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Captain America's shield

Captain America's shield is a fictional item, the primary defensive and offensive piece of equipment used by the Marvel Comics superhero Captain America, and he is seldom seen without it. Over the years, Captain America has had the use of several different shields of varying composition and design. His original shield first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), published by Marvel's 1940s predecessor, Timely Comics. The circular shield best associated with the character debuted in the next issue, Captain America Comics #2. Captain America was created by the team of writer-artist Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby.

Original shield

In his debut, Captain America (secretly U.S. Army Private Steve Rogers) is equipped with a triangular, badge-shaped shield made from a bulletproof alloy. After complaints by rival comic-book publisher MLJ that the design was too similar to that of their own patriotic hero the Shield, the triangular shield is replaced by a discus-shaped one.

While the origin and fate of the original shield have never been described in the original comics, decades later the story is told through retroactive continuity. According to this, the original triangular shield is given by Captain America to king T'Chaka, father of T'Challa, the Black Panther, of the fictional African country Wakanda as a pledge that the nation would remain uninvolved in the rest of the war. The original shield still resides in Wakanda as a national treasure.

A second triangular shield is given to him upon his return from that country, and Rogers uses it until given his disc-shaped shield, which is personally presented to him by President Franklin Roosevelt. This second triangular shield is kept in storage with Rogers' other personal effects after the war. It is recovered at some point after Rogers joins the superhero team the Avengers, and is kept at Avengers Mansion. However, it is destroyed by the villain Mr. Hyde during a raid on the mansion by Baron Zemo's Masters of Evil, and later "plucked from time" and restored by Zemo in Thunderbolts #105 (Oct. 2006). The shield (along with other sentimental items thought destroyed) are returned to Captain America. A third triangular shield is kept in the Smithsonian Institution. It is used by Captain America when he foils a terrorist attack on the museum itself. It is then given to him in gratitude. This shield is destroyed several issues later by a Kree alien warrior.

The shield destroyed by Hyde and restored by Zemo was eventually passed on to Elijah Bradley, the teenage hero known as the Patriot and leader of the Young Avengers.

Ironically, the triangular shield bears a passing resemblance to the logo of the America First Committee, an organisation opposed to US involvement in World War 2.

Circular shield

The circular shield most associated with Captain America made its debut in Captain America Comics #2 (April 1941). A convex metal disc approximately 2.5 feet in diameter, it is virtually indestructible and has remained his most constant shield over the decades.

Again through retroactive continuity, it is established that the shield was presented to Rogers by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The shield is created by a fictional American metallurgist named Dr. Myron MacLain, who had been commissioned by the US government to create an indestructible armor material to aid the war effort. MacLain experiments with vibranium, an alien metal found only in Wakanda that has unique vibration absorption properties.

During one of his experiments to fuse vibranium with an experimental iron alloy, MacLain falls asleep and awakens to find the experiment a success. However, this is due to an unknown catalyst entering the process during his slumber, and he is unable to duplicate the result. The vibranium-iron alloy mix is then poured into a mold for a tank's upper hatch to create the disc shape and painted to become Captain America's symbol.

Rogers' indestructible shield was long referred to, even in continuity, as being composed of an adamantium-vibranium alloy. This contradicted earlier established continuity, as adamantium is only developed after Rogers is revived from suspended animation, during MacLain's later experiments to try and duplicate the material of the shield. Adamantium makes its first appearance in Marvel Comics in Avengers Vol. 1 #66, July 1969.

The adamantium-vibranium error first appears in the Captain America entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (the composition of the shield is accurately described in the adamantium entry as "vibranium-iron") and was propagated in several subsequent stories by writers using the Handbook as a reference. An attempt to correct this was made in Captain America #303–304 (March–April 1985), which establishes that the shield is made of vibranium and an "experimental iron alloy", but that did not prevent the repetition of the "adamantium-vibranium" description over the years.

The vibranium in the shield is what absorbs virtually all of the kinetic impact from any blows that the shield receives, allowing it to withstand incredible amounts of force without injuring Rogers in the process. The vibranium is also a factor in the way Rogers throws his shield: he often uses it to ricochet around a room and strike various opponents with little loss of velocity in its forward movement after each impact.

