Captain America is about to receive a star-spangled relaunch courtesy of well-known writer J. Michael Straczynski. Known for the TV series Babylon 5 and his comic books run on Thor and The Amazing Spider-Man, Straczynski is planning on taking the Sentinel of Liberty back to his roots. In doing so, he should hopefully highlight a tone that works well for the WWII hero.

The new Captain America run will focus somewhat on Steve Rogers’ past from before he became Captain America. Growing up on the streets during the Great Depression definitely had a major impact on the character, and more modern runs have shown that he works best in a street-level capacity. Given that Cap is the face of the Avengers and the legacy of the Marvel Universe as a whole, putting his feet firmly on the street might be the best path forward.

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Captain America’s Comics Weren’t Always Street-Level

Captain America’s Super-Soldier Serum turns him into the physical peak of humanity, but he still isn’t overtly superhuman. Outside his nearly indestructible shield, he’s far weaker than the likes of Hulk, Thor, and even Spider-Man. This should logically place Captain America in down to Earth stories, but his comics didn’t always reflect this. As political as Cap’s Hitler-punching debut was, the actual stories from Steve Rogers’ Golden Age adventures weren’t quite the same. They involved many weird concepts like werewolves, inspiring the later “Capwolf” version of Steve Rogers. Needless to say, these weren’t exactly the war stories Captain America was best suited for.

Even the best Captain America runs didn’t always reflect his most organic story potential, often times coming off as merely generic superhero tales. This sometimes included the Mark Gruenwald run, which is largely seen as Captain America’s best run from before the 2000s. Steve Rogers was defined more as being an Avenger than he was as an individual hero, something which likely led to the low sales of the ’90s. This of course resulted in the dramatically controversial Heroes Reborn, which involved Marvel properties that had largely fallen out of favor with readers. Captain America was one such hero, and a lack of fitting identity was likely a huge reason.

In the modern day, the Ed Brubaker Captain America run is now considered the best, and it continues to be lauded to this day. It even reintroduced Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier, though he initially came back as a villain. Critically acclaimed, the run inspired various elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America. It notably had a spy thriller tone, which was something that previous runs flirted with, though too varying degrees. Under Brubaker’s pen, Cap’s adventures didn’t feel like run-of-the-mill superhero adventures, but tales with weight, gravitas and a bit of grit. This scope and tone has come to define Captain America, though most runs since then haven’t quite reached the same heights of quality. The thing that Brubaker and other creators have done well, however, is put Cap firmly among the everyday American and tone down the more gimmicky, ridiculous comic book tropes. Doing this even more could be a great way to deliver a personal Captain America run that connects to Marvel’s street-level characters and concepts.

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Captain America Deserves the Same Streetwise Treatment as Daredevil

For decades, the Marvel Universe has been regarded as the “world outside your window.” This is due to the verisimilitude of the characters and concepts. This is evidenced by the fact Marvel’s most popular heroes are typically its most relatable. This leads fans to gravitate toward Spider-Man’s Average Joe qualities and the persecuted the X-Men. The same goes for the gritty, street-level Daredevil or the take no prisoners Punisher. The popularity of darkness and depth helped Ghost Rider rule the 1990s, with these darker heroes largely eclipsing teams such as the Avengers or the Fantastic Four in terms of fandom. This would lead into the early 2000s, where the “Marvel Knights” concept was introduced. Though it covered experimental books for a variety of properties, the more grounded and street-level heroes were the focus.

For now, the proverbial king of the streets in the Marvel Universe is Daredevil. In the case of Spider-Man and Captain America, they’re both more associated with Avengers-level threats, though Spider-Man still have a firm tie to the common person and blue collar crime. Given that Captain America is one of the “Big 4” Avengers (the others being Thor, Hulk and Iron Man), it’d make sense if he was the one who represented the streets and more grounded stories. Conversely, Iron Man would take the sci-fi/corporate espionage angle. Thor would be in the realm of magic, fantasy, and mythology. Meanwhile, Hulk would continue to be a science fiction horror story, a la the acclaimed Immortal Hulk.

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Given that Cap literally started as a war hero, some level of grittiness wouldn’t be out of character. At the same time, it’d put a mainstream face on lower-level crime and stakes, ensuring the common person in the Marvel Universe that the Star Spangled Avenger is still just a New Yorker. The concept could still align with some of the socio-political angles of the character’s history and his more recent espionage runs. For instance, J. Michael Straczynski discussed at the 2023 San Diego Comic-Con that the flashbacks in Captain America’s upcoming run will deal with the era of the rise of the American Nazi Party. While that’s obviously something relegated to the past, Captain America’s present day adventures could see him tackling criminals born out of extremism — be it of a religious, national, or similar mentality. Thus, he’d still be fighting foes similar to Red Skull or the Flag Smashers, all without retreading those villains.

The new Captain America run should highlight street-level problems that affect the average citizen in Brooklyn. Drugs, gang warfare, and even trafficking are topics that would actually make sense for Cap to tackle. Since someone as wholesome as Captain America would be dealing with these issues, there’d still be a strong sense of heroism involved. With a writer like J. Michael Straczynski at the helm, this Captain America run is poised to define the character as much as Brubaker’s. After all, the colors that Captain America wears are meant to represent the everyday American people. Having Cap eschew outlandish stories in exchange for real-world down to Earth depth would be the best way for Americans of all walks of life to relate to the Sentinel of Liberty.

Captain America #1 hit stores on September 20th, 2023.

 Captain America is getting a new run from J. Michael Straczynski, and its scope should fittingly establish him as Marvel’s premiere street hero.  Read More