In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
*This week we continue the whole month of Captain America-focused entries that look at various times the star-spangled Avenger has faced retcons, reboots, and resurrections!*
Death and resurrection are constant companions for anyone that has taken on the role of superhero/supervillain or even just those that are connected to them in a supporting type of role. At this point, it would be easier to make a list of characters that haven’t had a short vacation in the afterlife than it would be to compile all that have died and returned.
Back in 2007, Steve Rogers added to his numerous dalliances with death, following the summertime Civil War event storyline. It was short-lived though, and all part of the plan, as he made a big comeback almost two years later. Let’s take a look at how it all went down.
As noted above this particular death of Steve Rogers came in the aftermath of Civil War, the event that saw him and Iron Man (and both had their following of heroes/villains) taking separate sides on the issue of forced registration for all superheroes. Fearing he had gone too far in their war, Steve surrendered at the end, which left his fellow fugitive Avengers on their own as the registration act continued being law and Rogers was taken into custody.
While in the custody of the Tony Stark-led S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers is being escorted to a courthouse for his trial when a Red Skull ordered sniper (the villainous Crossbones) shoots Steve through the back of the neck/throat. Even as he falls he is then shot three more times point-blank in the chest, as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier and Sam Wilson/Falcon scramble to try and figure out what is happening. Sharon Carter, Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D. and romantic partner to Rogers, is there to hold him and then is there in the ambulance as he passes away before they reach the hospital.
It all culminates with Sharon crying in the bathroom when a disguised Cynthia “Sin” Schmidt (the daughter of the Red Skull) tells her to “remember” and triggers the programming put in place by Doctor Doctor Faustus, a longtime Captain America foe & ally of Red Skull, that he had been putting into place while pretending to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. psychiatrist. This causes her to break down because she remembers that it was her that put the final three killing shot bullets into Steve’s chest.
These moments were part of the very huge at the time Captain America #25 from Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Frank D’Armata, and Joe Caramagna. The thing is though, what we saw in this issue wasn’t the truth and not the full story at all.
The Nitty Gritty:
So following Captain America’s death, there were quite a number of back and forths between folks about who was responsible as the Red Skull continued his latest major plan to utterly take down the United States. While Bucky wanted revenge on Stark, it was Stark that brought a message to him from Steve that wanted Bucky to carry on the Captain America legacy. So he picked up the shield (under the condition that he be able to operate independently and not under registration or Stark) and continues the fight/investigation alongside Falcon and Sharon Carter (before she is kidnapped by Red Skull and was revealed to be pregnant with Steve’s child).
This era was broken into three mega arcs (“The Death of the Dream,” “The Burden of Dreams,” and “The Man Who Bought America.”) all under the umbrella of the Death of Captain America event.
Essentially, very long story short, Red Skull was hoping to transfer his consciousness out of the Russian General Aleksander Lukin into Sharon & Steve’s baby (hoping it inherited Project Rebirth serum). At the same Skull has a puppet in American politician Gordon Wright who he hopes to get in the White House so then he can put the country into a police state secretly controlled by the Skull. Both plots fail because of the impatience of Skull’s daughter Sin (and tampering by Faustus) which leads to Sharon losing the baby and rebelling by killing Lukin but Skull secretly survives as his mind is transferred into one of Arnim Zola’s robots.
That’s a lot, but here come the trippier parts.
In the summer of 2009 Brubaker was joined by Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice for the six-part Captain America: Reborn miniseries which focused on what really happened to Steve on that fateful day. The main Captain America series hit its 50th-anniversary issue shortly before this and then reverted to legacy numbering to have an anniversary 600th issue which served as a prequel to this event story, as Sharon investigated that day and her part and figured out that Steve could be saved.
Turns out the gun Sharon used was actually some of Doctor Doom’s tech that didn’t kill Steve but instead unstuck him from time and space. It left Steve wandering through time, mostly reliving some of the toughest and hardest moments of his past especially those in the war years. In the meantime, the heroes in the present are trying to find a way to save him, and Red Skulls associates are trying to get him a new flesh body with Steve Rogers being the prime choice.
Mister Fantastic deduces that Sharon is the key to returning Steve because of unidentified nanoparticles in her blood (at this point she turned herself into Norman Osborn, who was running H.A.M.M.E.R. at the time, for her part in Steve’s death) and Steve manages to give Vision a message in the past that the synthezoid is commanded to forget until the very moment of the present-day story. Captain America makes the most out of what time travel can bring.
Red Skull uses Sharon to bring Steve back, takes over his body, fights the Avengers and Bucky as Steve Rogers (and almost kills Bucky), while battling the actual Steve Rogers in their mindscape, evacuates Steve’s body when Rogers almost kills Skull in the mindscape, goes back to his robot body, gets Pym particle enlarged to a mega Red Skull robot, and then is destroyed by the Avengers. Told you it was wild.
Steve’s back in the world and asks Bucky to keep carrying the shield (becuase of some visions he had while traveling & his fears that Bucky would not survive if he isn’t Captain America) and eventually took over leading S.H.I.E.L.D. once Osborn is ousted in Seige before taking back the shield when Bucky appears to die in Fear Itself.
Resurrections run the gamut from simple to extreme, and this is one that falls somewhere in the really wild middle creeping towards the more extreme. At the same time, it was very fitting that the man out of time was ‘killed’ and returned to life through a whole actual-time travel/out-of-time experience.
What worked well for this story, even with the fantastical trippy elements, was that this came as part of the whole huge long run that Brubaker and Epting and various other creators were involved in from 2005 all the way into 2012 that centered on Steve, Bucky, and Sharon in most respects. Steve’s death was a huge event and had repercussions across the entire line, and it mattered. Often some comic deaths only matter within the scope of their given title/story, and other books never even acknowledge them really. That wasn’t the case here.
We got to see the effects of this death and then the return of a variety of characters both in the Captain America series but also Avengers books and others where Cap had a presence. The return didn’t feel cheap or forced, as it matched where the book was going and it had a massive effect on things. Top-notch work.
Next Week: Captain America goes through a whole different sort of rebirth