If we have learned anything from the earworm theme song from 1966’s The Marvel Super Heroes cartoon, when Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. Cap’s signature shield has come to embody all that Steve Rogers stands for in one instantly recognizable and supremely patriotic symbol.
This is why Sam Wilson’s recent abandonment of the suit and the shield is such a big deal – it means way more than just another load of superhero threads. The outfit and the shield especially carry a greater meaning and represent a duty and responsibility that is not meant to be taken lightly. As fan reaction to the latest Cap developments can be charitably described as “mixed” and the famous shield is in need of a new owner, we figured we’d trawl the comic book archives and collect some of Cap’s best shields ever and rank them for your convenience and enjoyment. Here are Captain America’s 15 Greatest Shields Ranked From Worst To Best.
15. His Dark Ages Shield
The idea behind the Exiles series was to explore alternate realities and divergent timelines, presenting readers with new and interesting takes on some of Marvel’s most iconic characters. In Exiles #55, the first part of the story Bump in the Night, Spider-Man finds everyone but him has been transformed into Dark Ages versions of themselves due to Master Spell cast by wizard Kulan Gath. Cars became horses, guns became swords and Manhattan’s famous skyscrapers were replaced with castles and minarets. Crucially, those affected have no memory of their previous lives, meaning that Spidey has a tough time convincing the Exiles that they aren’t part of this world.
When they eventually do get on the same page in the next issue, they have to go up against several changed heroes including Thor, Scarlet Witch and of course, Captain America. This version of Cap wields a sword, but his shield is accounted for too. It’s wooden with metal studs arranged to suggest the famous star. It’s pretty cool, but ranks low thanks to the fact it would be nowhere near as strong and durable as the others on this list. Plus, think of the splinters.
14. His First Shield
You’d struggle to find many comic book covers more iconic than Captain America Comics #1. In the incredibly famous image, Cap is shown punching real-world menace Adolf Hitler in the face, whilst simultaneously blocking a bullet with his shield. It was a bold statement of intent and sums up Cap’s early stint as a propagandistic poster boy perfectly.
Steve’s first shield is more of a traditional “heater” shape, modeled after the Great Seal of the United States. It was made of simple steel, so Cap couldn’t bounce it around corners or do any of the cool stuff he could do with later versions. When MLJ (later Archie Comics) objected, complaining that it was too similar to their patriotic hero The Shield, the design was changed to the circular one we all know and love. The original was given to Wakandan King T’Chaka as a goodwill gift between the two nations during World War II. This was later retconned in 2010 and a battle-suit wearing Red Skull crushes the triangular shield in his mighty metal hands.
13. His Mascot Shield
When skinny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is transformed into the jacked Cap in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, things don’t pan out how Steve had initially hoped. He’s used as a glorified mascot for the war effort and he’s convinced to sell war bonds all over the country. His outfit is all kinds of goofy too, with a decorative shield on his arm to complete the look. When Steve gets tired of being a performing monkey, he takes matters into his own hands and sets off solo to rescue a bunch of POWs from a Hydra base. He does away with most of the goofy costume, but keeps his shield.
Steve soon realises that perhaps steel won’t cut it when Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) leaves a perfectly fist-shaped dent in it. The shield is forgotten about after this, but it plants the idea in Steve’s brain for a better, stronger and more durable version later in the movie.
12. His Smithsonian Shield
Cap’s third shield doesn’t appear to much different than his first. And it isn’t, all things considered. However, as always, context is important. Steve loses his discus shield in the Atlantic Ocean and is left without his awesome weapon. Tony Stark makes him a replacement, but as the original is completely unique, it isn’t the same and Cap struggles to make his usual physics-defying throws with it. Tony and Steve are left with no time to tinker with it, however, as Hydra take over the Smithsonian Institution and claim to have set a deathtrap for Captain America.
With innocent lives at stake, Cap sets off and infiltrates the museum, finding two young museum patrons caught up in the mess. Cap comes up against Hydra forces and throws his Stark shield, but to little effect. He disappears as the boys and his shield are captured, only to come roaring back with a museum replica of his original shield which he uses to beat the Hydra goons until they’re red, black and blue. The shield was later gifted to him by the museum in thanks, but it was destroyed a few issues later by a Kree warrior with no apparent respect for history.
11. His Earth-3931 Shield
Marvel’s numbered alternate Earths may be confusing for some. However, all you need to know about Earth-3931 is that in that universe, the Avengers are vampires- straight-up bloodsucking vampires that feast on their foes. Comic books are the best.
