For about thirty years, Steve Rogers was unique.
The murder of Dr. Abraham Erskine (code-name “Reinstein”) in 1941’s Captain America #1 put an end to his research. America’s “Project Rebirth” would never create any super soldiers besides Steve. That was how things stood in the 1940s, during Cap’s 1950s revival as Captain America — Commie Smasher, and the Silver Age. Steve was one of a kind.
In the Bronze Age, however, Project Rebirth bore new fruit. Everyone from Nazis to modern-day mad scientists suddenly managed to steal or rediscover Erskine’s formula. Other scientists went the DIY route and developed their own original super-soldier formulas. The results were mixed — scientist Ted Sallis’ formula turned him into the Man-Thing — but nobody seemed discouraged.
Eventually, the term “super soldier” lost its trademark and turned generic. Any government operative who’s been drug enhanced seems to qualify as a super-soldier nowadays, even without any connection to Erskine’s research. The sixteen super-soldiers listed here, though, are all the children and descendants of Project Rebirth. And none of them are named Steve Rogers.
16. Luke Cage
When Luke Cage burst on the scene in 1972, the experiment that created him had no ties to Rebirth. Dr. Noah Burstein was running his own, unrelated research into enhancing human health, and the prison inmate known as Lucas became his first guinea pig. A sadistic guard tampered with the experiment to kill Lucas, but only succeeded in creating created a steel-hard superhuman.
Years later, The Marvels Project established that Noah’s father had been part of a Nazi super-soldier experiment working with data stolen from Project Rebirth. The implication was that Noah had grown up and adapted his father’s data for his own more humane purposes.
Like several super-soldiers on this list, Luke’s physical powers far exceed Captain America’s. Apparently Erskine, for all his genius, only scratched the surface of what Project Rebirth could do. Then again, considering how many people went crazy from the treatment, perhaps Erskine was right to be cautious.
For a guy with a brief history, the Sentry received a mind-numbing number of retcons.
In the original Sentry miniseries, middle-aged Bob Reynolds learned he’d been the MU’s most powerful hero, the Sentry, at the start of the Marvel Age. Because the Sentry’s existence created an opposing force of evil, the Void, Bob had erased all memories and records of himself, which erased the Void too. Bob regaining his memories resurrected the Void, so Bob opted for amnesia again.
Fast forward through a few retcons and the Void is now Bob’s own dark side. In one story, the Void revealed Bob’s latest origin: he’d been a junkie who’d unwittingly taken a new, improved version of Erskine’s formula, giving him powers instead of a high. The Void was Bob’s self-destructive, drug-abusing side, which the Sentry had repressed. Of course, given that neither side of Bob’s mind plays with a full deck, this could turn out to be as false as all his other origins.
14. Red Skull
Johann Shmidt saw himself as Captain America’s polar opposite. Steve Rogers had been chosen by his government to go from 4F to champion of democracy. Likewise, Hitler personally selected and trained Shmidt, a common nobody, to become the living embodiment of the Nazi ideal. For most of his career, though, the Skull championed fascism while being strictly human.
After one of his umpty-zillion deaths (mostly cheated by mind-jumping into clone bodies), the Skull’s mind ended up in, you guessed it, a cloned body of Steve Rogers. He didn’t get as much mileage out of it as most super-soldiers, being more a mastermind than a front-line fighter, but he certainly found the irony amusing. More amusing still, after a couple more deaths, he wound up occupying Steve’s own body for a while. Since then, he’s been demoted to a regular clone body, but with Professor X’s brain grafted on.
13. Josiah X
A Muslim preacher in Brooklyn’s violent “Little Mogadishu” neighborhood, Josiah X was less than thrilled when Jim Rhodes dragged him into a war with the 66 Bridges crime syndicate. Rhodey, in turn, was baffled as to why Josiah wore a copy of Captain America’s chain mail under his clothes.
The reason: Josiah was the son of “black Captain America” Isaiah Bradley (see #1). The military had taken cell samples from Isaiah and his wife Faith, then implanted a fetus in a surrogate. That would enable them to use the Bradleys’ first child as a comparison case. The surrogate, when she realized the truth, fled to Faith, and together they got the baby to safety, at the price of never seeing him again. It would be years before Josiah learned his heritage; fortunately, he ages slower than most.
In the fight against 66 Bridges, Josiah demonstrated that he had Cap’s spirit, not just his muscles. In the final issue of The Crew, it’s Josiah who focuses on saving innocent lives during a firefight, inspiring another ally, the White Tiger, to do the same. It’s a shame Josiah’s largely vanished from the MU since then.
12. 1950s Captain America
During WWII, young William Burnside idolized Captain America. Becoming a historian, he obsessively researched Project Rebirth. After he discovered a copy of Erskine’s formula in Nazi archives, Burnside offered his services to the government as the new Captain America. Burnside also changed his name to Steve Rogers and underwent plastic surgery to become a Steve lookalike — he would be 100 percent the original Captain America.
Or so he thought. Although the Nazi formula made Burnside far stronger than Steve, it didn’t include the vita-rays Erskine used to stabilize the transformation. Burnside went mad and began assaulting anyone he thought subversive, so the government put him in suspended animation.
