One of the things Silver Age Marvel (nor most later Marvel that I can recall) rarely touches on is how fricking young Captain America was in the Golden and Silver Ages. He’s usually portrayed as a mature, sensible adult or an aging veteran — Stan Lee sometimes writes Steve Rogers as grappling with a midlife crisis — when he’s actually a young whippersnapper.
Not as young as the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe claims. According to OHOTMU Steve Rogers was born in the Depression. That means when he took up the shield he couldn’t be older than 11, so I’m sticking my neck out and calling that an error. Even so, as someone pointed out to me recently, he’s still way younger than usually acknowledged.
Consider: when he signed up for the Supersoldier Project he was probably 17. A year later, when he began his long career of Nazi-punching, he’d have been 18. When he went into the ice in 1945 he’d have been 23 years old and the same age when he thawed out in Avengers #4. Ed Brubaker’s retconned version of Bucky was only be a couple of years younger, though classic Bucky might be as young as fourteen (kid sidekicks were often real kids).
After the Avengers thawed Cap out, the stories read to me as if Stan saw him as a contemporary of the other Avengers and a kind of surrogate father to Rick Jones. In reality, he’d be as close or closer to Rick’s age as to Don Blake or Hank Pym whom I’m guessing are both in their thirties.
Once Cap got his own series in Tales of Suspense, Stan continued writing the Star-Spangled Avenger as if he were a veteran of close to Stan’s own age. In Cap’s first solo Silver Age story (#59) he flips through an old scrapbook (where did he find it, I wonder?) commenting that he still remembers his WW II experiences “but an eternity seems to have passed since then.” Then he sees a photo of Bucky and puts the book away, cursing himself for bringing up old memories.
Old memories? From Cap’s perspective it hasn’t been a year since his little buddy died. Later in the story he talks about “a lifetime of athletic training” when it was only been a handful of years (a story years later cleverly had the villain sneer about having had decades more training than Cap). At the end of the yarn Steve quips about how he’s really feeling his age (in fairness that’s a joke people make at almost every age).
In TOS #72, after telling the Kookies about some of his old adventures, the subject of Bucky comes up. When Cap abruptly walks away, Hawkeye wonders how he can possibly be hung up on something that happened twenty years ago. Yes, I know Hawkeye was a jerk back then but it still sounds like Cap’s had two decades to process his trauma. Later Steve pulls out an old clue to the secrets of the Sleepers and refers to carrying it around with him for years. When he thinks back to Peggy Carter in #77 he concludes she must be dead because “it’s been more than twenty years since then — if she were still alive, surely she’d have found me by now.” Uh, Cap, don’t you think that would have been a neat trick?
In Avengers #17, Hawkeye scoffs at Cap as “a relic of World War Two” while Cap calls his new teammates young. In reality, they were all roughly the same age. For all the mockery Wanda crushing on Cap gets, it was hardly a May/December romance.
Swear to God, I’m not trying to make this an Everything We Think About Cap Is Wrong article. I have no trouble with the idea Steve was way mature for his age, much as Superboy was. Five years of constant combat with the Axis undoubtedly strengthened and matured him further. For a 23 year old to look at Rick in his late teens and think of him as kid is normal enough (there’s a lot of growing up in that stretch) and the second Avengers team certainly was inexperienced compared to Cap. The attitudes and relationships aren’t implausible — but the dialog is still ridiculous.
It would be interesting to do a story that deals with Cap being a kid, albeit an exceptional one. Did he look at Rick and see himself, young and ready for action? Or was that precisely why he fought, so other teenagers wouldn’t have to be in the front lines? How did he feel about young heroes such as X-Men or Spider-Man? Did he ever think about connecting with people his own age or did he find the gulf too wide? Was Sharon Carter, an experienced SHIELD agent when they met, an older woman? Spitfire, who was hot for him in Invaders, very probably was.
We’ll probably never get those answers, but I enjoy speculating.
#SFWApro. Avengers #17 page by Don Heck, other art by Kirby.