Captain America and Captain America’s shield are both celebrating their 80th anniversary in 2021, although many fans might not realize the iconic character and his iconic symbol actually have different birthdays. That’s right – the round, aerodynamic shield we’ve all come to know and love actually debuted one issue after Steve Roger the original (and current) comic book Captain America did.
And of course, the shield has also been wielded by many heroes in comics over those 80 years (including an equally iconic DC hero), and in the MCU it was recently claimed by Sam Wilson, AKA the Falcon, solidifying the fact that Steve Rogers, the mantle of Captain America, and the shield are sometimes mixed and matched propositions.
In fact, in the MCU the shield was most recently seen in possession of Carter Carter repainted with United Kingdom national imagery in Disney Plus’ What If…? streaming series, Though Captain Carter and her version of the shield come from an alternate reality in the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse, a version of that character and her shield will return to comic books in December’s new Multiverse-centric Avengers Forever series.
That’s our long-winded way of saying a lot of different characters have wielded the shield in its eight decades and we’re about to tell you about the 10 best…
The scion of the Summers clan, Cable is the cyborg son of a clone from the future, and he’s still really not the weirdest guy on this list.
As a mutant freedom fighter, Cable has waged war in many possible timelines including what’s considered the Marvel Universe present, where he has crossed paths with Captain America and the Avengers several times, including during the series X-Sanction (opens in new tab) in which Cable attempted (and largely succeeded) to single-handedly take on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Cable was seen in one of these far-flung timelines carrying Captain America’s familiar shield after a long quest to obtain it, wielding it as the ultimate symbol of liberty and freedom.
After Steve Rogers was presumed dead in the closing days of World War II, a number of replacements were sought to fill his shoes as Captain America. Though his legacy was kept alive by men like Jeff Mace and William Naslund, William Burnside, a lifelong follower of Cap’s deeds, knew that these replacements weren’t the real deal.
After discovering the secret Super-Soldier serum formula, Burnside underwent plastic surgery and changed his name to Steve Rogers, anticipating that the government would give him the serum and allow him to take the real Steve Rogers’s identity. Burnside met Jack Monroe, a student who shared his passion for Captain America. After a brief career convincing the world that he and Monroe were the original Cap and Bucky, Burnside was presumed dead in an explosion.
Burnside later returned as a pawn of the real Steve Rogers’ enemies, clashing with the real Bucky Barnes before finally being captured and placed into secret rehabilitation.
Jeff Mace started his heroic career as the Patriot, a costumed sentinel of Liberty contemporary with the original Captain America, even briefly serving as a member of the Invaders. Though he had no powers, he was a gifted combatant and strategist, also spending time with the All-Winners Squad before the end of the war.
After William Naslund, the first successor to Captain America’s mantle, perished, Mace took up the identity, fighting alongside his new sidekick, Golden Girl.
Mace eventually retired in the ’50s, returning to his civilian life as a reporter. Years later, dying of cancer, Mace was granted one wish, which lead to all of the former Captains America uniting for a single adventure in an alternate reality.
Mace was (very) loosely adapted for ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD played by Jason O’Mara.
Originally fighting crime as the Spirit of ’76, William Naslund took up residence in the United Kingdom, joining the super-team the Crusaders. Throughout World War II, Naslund fought alongside the allied forces on the Crusaders, as well as joining the All-Winners Squad.
When Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes were thought dead at the end of the war, President Harry S. Truman selected Naslund as the new Captain America, granting the identity of Bucky to a boy named Fred Davis. Naslund was eventually killed himself while thwarting a plot to assassinate then-candidate John F. Kennedy.
Captain America has a secret history. A history drawn from a dark but true chapter of the American military as told in the 2002 limited series Truth: Red, White & Black (opens in new tab).
After Dr. Erskine, the scientist who created the Super-Soldier serum, died leaving Steve Rogers the only recipient of the now-defunct formula, the US military began experimenting on hundreds of African American soldiers in an attempt to duplicate the process that created Captain America.
Ultimately, Isaiah Bradley was among the only survivors of this process, a group that began undertaking secret missions for the US Army. Before embarking on his final mission, Bradley took up a Captain America costume and shield – a theft for which he was court-marshaled and imprisoned until President Eisenhower finally released him.
Eventually, Bradley’s grandson Eli followed in his footsteps, donning a costume and shield of his own as Patriot of the Young Avengers (opens in new tab).
Isaiah Bradley was adapted pretty faithfully for the MCU and was memorably played by actor Carl Lumbly in Disney Plus’ The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Eli was played by Elijah Richardson in a more minor role.