Years later, a general thawed Burnside out to resume beating up on left-wingers. A run in with the real Steve Rogers was inevitable. Burnside lost, but he later joined other extremist schemes to “fix” America. After his last defeat, the government began retraining him for normal civilian life. (For the fate of Burnside’s “Bucky,” Jack Monroe, see #3.)
11. Union Jack
British aristocrat Brian Falsworth was the son of Union Jack, a British WWI superhero. In the 1930s, Brian and his lover Roger were pacifists opposed to England fighting another war with Germany. To demonstrate their opposition, they flew to Berlin to meet Hitler. The Nazis were so thrilled by this propaganda coup that they refused to let the two men leave again.
In prison, Brian met a scientist, Schmitt, who’d worked on the German super-soldier project alongside Burstein. The Nazis had jailed Schmitt when they learned he was Jewish, not knowing he’d perfected the super-soldier formula and hidden a vial in his clothes. He gave it to Brian, endowing him with Captain America-class physical perfection, albeit with amnesia as a side effect.
Breaking out of prison, Brian worked behind Nazi lines as the Destroyer until Captain America helped restore his memory. Brian then assumed his father’s role as Union Jack II and fought alongside the Invaders through the remainder of the conflict. He died in a motorcycle accident not long after the war ended.
10. Master Man
In the cutthroat world of comic book Nazi science, Burstein Sr.’s project wasn’t the only one tackling the super-soldier challenge. The German cyborg Brain Drain didn’t have access to the stolen Rebirth data Burstein did, so he kidnapped and mind-probed Erskine’s colleague, Professor Anderson. The probe dredged up details of Project Rebirth that Anderson didn’t even remember he’d knew.
Willie Lohmer became Brain Drain’s Steve Rogers, a 97-pound weakling transformed into Master Man, the embodiment of Aryan perfection. Like Luke Cage, Master Man’s powers were way beyond Steve’s. Fortunately, when Captain America and Bucky tried to stop Master Man from murdering Winston Churchill, they had backup from the Human Torch, Toro, and the Sub-Mariner. They still might have lost if Lohmer’s powers hadn’t faded mid-fight. They returned later, and he continued to bedevil the heroes, now formally teamed as the Invaders, throughout the war.
Post-war, Master Man went into suspended animation. When Lohmer thawed out in the present, his powers soon faded and he eventually redeemed himself with a heroic death. A new Master Man has replaced him in the years since, though.
9. Warrior Woman
Nazi agent Julia Koenig was sick of men seeing her as a woman rather than a German soldier. When she recreated Brain Drain’s version of the super soldier formula, she planned to try it first on herself. Instead, Brain Drain’s lab equipment exploded, but in so doing, showered her with the chemicals. Koenig became Master Man’s equal, Warrior Woman (although a letter to Invaders said the name “Krieger-Frau” was closer to Warrior Wife).
To Koenig’s dismay, Hitler still didn’t see her as a soldier as much as a brood mare. Dreaming of Koenig popping out Master Man’s metahuman babies, Hitler married the couple over Koenig’s protests. Nevertheless, Warrior Woman got her share of fighting in alongside her husband during the war. Like Lohmer, she then went into suspended animation. Unlike him, she’s remained a villain and a dedicated Nazi since being thawed out.
Victor Conrad dedicated his life to rediscovering Erskine’s super-soldier formula. Years slipped away as he toiled until, fifty years old, he found the same Nazi files William Burnside had stumbled on. Looking back at a life he’d never really lived, Conrad decided the only way to make it matter was to inject himself with the drug. Flush with renewed physical vigor (he didn’t suffer the side-effects Burnside did), Conrad trained himself in combat, took over the crime cartel A.I.M., and christened himself Victorius.
His first goal was to destroy SHIELD’s super soldier research (the project Ted Sallis had worked on) to prevent the organization from creating competition for him. Too bad that put him in conflict with SHIELD agent Bobbi Morse (see #2) and her then boyfriend, the jungle lord Ka-Zar. For all Victorius’ research, for all his training, Ka-Zar defeated him completely.
Embittered by his loss, Conrad turned to religion, joining the nihilistic Cult of Entropy. He died trying to bring on an entropic apocalypse with the Cosmic Cube, and has remained dead, at time of writing, for almost forty years. Too bad, as he’s one of the more interesting super-soldier wannabes.
Not only is Steve Rogers no longer unique, he’s not even the first super soldier. That honor has since gone to William McIntyre.
One General Saunders thought Erskine’s plan to turn 4F boys into real men was stupid — why not start with a real man? Sure, Steve Rogers had the moral fiber, but McIntyre — a stone-cold killer sentenced to death for fragging his CO — oozed testosterone from his bulging muscles. So Saunders diverted some of Erskine’s formula and gave it to McIntyre.
Oops. Yes, McIntyre became incredibly strong, but without Erskine’s follow-up treatment, he went berserk from pain. The military threw him in suspended animation for decades, until AIM thawed him out and cured him. AIM “explained” Steve Rogers had eliminated a rival by tampering with McIntyre’s drugs. Now, with AIM’s generous help, McIntyre could settle the score.
