Marvel’s The Avengers is on the fast track to becoming this generation’s Star Wars, breaking nearly every record that exists at the box office all over the globe, and further establishing an extremely rich new cinematic universe. The world is now fully aware of Marvel’s astounding roster of superheroes and the enormous world in which they live. Yet, as many of us know, there is a very long history behind these characters, and with each there is also a wealth of backstory for the weapons and technology involved. The instruments of heroism(or evil-doing) that the folks in The Avengers wield are often integral to the man or woman’s origin, characterization, and/or fighting style. In our first part of the series Avengers Tech, let’s take a look at arguably the most famous Avenger weapon, the shield of Captain America.
When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who choose to oppose his shield must yield!
That was the line from the 1968 cartoon featuring everyone’s favorite ‘roided-up super-soldier. And it’s the truth. Taking a look back through Captain America’s history, he’s rarely seen without it. Since his inception in 1941’s Captain America Comics #1, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Cap’s been a living symbol of freedom and standing up to aggressors against that freedom. What better tool and symbol than a shield; an instrument of defense, or in the hands of a super-soldier with a brilliant mind for fighting, it can also become the last thing bad guys seen before lights-out. Steve Rogers is able to throw it and have it return to him; over the years in comics there’s been no shortage of fancy tricks he’s pulled off, from taking out several guys in one calculated throw, to guarding himself and others from explosions, as he did in The Avengers movie.
Here’s a few interesting facts and milestones about the shield:
- The original shield appeared only in the first issue, and was a heater shield instead of the circular design used today. It was replaced in the second issue by the current and infamous round shield after a rival comics company claimed it resembled their own star-spangled hero. Captain America: The First Avenger paid tribute to the first incarnation.
- The shield is composed of vibranium, a fictional metal alloy in the Marvel Universe, mainly found in the African nation of Wakanda, ruled by the Black Panther. Vibranium is highly resistant to vibration, which has allowed Cap to avoid being smashed by the Hulk, blown up by Red Skull, and even allowing him to repel a strike from The Mighty Thor’s hammer, as in The Avengers movie.
- The shield was not always indestructible in the comics; after first joining the Avengers in the ’60’s, the shield was actually broken or lost several times, always inexplicably returning. This was later retconned by some clever writing explaining that Tony Stark had been analyzing the real shield, while Rogers had been using a series of steel fakes.
- There have been several other men to wear the stars and stripes, but most did not use the real shield. A superhero from the 31st century named Major
Victory uses the actual shield in the distant future, long after Steve Rogers’s death. The shield is fought over by several parties after the assassination of Captain America following the superhero Civil War in 2006, including Hawkeye and Cap’s former sidekick, Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier.
- Tony Stark, possessing the real shield after Captain America was seemingly killed, as well as a letter from Rogers with his final wishes for his old friend and sidekick to take up the mantle, offered Bucky the position as the new Sentinel of Liberty. Bucky accepted, and went on to carry the shield and for several years was the one and only Captain America, even remaining as such for a while after Rogers returned in 2010.
- The shield has been destroyed several times throughout the years. Once by Molecule Man, once by Thanos(that’s right, the guy who is likely the next Avengers movie villain), and most recently was shattered by The Serpent in 2011’s Fear Itself, after Bucky-Cap had been killed in battle. It was later repaired by Asgardian
dwarves and enhanced with a mystical metal called uru, which is also what Thor’s hammer is made from. Though it is now stronger than before, Steve Rogers chose to keep the new visible scar across the shield, because it “adds character”.
- In 2007, when Captain America was killed in the comics, it became frontpage news. Marvel Comics Editor-in Chief Joe Quesada went on The Colbert Report and presented host Stephen Colbert with “Captain America’s shield”. It hangs behind the snarky commentator in each episode to this day.
- In the 1970’s TV movie Captain America, the hero rode a motor cycle and brandished a particularly odd version of the costume, as well as a bastardized version of the shield.
- Even the Commander-in-Chief, POTUS Barack Obama respects the shield. In my mind, there isn’t a more eloquent, yet capable piece of gear in the Marvel Universe. Sure you’ve got your high-tech armors, gods of whatever, and omnipotent world-eating beings from an ancient universe, but none have the symbolism, the power that comes not from a repulsor nor a lightning strike, but from the respect all heroes have for the man wielding the shield. When the world is on the brink of destruction, and the shield is raised high, there is no greater power than the ability to rally your army of superhero friends to set the record straight for any bad guys unfortunate enough to have not heard this bit of music:
Be sure to stay tuned for future editions of Avengers Tech, where we will be diving into the histories of Thor’s hammer, Iron Man’s armor, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, and more!
More details: Wikipedia