character, with Captain America also serving as a reminder of old-school, patriotic values during the turbulent ’60s and ’70s.

Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)

A WWII fighter with the French Resistance, the British Margaret “Peggy” Carter was included in some of Simon and Kirby’s original stories as a love-interest for Steve Rogers. However it is her niece, SHIELD agent Sharon Carter, with whom Rogers has an on-again-off-again romance in the modern-era Marvel comics. Which is only vaguely creepy.

The Red Skull / Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving)

Cap’s arch foe since the very first March ’41 Timely Comics issue, the Skull started out a Nazi, but over time has died and been resurrected many times. As in the film, the Skull is always after the Cosmic Cube and has sometimes been allied with HYDRA. However, in the comics Schmidt has a normal (though scarred) human face and wears a Red Skull mask, the opposite of the new film’s version.

Arnim Zola (Toby Jones)

A Nazi scientist during WWII who was often funded by the Red Skull, the villainous Zola showed up in the comics in the late ’70s.  In modern times Zola created a headless artificial body in which he stores his consciousness, with his face appearing on a video screen on the body’s chest. Which is why, in a sly nod to that incarnation, the new film first shows us Zola’s face through a giant magnifying glass.

Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci)

The character of a German scientist who flees Nazi rule and then helps the United States by creating the Super Soldier Serum for the Army’s Project Rebirth appeared in the very first Captain America story in 1941, however he was called “Josef Reinstein” in that early incarnation. (Later it was said “Reinstein” was the alias the Allies gave him while smuggling him out of Germany.)

Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper)

Tony Stark’s father first appeared in flashback in a 1970 issue of Iron Man. An inventor, industrialist, and pilot, Stark Pere was heavily involved in the American war effort during WWII, helping out with, among other things, the Manhattan Project. (He’s named after Howard Hughes, one of the inspirations for Tony Stark’s character.) In the comics, the alcoholic Howard Stark pushed and belittled his son up until Howard’s death in a mysterious car crash along with Tony’s mother. In the Marvel films he’s seen as one of the early driving forces behind the creation of SHIELD (the older Howard is played by Mad Men‘s John Slattery in Iron Man 2), and in both the comics and the films, it’s clear Tony’s inherited his father’s genius and his drinking problem.

Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)

Cap’s young sidekick from the start, Bucky was created by Simon and Kirby and went on to accompany Rogers in his WWII missions. (In the comics he was a Robin-like teen, as opposed to the grown-up soldier he is in the new film.) When Lee and Kirby revived Captain America in 1963, it was said Bucky died near the end of the War during the pair’s last WWII mission.

(I have a friend and comic-book fan who always said, “In comics no one’s ever really dead. Except Bucky.” But this past decade even Bucky came back–turns out, like every other deceased comic-book character, he didn’t really die, but was rescued by the Soviets and made into their own super soldier.)

Gen. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones)

General Phillips first appeared in the comics in 1965, having been one of the generals in charge of the WWII Super Soldier program that created Captain America. (It’s possible his name is an homage to the real-life WWII Marine Lt. Gen Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller.)

The Howling Commandos

For comic geeks watching this Captain America movie, one of the biggest thrills is seeing the Howling Commandos in action on the big screen. The Army squad was created in 1963 by Lee and Kirby for the WWII-set series Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.

The Commandos, with their rally cry of “Wahoo!” included Fury’s second in command, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan (played by Neal McDonough in the film, complete with trademark handlebar mustache and bowler), the African-American Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), the Japanese-American Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), and the French Resistance fighter Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci). The British soldier James Montgomery Falsworth (J.J. Feild) appears on the film’s squad, but in the comics he was the costumed WWII fighter Union Jack.

In the comics, the Commandos were led by Nick Fury during the war and in modern times they form the core of Fury’s SHIELD organization. Of course in the Marvel film universe Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury is too young to have been a WWII soldier, so the Commandos are instead commanded by Captain America.


The worldwide criminal and terrorist group was created in 1965 by Lee and Kirby as an organizational enemy for Nick Fury’s SHIELD (a la SPECTRE and SMERSH in Ian Fleming’s Bond novels). Formed during WWII by the evil Baron Strucker, HYDRA is known for its advanced technological weapons and green-clad minions with their dedicated “Hail Hydra!” salute.

The Cosmic Cube

In the film, the Cube is a mysterious energy source with ties to the mystical-dimensional world of Thor’s Asgard. (It’s glimpsed in Thor‘s end credits.) In the comics, however, it’s been around since 1966, always an all-powerful galactic “containment matrix” for vast, reality-bending power. As in the film, the Red Skull in particular is usually out to find and control the Cube.