When the Avengers were destroyed in the Avengers: Disassembled arc, the Young Avengers — a team of legacy heroes nobody had heard of — stepped up to the plate. It soon turned out that none of them (Hulkling, Iron Lad, Patriot, etc.) had any direct connection to the heroes they were supposedly replacing.
As Eli Bradley, grandson of Isaiah (see #1), Patriot came closer than most of the team. When Iron Lad recruited him, Eli claimed to have gained super soldier abilities from a transfusion of Isaiah’s blood. In reality, he gained temporary power boosts from doses of mutant growth hormone. When the Young Avengers learned the truth, Eli quit for a spell. After he returned, he almost died, then received a life-saving transfusion from his grandfather. That gave him the super soldier abilities he’d claimed to have originally, and he’s fought on the team ever since.
Michael Tanner was (probably) a good man when he served in Vietnam, fell in love with a Vietnamese woman, and married her. Then soldiers shot up her village and killed everyone. Tanner would have died with his wife but he was found by the Army and taken to military surgeon Noah Burstein. A prototype of the treatment Burstein used to create Luke Cage turned Tanner into the super strong, steel-hard Warhawk.
Unfortunately, Tanner was also insane (crazy Vietnam veterans were a stock trope at the time). Calling himself Warhawk, he went on a shooting spree in America until Iron Fist took him down. Later, Tanner regained enough sanity to take on Black Goliath, the X-Men, and other heroes as a mercenary. While he pops up in the MU occasionally, he remains, as Cyclops once put it, an uninteresting second-rate Colossus.
Like the Red Skull, John Eric Bushmaster became a super-soldier relatively late in his career. When he first appeared, he was a Caribbean crime lord extending his operations into New York. NYPD detective Misty Knight went undercover as Bushmaster’s mistress, but revealed herself when she learned that he had hired Steel Serpent to kill Misty’s boyfriend, Iron Fist.
Having his lover betray him pissed off Bushmaster no end. He blackmailed Luke Cage to kill Misty, but ultimately, Cage joined forces with her and Iron Fist. Knowing he couldn’t defeat them, Bushmaster forced Burstein to give him the same super-soldier treatment Luke had undergone. Bushmaster became even stronger than Luke, but the treatment slowly transformed him into a metal statue. His son later thawed him out, but that only led to Bushmaster dying for good.
When William Burnside first went into action as Captain America, he gave Jack Monroe (his “Bucky”) a shot of the rediscovered super-soldier formula. It gave Jack the same physical power but also the same descent into madness, followed by the same trip to the suspended animation ward (noticing a trend here?).
Where Burnside remained an extremist after his loss to Captain America, Monroe eventually regained his sanity. Adopting the identity of Nomad, one Steve Rogers had briefly used himself, Monroe wandered America, trying to understand the modern world and doing his best to make a difference.
After multiple adventures, including a spell as a mind-controlled government agent, Jack’s powers began to fade. His insanity returned, and he began attacking innocent bystanders under the delusion that they were criminals. Perhaps it’s just as well that the real Bucky, while still the Soviet assassin Winter Soldier, put Monroe out of his misery.
SHIELD agent Bobbi Morse’s convoluted history entangled her with the super soldier formula long before she ever took it.
After SHIELD super-soldier researcher Ted Sallis disappeared (nobody knew he’d become Man-Thing), Bobbi recruited Ka-Zar to find him in the Everglades (Ka-Zar knew the jungle, the Everglades were a jungle, so it makes sense, right?). She became Ka-Zar’s lover for a while, and joined him in the fight to prevent Victor Conrad destroying SHIELD’s super-soldier research.
Many years later, after Bobbi had first become the Huntress, then the superhero Mockingbird, she suffered a fatal injury. Nick Fury saved her with a drug treatment that combined the super soldier formula with the Infinity Formula that kept Fury permanently young. The combined doses not only brought Bobbi back to health, they made her stronger, faster, and a quick healer. We’ll have to wait to see if it keeps her from aging the way it does Fury.
1. Isaiah Bradley
Truth: Red, White and Black revealed an ugly side to Project Rebirth: Erskine’s backers in the government were eugenicists. Dedicated to breeding a superior white race, they hoped the super-soldier formula would provide a shortcut. After Erskine’s death ended Project Rebirth, another scientist (also using the Reinstein code name) convinced the government to test a variant super-soldier treatment on African American soldiers. (Why would white supremacists want to create black metahumans? Good question.)
Most of those who underwent the treatment died. Others, such as Maurice Canfield, were killed in combat. The sole survivor was Isaiah Bradley. When Captain America was unable to carry out an attack on one of the Nazi super-soldier projects, Isaiah, dressed in a spare Captain America uniform, carried out the mission. The “black Captain America” entered legend despite the military locking up Isaiah for life and trying to suppress the story. After the serum reduced his mind to that of a child, he was finally freed to rejoin his wife.
Any other Marvel super-soldiers you wish we’d mentioned? Let us know in the comments.
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