In this reality, it turns out that Captain America had lost his classic battle with Baron Blood and been bitten, bringing him into the vampire fold. Not only that, but he’s killed and turned many others since, becoming the self-proclaimed Vampire King. Weirdly, his classic shield is also different, featuring no blue in the design, perhaps to emphasise the blood red used. It’s only a minor alteration, but still warrants a mention. Vampire America is also a ton of fun, even surviving a decapitation and several stabbings. It’s a shame we haven’t seen more of the Vampire Avengers since their two-issue stint back in 2003, but perhaps this is for the best. As entertaining as the idea is, there are only so many narratives you can squeeze out of what is essentially a one-note What If? story.
10. His Motorcycle Shield
In the 1970s, two made-for-TV movies starring actor Reb Brown in the title role aired on CBS. It’s a very loose adaptation of the comics that re-imagines Captain America as a former Marine who travels the country in a camper van. After receiving potentially fatal injuries, Steve is given a dose of the conveniently acronymed FLAG formula (Full Latent Ability Gain) and become a super soldier. Not only that, but he’s given a high-tech motorcycle (yay!) … that comes out of the camper van (cough).
This version of Cap also has a shield, but it’s a transparent plexiglass number with red concentric stripes and a blue central star. Instead of carrying it on his back when not in use, this iteration doubles up as the motorbike’s windshield. It’s shown to be bulletproof, as you’d expect, but it’s more like a boomerang than anything else, always returning to Rogers in a smooth arc without the need for Steve to bounce it off walls/bad guys. He doesn’t even catch it, preferring to let it land neatly at his feet instead. It wins points for originality, but very little else.
9. His True Adamantium Shield
Starting with Captain America #332, writer Mark Gruenwald took Steve Rogers on a journey of self-discovery and tested his mettle. The Federal Government’s Commission demands that Captain America become an official entity of the U.S. Government. Steve agonises over the choice, concerned that red tape and rules will limit his superheroics. At the end of the issue, Steve turns in his suit and shield and leaves to live in self-imposed exile.
John Walker becomes the new Captain America and after a few months of keeping a low profile, Steve returns to the heroic life as “The Captain”, complete with a similar suit colored black and red. Something’s still missing though and after a few issues of doing without, Tony Stark makes Rogers a new shield of of pure adamantium. The shield lacks the patriotic paintwork, but it acts similarly enough for Steve who is soon ricocheting it off things like the pro he is. Rogers and Walker would end up trading suits, giving Steve his equipment and title back and leaving Walker to be re-invented as U.S. Agent
8. His Medieval Shield
Volume 3 of The Avengers, released in 1998, kicked off with the founding Avengers returning home after being exiled in an alternate reality created by Franklin Richards. Thor joins the group at the Avengers Mansion with some terrible news. Asgard has fallen and the powerful Twilight Sword has been stolen. The Avengers split off into teams and set off to find the sword. However, the perpetrator, dark sorceress Morgan Le Fay uses the sword and the five Norn stones to mess with reality, stranding Cap’s team in a medieval alternate reality.
In this reality, Steven Rogers in Yeoman America, one of the realm’s elite warriors and a member of the Queen’s Vengeance. A wardrobe change isn’t the only thing on the cards and Cap’s (sorry, Yeoman’s) shield gets a time-appropriate makeover too. It has all of the hallmarks of his classic weapon, but also has a coat of arms-like eagle on the star in the center. Sure, it spoils the simplicity of the original design somewhat, but it’s a cool variant nonetheless.
7. His Corrupted Shield
This one is going to take some explaining. Marvel One Shot Realm of Kings takes place after Black Bolt detonates a device called the T-Bomb in an effort to end the war between the Kree Empire (ruled by Black Bolt and the Inhuman royals) and the Shi’Ar Imperium, led by despot and all-round insane jerk Vulcan. The bomb contains Terrigan, the property that gives the Inhumans their powers. In detonating the device, Black Bolt intended to level the playing field and give everyone powers to end the division between the two sides.
It didn’t quite work out. The bomb was rendered inert but Ol’ Boltie exploded it in a final attempt to kill Vulcan. It caused a huge tear in time and space and created a mysterious realm called The Fault. Superhero Quasar flies into it and finds himself on an alternate Earth, protected by some red-eyed dark versions of The Avengers. Cap has been corrupted by the realm’s unseen gods, referred to as the “Many-Angled Ones” and his shield tells that story, with the classic heater version now featuring glowing runes and a singular pentagram at the top. The Lovecraftian vibe is strong with this one.
6. His Aztec Shield
The Marvel Zombies comics are an excuse for the big M’s writers and artists to cut loose and have some gory fun. Well-known heroes and villains are dispatched in bloody ways with startling regularity and it’s all kinds of awesome. In Marvel Zombies 3, we get a glimpse of Earth-1519, a reality where the Aztecs were never defeated and went on to conquer the world. This leads to Captain Mexica, the Nahuatl speaking patriotic hero who has a sweet crown and earrings combo and a cactus on his chest as part of his getup.
