Steve Rogers's own personal journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been quite the time-bending trip, but it’s nothing compared to the journey of the mantle he so proudly wore. The Captain America timeline, following the title and the iconic piece of hardware that accompanies it, winds from the earliest days of the MCU well into its future. From Steve Rogers to Isaiah Bradley to Sam Wilson to John Walker, the shield has ricocheted and rebounded throughout the franchise, making an indelible impact wherever it strikes.
Aside from perhaps the saga of the Winter Soldier, no superpowered identity has undergone anywhere near the evolution that Captain America has over the past decade and change. The shield has always been a powerful symbol, but now it's also symbolic of the MCU itself - both where it came from, and where it's going from here.
1945: Cap And The Howling Commandos Defeat The Red Skull, Cap Crashes To His Presumed Demise
Never one to rest on his laurels, Steve Rogers set about forming the Howling Commandos, recruiting those he had rescued, including Bucky Barnes, Dum Dum Dugan, and Jim Morita. Aided by equipment provided by Howard Stark, including that iconic vibranium shield, Cap and the Commandos barnstormed across Europe for a year, shutting down Hydra facilities left and right.
On a 1945 mission to capture Arnim Zola aboard a high-speed train in the Alps, Barnes fell to his apparent demise in the Danube River - though he'd actually be recovered by the Soviet wing of Hydra and transformed into the Winter Soldier.
Rogers himself was thought lost after confronting the Red Skull aboard his Tesseract-powered bomber, the Valkyrie. After defeating the Skull, Rogers chose to crash the Valkyrie into the glacial waters of the Atlantic so that it could not complete its preprogrammed flight to the United States. As he plunged into the depths, Rogers bid farewell to Peggy Carter over the radio - and wasn't heard from again for more than half a century.
The living legend that was Captain America began to fade into memory.
1945-2012: Steve Is Frozen In Sub-Zero Temperatures
Though the headlines first read "Rogers Disappears," eventually most came to believe that Captain America had perished stopping the Red Skull. Howard Stark continued the search for decades, eventually recovering the Tesseract from the icy depths, but no sign of his lost friend. In time, the search waned.
All the while, Steve Rogers remained frozen in natural cryostasis, kept alive in suspended animation through a combination of the extreme cold and the Super-Soldier Serum coursing through his veins, but unconscious and unaware of the rapidly advancing world around him. There he would stay for the next seven decades.
1951-1953: Isaiah Bradley Becomes Captain America In Everything But NamePhoto: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier / Disney+
With Steve Rogers missing in action and presumed deceased, the world moved on - but the US Army still had a strong interest in producing more super soldiers for the wars to come. Its methods soon devolved into deeply unethical territory, including dosing dozens of Black soldiers with experimental serums without their knowledge or consent. Only one, Isaiah Bradley, survived the process.
Bradley, never given a costume or a shield, became Captain America through his deeds alone. He was deployed on several missions during the Korean War, including an attempt to destroy the Winter Soldier in a bar in Goyang. Despite his selfless service, Bradley was imprisoned upon returning to the US in an attempt to cover up the shameful actions that had led to his empowerment.
Bradley would spend the next 30 years of his life behind bars before finally being honored for his part in the Captain America legacy many decades later, thanks to the actions of Sam Wilson.
2012: Steve Is Discovered, Thawed Out, And Revived
In 2012, S.H.I.E.L.D. renewed its attempts to find Captain America, headed by Director Nick Fury and Cap superfan Phil Coulson. By then, they were just hoping to recover the Valkyrie and Cap's body, but they found a whole lot more that. Against all odds, Rogers was pulled from the ice and resuscitated, waking up in a vastly different New York City some 67 years after his last active memory.
Rogers came to in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility designed to look like something out of the late '40s, but he quickly became wise to the ruse and dashed out into Times Square, certain he'd been caught up in another Hydra plot. It was there that he realized he was, in fact, back home - and there that Fury explained to him exactly what happened.
All the forlorn Rogers could do was sadly remark, "I had a date."