When Rogers returns from suspended animation, Tony Stark "improves" the shield by incorporating electronic and magnetic components in it so that Rogers could even control it in flight. However, Rogers soon discards the additional components because he finds that it upsets the balance of the shield when thrown, which is Rogers' ultimate preference.

During his early years in the Avengers, when it is not firmly established that the discus-shaped shield is indestructible, the shield is destroyed or lost several times in the comics, to return with no explanation. It is eventually retconned that these are steel replicas, with the actual shield being borrowed by Stark for analysis and returned to Rogers later.

After Rogers' death, Stark takes over custody of the shield, with one replica on display in a museum, and another replica being buried with Rogers. The real one is kept by Stark to be used by the new Captain America, whenever they deem it appropriate to train a new one. After failing to find a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent capable of throwing it properly, Stark offers the shield to Clint Barton, who does manage to throw it but declines Stark's offer to become the new Captain America. The shield is subsequently stolen by the Winter Soldier, who did not want anyone else to carry the shield. Inevitably, in an effort to honor Rogers' last wishes, Stark offers to let the Winter Solder (Bucky Barnes) keep the shield, and to serve as the new Captain America. Bucky accepts. This offer is made "off the books," and only the two of them, the Black Widow, and the Falcon, are aware of the situation.

JLA/Avengers

In JLA/Avengers, Superman is given the shield by Captain America to wield in battle in the final confrontation with Krona, and is impressed with its might. When he asks where he could get one just like it while battling foes, Thor replies, "Enjoy it while thou canst, Superman. There is none other like it in all the worlds."

Destroying the indestructible

As of 2007, the shield has been damaged or destroyed three times within the confines of the Earth-616 continuity. On each of these occasions, the shield is subjected to a cosmically powerful force capable of reshaping matter on a massive scale. Specifically, the powers that affected the shield are:

Molecule Man

On the first occasion, the Molecule Man disintegrates the shield, along with Thor's hammer, Iron Man's armor, and the Silver Surfer's board. After he does so, he comments that the board's molecules are "weird", and while there are "odd forces interweaving" among the hammer's molecules, the shield is "weirdest of all". He later reassembles these items, with the exception of the armor, as the electronic circuits are too complicated for him to understand.

Beyonder

During the Secret Wars limited series, the shield is partially destroyed by Doctor Doom, who has stolen the power of the godlike being known as the Beyonder. When the Beyonder reclaims its power, a temporary side effect grants the desires of the heroes on a small scale (such as allowing the doors in the heroes' base to open to Curt Connors). Rogers uses this "wish effect" to reconstruct the shield.

Later, Rogers loses his shield in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when he had to make a choice between helping a struggling, drowning Navy officer and rescuing the shield. He lets it go, to sink to the bottom, seemingly lost forever, and he uses several replacement shields for some months. Namor assists in the search but is unsuccessful. A recovery team working for Tony Stark manages to retrieve the shield from the ocean floor, but when it is dropped on the deck of the ship, it shattered into dozens of pieces.

Examining the pieces, Rogers and Stark discover that when Rogers put the shield back together with the Beyonder's energies, a small sub-molecular imperfection is introduced into the vibranium: one solitary molecule is left out of alignment. With each additional impact over the years, the misalignment has spread to neighboring molecules, steadily growing until the molecular bonds of the shield are completely broken down and it shatters. However, the consequences are far graver, as the shattering of the shield does not stop this chain reaction; the instability continues to grow, creating a vibranium "cancer", a shock wave that is propagating throughout the world, violently detonating any vibranium it finds, from mineral deposits to vibranium used in the construction of ships and equipment. The shock wave is traveling to the Great Vibranium Mound in Wakanda, where the resulting explosion could destroy the world.

To prevent this, Rogers travels to Wakanda with the pieces of the shield taped together, prepared to sacrifice what remains of it in an attempt to absorb the shock wave. However, the villain Klaw, who is made up of living sound waves, has reached Wakanda ahead of him. Klaw stands in the path of the shock wave, absorbing it himself and increasing his own powers considerably. When Klaw next attacks Rogers, the latter instinctively raises the taped-together shield in defense. When Klaw strikes the shield, his shock wave–augmented power realigns its vibranium molecules and restores the shield, allowing Rogers to defeat Klaw.