We don’t really get a good look at his shield before it clangs in Morbius’ head, but the design seems to be a variation on the classic with the ol’ red, white and blue. This version features ornate Aztec carvings, denoting the cultural mashup that went down on Earth-1519 centuries before the zombie apocalypse. Can we all agree that a scant few appearances isn’t enough for Captain Mexica? The campaign to bring him back begins now.
5. His Jagged Edge Shield
Cap’s shield is mostly a defensive weapon by its very nature. Sure, Steve can hit people with it and throw it at enemies, but its primary purpose is to block incoming attacks. This all changes in Defenders Vol. 3 #4 where we get a glimpse at a reality completely ruled by Dormammu and with its own twisted version of The Avengers. Doctor Strange and the Defenders stumble into Earth-5113 and are introduced to the Dormammu-approved Avengers, each with an evil makeover.
Cap seems to be a bald alien hybrid creature. He looks intimidating (although maybe not quite as imposing as their Iron Man or Wolverine), but the real kicker is his shield which now has a nasty jagged edge to it. The implications of this are wince-inducing to say the least. This isn’t the first time a sharpened shield has been seen either. In Exiles #62, a shield resembling a huge sawblade is shown sticking out of the corpse of the unfortunate Maverick. Ouch.
4. His Black/Blue Hybrid Shield
In the Age of X event, we’re presented with a world where the X-Men never existed. Mutants are still born and have special powers, but Xavier’s group never formed and without a public group of goodwill ambassadors, mutants became universally feared and hated. In Age of X: Universe #1, The Avengers are sent to Fortress X, the last bastion of mutantkind, to infiltrate the makeshift city and detonate a nuke inside, wiping mutants out completely. It’s a harsh reality to say the least. The Avengers do have a change of heart, however, after they realize the true nature of the mutant plight.
The Earth-11326 version of Steve Rogers is slightly different in both uniform and attitude. The shield he carries is also off-kilter from what we’d expect. It’s a black and white circular design with a huge star in the center. The rim is made from pure energy, giving the whole thing a unique look. It’s admittedly pretty badass, although it doesn’t hold a candle to some of the others on this list.
3. His Energy Shield(s)
Steve has used several energy shields over the years, but they never seem to last particularly long. The material used to make them varies from plasma to being a hard light construct, but they follow the same basic pattern and can perform the same feats as Cap’s usual shield. Perhaps the most unusual of these is the upgraded energy shield given to Steve by Sharon Carter. Unlike the others, this shield has a “flexibility matrix” and is stored in his glove when not in use. This means that it can transform into anything Cap needs it to, including a sword, a length of rope and even a version of his original shield if he’s feeling nostalgic.
Cap ends up in the 31st Century and battles a villain and self-styled “machine god” named Korvac. Korvac reigns supreme over Earth and humans are used to upkeep the Terrasphere’s massive machines and engines. Korvac has the metallic skinned Primax as his right-hand man to oversee the “carbonforms” and ensure everything runs smoothly. The time-displaced Cap inspires a revolution and Primax eventually joins, turning on his master and grabbing the shield. Korvac turns back time, taking Captain Rogers with him, but not before Steve gifts the shield to Primax (now going by his true name of Jaromel) making him that reality’s Captain America and giving him the motivation to rise up and fight the good fight.
2. His MCU Shield
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the James Spader-voiced robot makes a quip about Cap’s shield –“the most versatile substance on the planet, and they used it to make a frisbee.”. This may be true, but what a frisbee it is! The MCU version of the shield is about as faithful adaptation as you can get, looking almost identical to how it was drawn in the comics. Steve’s had the same shield since Howard Stark gives it to him in The First Avenger, but it has undergone a few significant events.
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s painted with muted colors for his stealth missions as a big blue boyscout with a bright red and white shield may attract unnecessary attention. Cap gets a slight upgrade in Age of Ultron when Tony Stark fits his uniform with an electro-magnet that attracts the shield to his forearm for more control over its trajectory. In the current chronology, the shield has massive scratch marks down it thanks to Black Panther‘s vibranium claws. Steve abandons the shield at the end of Captain America: Civil War, but it can’t be too long until the pair are reunited.
1. His classic discus shield
Could there be any other choice for the number one spot? While the other entries on this list may be interesting variations and even better shields on paper, you’ve got to hand it to Cap’s classic vibranium alloy shield.
It’s a simple, elegant and iconic design that encapsulates everything that Captain America should be in one symbol. As the exact material make up of the shield is unknown, it’s as much of a one-off as Steve Rogers himself. It first appeared in 1941, although it’s been repainted several times since. It’s lasted for 76 years and while it’s been destroyed many times, it always seems to find its way back to Cap in some form. In the comics, the shield lasts way into the 31st Century and continued to inspire heroics, meaning that the Captain America legacy persists for hundreds of years into the future, which can only be a good thing.