Since everybody’s having a lot of fun watching Steve Rogers go mano-a-mano with Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War, Screen Rant has been exploring a lot of the Captain’s history.
Here, we explore some little-known details about Steve’s most faithful companion – no, not Bucky or Peggy, but his own most reliable weapon. Did you know it has its own theme song? That it played a surprising role in the 22nd century? Or the detail about it that Marvel artists just forgot about?
We’re betting these are 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Captain America’s Shield.
12. Its original shape nearly caused a lawsuit
In Captain America’s first appearance, the shield he used was a more elaborate, non-Euclidean shape, closer to that found on the back of the dollar bill. By the second issue, it had changed to the “bull’s-eye frisbee” design we all know. The change wasn’t just to make artist Jack Kirby’s life easier: before Captain America, MLJ Publications had introduced a patriotic superhero called The Shield (no relation to Vic Mackey), whose costume design was somewhat similar to Cap’s original shield design.
MLJ sent Captain America Comics a sternly worded letter, and since one publisher had already been sued out of the business, Kirby and his partner Joe Simon took no chances. (MLJ, now Archie Comics, keeps trying to make The Shield happen every couple of decades, most recently in a 2015-2016 series with someone new in the costume. Its current publication status is uncertain and it used a different costume anyway.)
11. It’s a “happy accident”
Despite how the movies present it, Cap’s shield isn’t pure Wakandan vibranium (note there is more than one kind of vibranium). Nor is it adamantium, the allegedly indestructible metal that makes up Wolverine’s claws and skeleton. It is, however, the creation of the inventor of adamantium, Dr. Myron MacLain, a metallurgist in the days of World War II, who was trying to come up with something indestructible for tank armor (Cap’s shield is that shape because it was intended as a tank hatch cover). He used Wakandan vibranium, other exotic substances and steel, but overworked himself and fell asleep.
When he woke up, the metals had bonded and the shield was finished. In science, the only results that count are those you can replicate, and MacLain never figured out how to make more of this “proto-adamantium,” only coming up with the regular stuff (still very expensively) decades later. Then he said “whatever, good enough, I’m old enough I’ll be taking the BIG sleep pretty soon, anyway.”
10. It’s unbreakable, but it’s been broken… lots
Captain America’s shield has taken everything from the blows of Thor’s hammer to the slashing of Wolverine’s claws without a dent. Cap can stand under a rocket as it’s taking off and let the shield be his umbrella, and it won’t even fade the paint job.
But writers also love to “make the impossible happen,” so the shield has also been damaged or destroyed by the actions of a jacked-up Thor, other gods more powerful than Thor, the universe-destroying abilities of the Beyonder and the Infinity Gauntlet, and weirdest of all, a “vibranium cancer” that threatened to destroy all Wakandan vibranium (and any alloy made from it) on Earth. We could make a list just of the top ten times the shield’s been broken. (Don’t dare us, we’ll totally do it.) But it’s always come back, each time as indestructible-ish as before.
9. It has a scar now (or does it?)
Of course, reconstructing the shield is tricky to do believably, since there’s no making any more of that metal and forging it is as hard as breaking it. One time Cap actually made a magic wish. More recently, the shield was reconstructed by Tony Stark and a team of weaponsmith dwarves, who added a little Uru to it (the metal from Thor’s hammer), making it even stronger. “There’s a little damage still visible,” Tony apologized, “Maybe I can take a whack at buffing the scar down, or–“
But the Captain, who was feeling a little scarred himself after seemingly losing Bucky again, declined. “That’s okay. Gives the old girl a bit of character.” However, editors don’t seem to have enforced the hairline fracture, as it never turned up in any other comic and was never mentioned again. Maybe Tony sneaked into Cap’s room at night and buffed it out anyway. After all, since when does he wait for Steve’s permission on anything?
8. It made a funerary urn for one of Captain America’s sidekicks
About ninety years in a radiation-scarred alternate future, Earth’s population was greatly reduced and the only surviving Marvel heroes were the radiation-proof, age-resistant Hulk (who no longer changed to Bruce Banner, but ruled the remains of civilization as the evil Maestro) and the adventure-loving Rick Jones, who had served as sidekick to the Hulk, Captain America, Captain Marvel and the whole Avengers.
Aged and paraplegic, Rick lived among the memorabilia of the lost heroic age, including Cap’s shield, long enough to see the Hulk’s past self travel through time and end the Maestro’s reign. Rick died soon after, and the Hulk sent his old friend out in style: cremating him, gluing the ashes to the shield and flinging it as far as his muscles could throw it. Asked where it would land, he replied, “God willing, somewhere exciting.”
7. It’s Magneto-proof
You might think that a fight between Magneto and Captain America would go something like this: Cap throws his shield, then the shield flies back and hits him in the face, then slams into his head again and again while Magneto says “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!” and laughs and laughs.
