I have three trades, two of recently collected stories and one with tales from the 1990s: Captain America: Man Out of Time, Captain America Corps., and the Captain America: American Nightmare collection.
For those who saw the Captain America movie but have never read any Captain America comics, Man Out of Time by Mark Waid and Jorge Molina would be a great place to start. It’s a modern retelling of how Captain America adjusted to the new world after being frozen in ice all those years after World War II.
It’s not the villains who take center stage in this story. It’s all about how Cap is shaken by being thrust forward so many years in time while, for him, only an instant has passed.
In a normal universe, going back in time isn’t a possibility. In the Marvel Universe, it can be done, though it’s deemed to be dangerous and unreliable. While Cap helps out the modern Avengers, he’s only going through the motions until he can return to his perceived rightful place and away from a modern world that terrifies him, despite advances in technology and civil rights.
How Steve eventually realizes that his destiny is in the modern day is a powerful story and makes a great follow up to the movie. It’s not the story that going to be told in the upcoming Avengers movie, of course, but from the information available, it definitely seems like Steve’s confusion about being time-lost will also be pivotal to this movie.
There’s more time travel in Captain America Corps by Roger Stern and Philippe Briones. A mysterious figure gathers together Captain Americas from various eras to fight a super-villian who’s rewritten Captain America out of Avengers history to speed her takeover of the world. Teaming up are a young Steve Rogers, who hasn’t even acquired his proper shield yet; the U.S. Agent, John Walker, a hit-first warrior who replaced Cap for a few years; Bucky Barnes, who took on the mantle after Steve’s recent “death”; American Dream, a descendent of Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter from an alternate universe; and Commander A, from the 25th Century.
Together, they’re first thrown into the dystopian future that the mysterious ally fears will become set in time and left on their own to survive so they know how serious the situation is. Each Cap gets a spotlight as he struggles against impossible odds.
I was worried this story would feel dated or somehow off because it’s been a while since Roger Stern’s classic run on Captain America. But it’s a great tale, with excellent artwork, and while it was fun for a long-time reader to see all the Caps together, I think the story introduces them well enough that even a new reader would have no trouble following what’s going on.
Captain America: American Nightmare is different from the other two stories because it’s a collection of Captain America stories largely from the 1990s, rather than a collection of a single miniseries, like the other two books. Because of that, it’s a little more disjointed. However, there’s a lot of talent in these stories, including Waid, Kurt Busiek, Karl and Barbara Kesel and artists Andy Kubert, Patrick Zircher, Mark Bagley and Douglas Braithwaite.
As the title indicates, the stories deal with the idea that the American dream can be a nightmare and the main story brings that nightmare to vivid life, as the Marvel villain Nightmare takes over the minds of many people on Earth from his dream dimension, including Captain America himself. Nightmare wants to create a nuclear winter so everyone will be living in a literal nightmare.
Captain America stories have also had a political/philosophical element to them and this is no different in the other issues collected, which deals the realities of modern life, including how Cap helps a family of squatters in his building who’ve become homeless because of a downturn in the economy. Cap also struggles with whether he should publicly endorse any political candidate, even if he knows one side is crooked.
I had a problem with some of the art in the stories. It felt a little messy and a little too 1990s extreme for my taste, though the action sequences look good. And some of the stories that begin in the book, such as a problem with Ms. Marvel and a Kree invasion, end elsewhere in comics that aren’t in this collection. For regular comic readers, that’s not much of a barrier. For new readers, it could be a problem and I’d recommend the other collections first.