Captain America’s Shield

In the very first 1941 Captain America comic the hero’s bulletproof shield was a triangular “heater” shield. (Later versions of the story had that first shield given to Cap by the nation of African nation of Wakanda, home to the Black Panther, and a second shield given to him by President Roosevelt.) However, MLJ Comics (now Archie Comics) complained that first shield looked too much like their 1940 hero The Shield. So for the second issue of Captain America Comics, Simon and Kirby gave Cap his now iconic circular shield.

In the film, as in the comics, Howard Stark says Cap’s new circular shield is made out of vibranium, a very rare super metal that absorbs vibrations, impact and kinetic energy, making it perfect for a shield. (And yet, the elder Stark used the only known supply of it to make a shield and then just left it laying forgotten under a workbench? Those darn eccentric Starks…) In the comics there are different varieties of vibranium, but the main one comes from a meteor that landed in Wakanda.


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8 Responses to “Who’s Who in Captain America”

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Jeremy F.
    Posted on July 24, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    so in the first iron man mvoie, where caps shield is on tonys work desk, im assuming its a new shield tony was working on for him, cause in this movie, when they find cappy, they see his shield first, unless they gave tony caps shield before he woke up in the stage room so he could upgrade/repair it? …see crap like that twists the mind around…dammit…

    i bet they wont explain that in the avengers…and avengers BETTER be a 3 hr movie!!!

  1. Elton L
    Posted on July 25, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    The same thing Jeremy F is asking, I wondered about myself for sometime now…how in the world did Tony have Cap’s shield in IM-1, but he didn’t know ANYTHING about the Avengers supposedly until the end of IM-1 when Fury showed up…

  2. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Jeremy and Elton, yes the shield cameo in Iron Man 2 does present a continuity stickler, but if there’s one thing us comic-book geeks are good at retro-rigging, it’s continuity!

    In Iron Man 1, Tony’s didn’t know anything about his father and Fury’s Avengers Initiative, but the implication was in both IM1 and IM2 that Tony had a lot of Howard’s old stuff in storage. So it’s still possible he could have an old Cap shield laying around and not know what it was. (There’s the brief glimpse of it in IM1 and then a little cameo joke about it in IM2 when Fury asks about it.)

    However, the larger question isn’t why did Tony have it (even if he didn’t know what it was), but rather what IS that shield Tony ends up with? It’s made clear in the movie Captain America (as it was in the comics) that Cap’s shield is a one-of-a-kind accident–there are no others like it, and Howard pointedly says it was made of all the vibranium they had. (Though presumably there’s more to be found in Wakanda). And of course Cap’s shield was lost along with him, frozen under the Arctic ice in the flying wing.

    What Tony has in IM2 (and IM1) seems like some sort of test prototype, like a shell of a shield–so let’s assume it was Howard and/or Fury’s later failed attempt to replicate the original, lost shield, and then tossed into a storage bin when it couldn’t be done. Make sorta sense?

  3. Jeremy F.
    Posted on July 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    OR…maybe cap was asleep for a long time STILL after they thawed him out, that being the films follow the film release timeline…

    or maybe it a adamantium one >.<

  4. Kevin Breen
    Posted on August 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Missed a few … the android in the red suit in the glass container at the World Exposition: original Human Torch. Arnim Zola: a modern day mad scientist in the comics with a headless body and his face on a tv screen on his chest; first time we see Zola in the film he’s a face on a tv screen. Howard Stark’s flying car prototype: Nick Fury had one in his first appearance as Agent of SHIELD. Cap punching Hitler in the face: cover of the first issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, 1940. “Mind the gap” as the Commandos jumped onto the train: popular British saying related to subway travel. Female SHIELD agent posing as Peggy Carter: Peggy’s niece who becomes Cap’s love interest in modern day? (She’s played by Amanda Righetti (THE MENTALIST), she’s too good an actress to waste in a mere cameo.)

  5. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on August 4, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Kevin, I didn’t catch the original Torch! That’s very cool. But I did mention Zola and the first shot of him, in fact that and the Commandos were what made me want to write this up :)

    And yes you’re right — the SHIELD agent Righetti plays at the end posing as a nurse is Sharon Carter and she’ll be in The Avengers, though these days she’d have to be Peggy’s granddaughter, right? I didn’t catch that one, either — thanks!

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Kevin Breen
    Posted on August 4, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    What’s the problem with the shield? Why did there have to be only one? Maybe Stark was working on a backup, replacement or upgraded shield when Cap disappeared.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Kevin Breen
    Posted on August 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    I think in the comics Sharon has been rewritten as Peggy’s niece. Can you confirm Righetti as Sharon? I’m a fan of hers from THE MENTALIST and I’d love to see her as Sharon!