Infinity Gauntlet

During the "Infinity Gauntlet" storyline, Thanos, who possesses relative omnipotence via the Infinity Gauntlet, shatters the shield with a blow of his fist while in combat with Captain America. The shield is soon restored by Thanos' alleged granddaughter, Nebula, when she obtains the Gauntlet and uses it to undo the events of Thanos's temporary godhood, resulting in her erasing the death and destruction that Thanos had caused over the previous 24 hours.

The Odinforce

On another occasion, the shield is damaged by Thor using the power of the Odinforce during a storyline in which Thor, as ruler of Asgard, teleports Asgard to Earth, where it hovers magically above New York City. Captain America engages Thor in battle and is killed after Thor uses the Odinforce to incinerate part of the shield. This incident is ultimately reverted out of mainstream Marvel Comics continuity by Thor. However, in a similar confrontation , while trying to calm down an enraged Thor, Captain America puts his shield between the god and Iron Man. A powerful blow from the thunder god leaves the shield with a visible dent, later fixed by Thor himself.

Future and alternate versions

Given its powerful symbolism, the indestructible shield has been shown in many alternate futures of the Marvel Universe.

  • In the future timeline of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the shield is used by Major Victory in battle; he later passes it to the new government of his war-torn Earth's former United States as a rallying symbol.
  • In the "Future Imperfect" setting, where the Hulk becomes the Maestro and is both the last surviving superbeing and a despotic ruler, an ancient Rick Jones assembles a trophy room as a tribute to the fallen heroes, with the shield among them. Jones uses the shield to defend against one of the Maestro's blows, but the impact is too powerful for even it to absorb. Jones is sent flying back and is impaled on Wolverine's skeleton. When the Hulk, plucked from the past, throws the shield to attack his future self, he manages to injure the Maestro, causing a large scar on his chest as he attempts to cut the Maestro in half. Throwing the Hulk off, the Maestro attempts to hit Hulk with the shield himself, commenting that Rogers could never throw the shield hard enough to do him any damage, but the Hulk deflects it with the Silver Surfer's old board. After the battle, Jones is cremated and the Hulk poured Jones' ashes over the shield, affixing it with an epoxy, and then throws it into space, hoping that it will land somewhere exciting.
  • In the alternate reality shown in What If...? #114, where the heroes and villains are unable to leave Battleworld at the conclusion of the Secret Wars, the shield is passed on to the daughter of Captain America and Rogue, whose body is controlled by Ms. Marvel.
  • In the MC2 timeline, Sharon Carter's daughter, Shannon, joins A-Next, that timeline's version of the Avengers, and takes the alias of American Dream. She also uses a version of the indestructible shield that belonged to the deceased counterpart of Captain America on an Earth on which the Red Skull came to power. Later the MC2 version of Captain America dies saving the world; his spirit and body, including his shield, are turned into a new star by Thor, the star resembling his shield, where it would forever shine to inspire new generations of heroes.
  • Cable claims to have borne the shield into battle many times during his early adulthood, far in the future.

