Sure, Steve Rogers is the Captain America we all think of when we see the iconic shield — but there are plenty of other folks, from footnotes to A-list Marvel heroes, who have suited up with the stars and stripes over the years.
So to make sure we’re all up on the roster, we’ve put together a rundown of everyone who has taken up the mantle over the decades. The stars of the Disney+ original series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), are on the list, of course. Given the amount of shield-throwing and heroics going on in the trailers for the series thus far, we hope that's not too big a spoiler.
Considering the character has been around since the 1940s, it’s no surprise that Marvel has put a whole lot of folks in the suit over the years. Reinvention and change are part of what makes comics so fun and exciting in the first place, and it’s the reason we keep reading, just to see which crazy twist or adventure comes next.
First, a quick note: We’ve done our best to run down the main players who have been Captain America in the main “canon” of Marvel continuity. As comic readers are well aware, though, the multiverse and canon-altering experiments such as the What If? stories make things a whole lot weirder and more interesting. That's why we didn’t mention folks like Frank Castle, or Roberta Mendez, or Isaiah Bradley below. But they still have very cool stories!
Peggy Carter is showing up as Captain America in Disney+’s upcoming What If? animated series; and the Earth-65 (aka Spider-Gwen’s world) version of Captain America, Samantha Wilson, is probably one of the coolest characters to ever wear the mantle. And, don't even get us started on folks like Sharon Rogers or Danielle Cage! From future alt-realities to ambitious spinoff stories, there are a lot of other would-be Caps in the margins.
For the sake of Marvel continuity, though, these are the major players you probably need to know about.
You know him. You love him. He’s the OG Captain America.
Introduced all the way back in 1941, the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, has sported the shield, stars, and stripes for a whole lot longer than anyone. We all know the story: A young man who desperately wants to serve his country is deemed too sickly to make the cut before a super serum gives him super strength and agility, turning him into a Nazi-fighting hero who positively exudes the ideals of freedom and goodness.
Steve is the version of the character who has popped up the most in animation and live-action, too — most notably played by Chris Evans in, like, a dozen MCU movies at this point.
Most commonly known as the "Spirit of '76," this patriotic hero, first introduced in 1977, served a very brief stint as Captain America back in the day — taking up the role while Cap was in suspended animation.
His origin as Cap is tied to a twisty What If? story but for a very brief time (and thanks to some time-travel shenanigans, a time or two again), Naslund took up the iconic shield as Cap. Sadly, his tenure as Captain America came to an end when he was crushed to death by a robot.
As comic fans will likely recognize, Jeffrey Mace has a fairly long history in comics — and one that includes a stint as Captain America along the way. Though he was Cap for a while, Mace has typically been known as the superhero Patriot in Marvel Comics. After Naslund was killed in action, though, Mace took up the role of Captain America to keep the stars and stripes shining on the battlefield.
He’s also appeared in live-action in the modern Marvel continuity, too! Mace was played by Jason O’Mara on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and took over as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a while. The live-action version of the character died a hero’s death, sacrificing himself to save Coulson and his team.
We’re going to be honest — this is a weird one.
Burnside was obsessed with Captain America and even received a tainted version of the super-serum that gave Steve Rogers his powers. The serum Burnside got, though, had some side effects of the psychotic variety. Burnside’s version of Cap goes mad, to the point he’s eventually brainwashed by Doctor Faustus and turned into the supervillain The Grand Director.
His story only gets more complicated from there, because [Handwave at the Weird and Twisty Continuity of Marvel Comics Over the Past Several Decades]. For a while there, though, he tried his best to fill Steve Rogers’ shoes.
Steve Rogers took a break from being Captain America in the 1970s to wander the country as the Nomad. So the world needed someone to step into his old gig.
Enter: Roscoe Simons.
Simons took on the shield after two would-be replacements, Bob Russo and "Scar" Turpin, flamed out. Sadly, Simons’ tenure only lasts a few issues before he is killed by the Red Skull. Turns out it ain’t easy being Captain America.
Though most comic fans likely think of U.S. Agent when they hear the name “John Walker,” the character did serve as Captain America for a while in the 1980s when Steve Rogers put down the shield because he was disillusioned by the politics of the United States. Walker was part of that 1980s fad of replacing mainline heroes with different characters, and Walker was designed to give the goody-two-shoes hero a different spin with a darker, more brutal hero behind the shield. Walker put a more Punisher or Wolverine-esque take on Cap, and after holding down the title for several issues, eventually transitioned to the U.S. Agent persona he still uses to this day.
Looking to the MCU, fans will also be meeting a version of John Walker in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier series on Disney+. He’ll be played by Wyatt Russell, presumably as a government-sanctioned hero put in place to take up Cap’s role — even though the MCU’s Steve Rogers passed the shield to Sam Wilson in the closing moments of Avengers: Endgame.
Bucky Barnes has a lengthy history in the comics canon as well as the big-screen canon of the MCU and is most often associated with the codename Winter Soldier. Following the death of Captain America in the aptly titled 2007 comic arc "The Death of Captain America," Bucky stepped into the role and put his own spin on keeping Steve’s legacy alive through several major Marvel Comics events and crises, holding down Cap’s place among the Avengers.
Bucky’s version of Cap carried the baggage from his long history as a hero who had typically operated in the gray areas and margins and made for a compelling take on the character. Of course, Marvel carried Bucky over to the big (and now small) screen, as played by Sebastian Stan. The character is back in a starring role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a team-up series alongside Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (aka Falcon).
The most recent hero to take up the mantle of Captain America is Cap’s longtime sidekick the Falcon, aka Sam Wilson. Sam took over as Captain America as part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch in the early-to-mid-2010s. When Steve Rogers is turned into an old man and loses his powers, he selects Sam to be his successor. Sam’s time with the shield was a compelling era that tackled the racial and political fallout of having a Black man as Captain America, and took on stories about immigration and domestic terrorism during his run.
Though Sam eventually returned to his Falcon codename when Steve regained his youth and powers, his time as Cap made for some of the most ambitious stories Marvel had told with the character.
Marvel Studios seemed to agree, as Anthony Mackie’s big-screen version of Sam Wilson was gifted the shield by Steve Rogers during the finale of Avengers: Endgame. That story will continue in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.