But the relatively few times they’ve tangled, it’s usually been clear that Magneto’s powers, while they can affect adamantium (as Wolverine’s learned painfully more than once), cannot get a grip on the shield. Maybe Magneto could eventually find its harmonic frequency or something if he had a while to study it, but Cap has never been particularly inclined to give him the chance.
6. For a while, it was made of hard light
During some of the periods he went without his usual shield, Cap has had a few substitutes: a pure vibranium disc, his original model (swiped from the Smithsonian Museum) and, most memorably, a construction of pure energy created by a device in his glove, which mimicked his disc-shaped shield but could also form other weapons like a bo-staff or be fired like an energy blast, then regenerated. Agent Coulson, as devoted a Cap fan as you’ll ever see, had a holographic version of the hard-light shield in his office in a recent episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Still, Captain America has lost so much in the transition to the 21st century, he clearly appreciates having one tangible, indestructible thing from his past. Not to put too fine a point on it, but “the old girl” is never going to age 70 years in what is, subjectively for him, a really long weekend.
5. Stephen Colbert inherited it
When Captain America was shot and killed (a temporary situation for any high-profile superhero, of course), his shield and role fell to Bucky for a while. But outside of comics fandom, some people simply heard that Captain America had died and assumed no one would take his place. So it was believable for many of those people (and for comics fans too, if they were willing to suspend their knowledge) that the shield might go on display somewhere.
Of course, late-night comedian and not-so-secret nerd Stephen Colbert jumped at the opportunity, even if it does strain the aforementioned disbelief to the breaking point that Cap would will his shield to any political commentator, let alone a blowhard like Colbert’s “character” in The Colbert Report. But of course, in the Colbert Universe, Stephen Colbert is the world’s greatest patriot, so why not?
4. It once doubled as a motorcycle windscreen
Believe it or not, Captain America: Civil War isn’t the third Captain America movie… it’s the seventh. The others include a Republic serial from the 1940s, a 1990 direct-to-video film and, most relevant to our purposes, a couple of TV movies both released in 1979. These films didn’t have a lot in common with each other, but there’s one thing they all seemed to agree on: Cap really should ride a motorcycle.
The 1979 movies take this idea further, making the white in Captain America’s shield transparent and having it attach to and detach from his motorcycle whenever he gets on or off it, because nothing frightens evildoers quite like a crimefighter following them in a vehicle whose windscreen he can barely see out of. His costume also includes a motorcycle helmet (safety first, kids!). The second ’79 feature was called Death Too Soon, but for most critics, the death of this Captain America franchise came right on time.
3. It’s been immortalized in song
The intro to Captain America’s original animated series barely even qualifies as animation, but there’s no denying the majestic rhyme scheme of that song (we’ve color-coded it for you below):
“When Captain America throws his mighty shieeeld… all those who chose to oppose his shield must yieeeld… If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due, then the red and the white and the blue will come through, when Captain America throws his mighty shieeeld.” We defy Henry Jackman or Alan Silvestri to come up with anything so dazzling for the movies.
2. Handling it right is actually a super-power
Captain America’s shield doesn’t have the enchantment that Thor’s hammer has working for it, so why does it always seem to return to his hand or arm? In the movies and early comics, that’s because of magnets attached to the shield, but naturally that’d cause problems with Magneto. In the comics, he’s just that good: battle physics is one of the gifts the Super-Soldier treatment bestowed upon him. There’s something about the balance of the shield that’s difficult for even other superheroes to master.
Bucky as Cap relied on his cybernetic arm to throw the shield with greater accuracy, and Sam Wilson as Cap used his wings and a lot of tutoring from Steve to get the job done, but still struggled quite a bit with it. And then it looked like as soon as he was finally getting used to it, he’d have to give it up again… but Steve Rogers had other ideas.
1. Steve finally gave it away and started over
At the start of the latest movie, Cap has his shield on his arm right where it belongs, but the comics have been telling a different story for the last year or so. After a mission gone wrong left him as old physically as he was chronologically, Steve passed the title to Sam, but after another mission’s side effects got him over his old-man-itis, he saw no reason they couldn’t both serve the country as Captain Americas, even if they didn’t always see eye to eye. Steve’s just like that.
For the same reason, Steve felt Sam should keep the “classic” shield that would make him more of a “real” Captain America in the eyes of the people. Steve’s got a new shield now that splits into two smaller shields (so he can protect both arms) and can generate an “energy blade” on its tip. It’s also shaped like his old shield, but with a very different design on its front, so Archie Comics can just relax, already.
Any facts that you feel we missed? Any suggestions for areas of comics lore where we could turn our focus next? Give us a shout in the comments!