Other shields

  • While Rogers was asleep in suspended animation, three other men used the identity of Captain America, all using steel replicas of the discus shield. The 1950s Captain America was placed in suspended animation after becoming mentally unstable. By the time he was revived years later, Rogers had returned. When the two clashed, the 1950s Captain America's shield was broken.
  • In the 1980s, in a story written by Mark Gruenwald, Rogers chose to resign his identity rather than submit to the orders of the United States government and took the alias of "The Captain" instead. This extended story arc was intended to illustrate the difference of Captain America's beliefs from his replacement who was intended to illustrate the jingoistic attitude that the popular movie character Rambo embodied and which Rogers did not share. During this period, the role of Captain America was assumed by John Walker, the former Super-Patriot, who used both the costume and the indestructible shield. (Captain America #332–#351, 1987–1989). In his new identity of "The Captain", Rogers initially used a pure adamantium shield provided by Stark, but a falling out between the two as a result of the "Armor Wars" storyline led Rogers to return it. He then began to use a pure vibranium shield provided by the Black Panther. When Rogers returned to his Captain America identity, Walker became the USAgent and returned the shield to him. Walker would go on to have his own array of different shields over the years, the first of which appeared to be the last vibranium shield Rogers was using as the Captain. The USAgent has used shields with an eagle motif and one in the shape of a star, as well as a photonic energy shield.
  • At one point, when Rogers was exiled from the United States and was briefly unable to use his shield, Sharon Carter provided him with a photonic energy shield designed to mimic a vibranium matrix. This shield was also able to turn into an energy staff that could be used as a weapon.
  • During the time when the shield was lost in the Atlantic, Rogers tried using a pure adamantium shield, but was unable to get used to the balance. He also tried fighting without a shield but also found it awkward. While up against HYDRA agents in the Smithsonian, he picked up the triangular shield that was being exhibited there and used it for a time before it was crushed by a Kree warrior. Sharon Carter next provided him with another photonic shield, but one whose shape could be controlled to morph the energy field into a wider force field, a bo staff or even fire a projection of the shield. While he enjoyed the versatility, Rogers noticed a number of drawbacks, particularly its inability to ricochet. Rogers gave one of the energy shield gloves to a freedom fighter in an oppressive future he traveled to and received a replacement from S.H.I.E.L.D. when he got back to his own time. The generator that created the shield was eventually destroyed in a confrontation with Ultron when Hank Pym's use of vibranium resulted in the destruction of the generator, leading to Rogers finally reacquiring his original shield.
  • In the time-jumping mini-series Avengers Forever, various future and alternate versions of Captain America are shown with many different variations of the shield.
  • Ultimate Captain America uses a shield of pure adamantium, although that metal may not possess the same properties in the Ultimate Marvel universe as it does in the mainstream Marvel Universe. In the animated movie Ultimate Avengers, based on The Ultimates but with several changes, Captain America uses an adamantium/vibranium shield. In the Ultimate universe, Captain America used his triangular shield throughout World War II, only gaining the disc-shaped adamantium shield after he awoke in the present day. The composition of the triangular shield remains unrevealed. It did prove to be bulletproof against the bullets of World War II German soldiers, but was dented by a superhuman alien's punch.
  • In Ultimate Nightmare, Ultimate Captain America encounters his Russian counterpart, who has been driven mad due to being trapped in a security cell for many years. He has created a "replica" of the shield, which turns out to be made out of scrap metal and human remains and grafted directly onto his forearm, and which proves far less powerful than Captain America's own shield.
  • In the Marvel Mangaverse, Captain America uses a photonic shield before his death in Volumes 1 and 2, and his bodyguards use shields of metal. The shield also appears in the Rings of Fate mini-series, having been acquired by Carol Danvers from Avengers Mansion when she uses the costume of Captain America. This shield was able to pierce Iron Man's robotic body, but its exact composition is unknown.

In other media

  • In 2003, the company Factory X released a line of licensed prop replicas of items from the Marvel Universe. An aluminum replica of Captain America's shield was among their initial line up of props, and was limited to a production of 2,525 pieces.
  • In the closing of the March 12, 2007 episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert read a letter from Joe Quesada in response to Colbert's earlier comments toward Captain America. He was then presented with what was said to be Captain America's indestructible shield, reportedly willed to Colbert in the event of Cap's "death". The shield was originally credited to be one of the Factory X replicas, but this is not the case. The shield given to Colbert was originally acquired by the long-time writer and editor (and late) Mark Gruenwald, who either commissioned it or received it as a gift. It eventually found its way into the hands of Marvel Editor Tom Brevoort, and was kept in his office until being passed on to Colbert.
  • In the MMORPG World of Warcraft, the Paladin class has access to a talent called "Avenger's Shield." The technique involves hurling a disc-like object at up to three enemies to daze them and inflict damage. The talent's name appears to be a reference to Captain America's involvement in the superhero group The Avengers.
  • In the Memory Card menu of PlayStation 2, if there is saved data for the game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, it will be symbolized by Captain America's shield.
  • In the Iron Man movie Captain America’s shield appears approximately 1 hr 25 min 23 sec into the movie at the point where Pepper Potts comes in on Tony trying to get out of his damaged armor; the shield is visible in the distance below Tony's right arm.

Footnotes

References

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