Captain America turned 80 years old this week. He still doesn’t look a day over 30. It must be the experimental serum. Or the ice bath.
Though the date on Timely’s Captain America Comics No. 1 reads March 1941, the first issue to feature Steve Rogers, sidekick Bucky and forever-enemy Red Skull actually arrived on newsstands on Dec. 20, 1940. To commemorate the landmark occasion, Heritage Auctions offers one of finest known copies in the January 14-17 Comics & Comic Art event.
The Captain America Comics No. 1 in this auction is graded VF+ 8.5 by Certified Guaranteed Company – one of only three copies to receive such a mark, with only six known to be in better condition. In almost 20 years, Heritage has offered only two finer than the one that is showcased in an event that also features the best-known Batman No. 1 ever to reach an auction block.
“Either one of these books would be the highlight and centerpiece of any auction, but to have them both in the same event is nothing short of extraordinary,” says Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Ed Jaster. “These are the titles, the heroes, the writers and the artists that have defined comic books – and now cinema – for eight decades. And to see two extraordinary firsts in such remarkable condition in the same auction 80 years after they were published is something special not likely to happen again.”
Captain America’s debut, the handiwork of not-yet-legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, coincided with the first day of the three-day Christmas blitz on Liverpool by the German Luftwaffe. The United States was still a year away from entering World War II. But there was the star-spangled Cap on the comic’s cover delivering a right cross to Hitler in the sock heard ’round the world.
“The team of Simon and Kirby brought anatomy back into comic books,” cartoonist Jules Feiffer wrote in his 1965 book The Great Comic Book Heroes, which for many fledgling fans served as introduction to and explanation of the medium’s Golden Age.
“Not that the other artists didn’t draw well … but no one could put quite as much anatomy into a hero as Simon and Kirby,” he wrote. “Muscles stretched magically, fore-shortened shockingly. Legs were never less than four feet apart when a punch was thrown. Every panel was a population explosion – casts of thousands: all fighting, leaping, crawling. … Speed was the thing, rocking, uproarious speed. Blue Bolt, The Sandman, The Newsboy Legion, The Boy Commandoes and best of all: Captain America and Bucky.”
The issue’s storyline, in which a “frail young man” named Steve Rogers is injected with a serum that gives him “the strength and the will to safeguard our shores,” is familiar now even to someone who has never picked up a comic. It has served as template for a tentpole franchise; made a modern star of a World War II hero; and remains as timely as the name of the comic company that published Captain America’s stories before it was made Marvel.
Cap has been many things in the 80 years since his debut: Sentinel of Liberty, Commie Smasher, Invader, Avenger, time-traveler, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, pawn of Hydra. But in the end …
“Captain America isn’t a man. It’s an idea,” Mark Waid wrote in 2019’s Marvel Comics No. 1000, which celebrated the company’s 80th anniversary. “It’s a commitment to fight every day for justice, for acceptance and equality, for the rights of everyone in this nation.”
And it all began here.