Vance Astrovik is a walking temporal conundrum.
In the main MCU timeline, he becomes Justice of the New Warriors after his mutant powers manifest, eventually joining the Avengers. But in another timeline, he grows up to become an astronaut, venturing into space, fighting the alien Badoon, and joining the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the distant future.
In that timeline – Vance Astro’s original life – he eventually travels back in time, becoming an honorary Avenger and finding his younger self, setting off the chain of events that changes his fate for good.
But in his own time, our future, he finds Captain America’s shield, wielding it as a symbol of his heroes, the Avengers, as Major Victory.
Though we’re flirting with disaster by opening a can of worms that involves stories that may or may not be canon (in which waaay too many heroes have used Cap’s shield to fully get into), we couldn’t help but include Superman on this list of heroes who have wielded Captain America’s shield because, frankly, it’s just plain freakin’ cool.
Much like Cap wielding Mjolnir (which, as you can see, Superman also picked up), the moment when Superman took up the arms of the Avengers in Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s 2003-2004 JLA/Avengers limited series was a meeting of two comic book icons that fulfilled the wonder of the premise set forth by the series’ concept.
Superman may not have ever filled in as Captain America – but before JLA/Avengers, the heroes were combined in the DC/Marvel mash-up Amalgam one-shots that spun out of the original Marvel vs. DC as Super Soldier, who carried a shield in the shape of Supes’ iconic S-shield emblem.
When Steve Rogers, disillusioned with the orders of a corrupt government, gave up the mantle of Captain America, the search began for a replacement.
The powers that be quickly settled on John Walker, a vigilante operating as the Super Patriot. Walker was far more violent than Rogers, carrying out vicious retribution against his enemies.
Walker was also unstable, leading to an incident wherein he left several of his enemies in critical condition. Rogers, now operating simply as “The Captain,” took Walker down before finally reclaiming his mantle as Captain America.
Walker was eventually rehabilitated, even serving on the Avengers as U.S. Agent before being named warden of the Thunderbolts program to rehabilitate former supervillains – which led to Walker eventually operating alongside the T-bolts for a time in an alternate reality.
Walker was of course a major character in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier played by Wyatt Russell, who appears to have a future in the MCU as U.S. Agent
James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes was Steve Rogers’ sidekick during World War II – and like Cap himself, Bucky was thought dead after the same encounter with Baron Zemo that left Steve Rogers frozen in ice at the tail end of the war.
Though Cap was later discovered and thawed by the Avengers, Bucky’s fate is a little stranger. Thought to be one of the few characters Marvel would never resurrect from the dead, writer Ed Brubaker memorably broke from that expectation in 2006 (opens in new tab) revealing Bucky was actually captured, reanimated, and brainwashed by the Soviets into becoming their top assassin, the Winter Soldier.
After decades believing Bucky to be dead, Rogers finally crossed paths with his former partner during one of his Winter Soldier missions, though Barnes was too far gone to be redeemed – or so it seemed.
Eventually, Bucky regained his memories and his heroic nature, even replacing Steve Rogers as Captain America while the latter was thought dead.
Actor Sebastian Stan portrays him in the MCU most recently in Disney Plus’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and given the new lease on life the streaming series gave him his MCU story is almost certain to continue in future films and/or series.
Steve Rogers’ longtime friend and partner Sam Wilson, AKA the Falcon, has a long, convoluted history wrapped up in mutant powers, mind control, and the Red Skull. But one thing that’s for certain is that he has remained one of Cap’s staunchest allies through it all, even serving alongside Cap as an Avenger time and time again.
Cap and Falcon are such close allies that (in a move loosely paralleling the MCU) Wilson was Rogers’ hand-picked choice to replace him as Captain America when the Super-Soldier serum was sucked from his body, leaving him an old man. Wilson, as Captain America, even served alongside the Avengers and continued to operate as Captain America through Steve Rogers’ Hydra corruption in 2007’s Secret Empire (opens in new tab).
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier established Sam as the MCU’s new shield-bearer and official new Captain America and Anthony Mackie will reportedly reprise his role in a fourth Captain America film and likely additional future MCU films.
Who could top this list but the one and only, the original Star-Spangled Avenger, Steve Rogers?
Everyone knows the story – a 98-pound weakling, too sickly for the Army, volunteers for an experimental procedure that turns him into the one and only American Super-Soldier, Captain America.
Steve alternately given up and reclaimed the mantle and shield numerous times, even operating in various other codenames, costumes, and capacities, but sooner or later, it always comes back to Steve Rogers wielding the classic shield.