1) Steve Rodgers Becomes The First Super-Soldier – Captain America: The First Avenger
German-born scientist Abraham Erskine’s greatest work involved a serum which enhanced human strength and abilities and brought them to superhuman levels, effectively turning people into super-soldiers. The rise to power of the Nazi party coincided with his work though and Erskine was reluctant to work with them. Hitler would eventually send the SS Research Division, HYDRA, after Erskine to ensure the formula’s completion.
Leading HYDRA was Johann Schmidt – a man desperate to get his hands on the formula for himself. He took an early (unfinished) dose of the serum which, while granting him superhuman strength, had severe side effects, deforming Schmidt’s head and turning his skin deep red. Thus, Erskine’s first super-human creation was the Red Skull.
Erskine was later rescued from captivity by British officer Peggy Carter and was brought to the United States to finish his work in order to fight the Nazis. He eventually perfected his formula but needed a test subject before mass production – enter Steve Rodgers.
A frail, sickly man, Steve Rodgers was determined to enlist in the US Army and fight the Nazis but his poor health saw him rejected quite frequently. Erskine saw Steve’s potential though and, after witnessing his bravery and quick thinking first hand, selected him to become the first super-soldier. The experiment was successful and Steve Rodgers became taller and more muscular, a sign of his new superhuman strength.
Unfortunately, a Nazi operative shot and killed Erskine just after the success of the experiment, preventing the mass creation of super-soldiers as originally envisioned. Erskine’s work may not been fully completed, but in creating Captain America he became one of the most important figures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
2) Bucky Barnes Goes MIA – Captain America: The First Avenger
As the one and only super-soldier, Captain America was initially deemed part of a massive failure. He toured the country promoting war bonds as part of a stage performance but was mocked and booed off stage when performing in Italy in front of active servicemen. Whilst in Italy, Steve learnt that his childhood friend James ‘Bucky’ Barnes’ unit had been declared missing in action – Steve refused to believe he was dead though and was flown to Austria (behind enemy lines) by Howard Stark to rescue him.
Steve would rescue Bucky and many other captured soldiers from a HYDRA factory (also confronting the Red Skull along the way) before taking them safely back to base, finally earning respect from his fellow soldiers.
Having seen HYDRA’s efforts to rule the world first hand, Captain America created the Howling Commandos, an elite group of soldiers (also featuring Bucky), to sabotage and destroy HYDRA facilities across the globe. It was at this point that Steve also received his iconic shield, made out of vibranium; a near indestructible metal.
In 1944, the Howling Commandos boarded a HYDRA train carrying the scientist Arnim Zola. This would prove to be Bucky’s final mission though as he was blown out of the train by a HYDRA energy weapon, despite using Cap’s shield to deflect the blow. Steve tried his best to save Bucky (who was clinging to a rail hanging off the train) but despite his best efforts, Bucky fell to his death.
Or did he? Later on in the 21st century, Steve checked Bucky’s file to find him listed as ‘missing in action.’ If no body was ever recovered by the US Army, could he possibly have survived the fall?
3) Captain America Crashes The Valkyrie Into The Arctic – Captain America: The First Avenger
Despite the Howling Commandos’ best efforts, the Red Skull’s plans for world domination continued. He created a super-bomber, capable of launching an offensive to reap destruction across the entire planet, powered by the Tesseract, a cube of seemingly unlimited energy. HYDRA used the Tesseract to power their advanced weaponry and it was considered their ultimate weapon.
Captain America boarded the Valkyrie as it was escaping from HYDRA’s last base and attacked the Red Skull, damaging the machine utilizing the Tesseract’s power in the process. Angered, the Red Skull grabbed the artefact, inadvertently opening a portal through space which sucked him in before closing. The Tesseract then melted a small hole in the Valkyrie and fell into the ocean below.
The Valkyrie, meanwhile, is stuck on course to level New York City and Steve has to crash the plane in order to stop it. Heroically, he sacrifices himself by flying the plane straight down into the arctic below. Instead of killing him though, Steve is frozen and preserved in the ice.
Captain America became a legend, known for his sacrifices in saving America during World War II. Howard Stark, while searching for Steve’s body, came across the Tesseract and kept it for study – as one of the founding members of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Tesseract therefore became property of the new organization. The power of the Tesseract would lay dormant for many years afterwards, until a certain Asgardian arrives on the scene.
4) Tony Stark Becomes Iron Man – Iron Man
While genius industrialist and inventor Tony Stark is in Afghanistan, demonstrating his deadly Jericho missile to the US military, his convoy is ambushed – leaving him critically injured by his own ammunition. Near death and unconscious, he is captured by a terrorist group named The Ten Rings and imprisoned in a cave, alongside a local doctor named Yinsen.
Following the orders of their captives, Yinsen manages to keep Stark alive in spite of his injuries, by fitting an electromagnet into his chest to keep shrapnel from entering his heart. Once he regains consciousness, the leader of The Ten Rings – Raza – makes Stark an offer: Build a Jericho missile for the terrorist group, in exchange for freedom. Sceptical of Raza’s intentions, Stark and Yinsen set about planning their escape.
Tricking Raza into believing they are building the missile, Stark and Yinsen first build an arc reactor – a powerful electric generator – which they use to power Stark’s electromagnet. Then, with Stark mobile, they build a weaponized suit of armour, also powered by the arc reactor.
The Ten Rings discover the truth and attack, causing Yinsen to sacrifice himself as a diversion to allow Stark’s suit time to power-up. Fighting his way out of the cave, the death of Yinsen enrages Stark and he burns the terrorist group’s stockpile of Stark weapons in a mixture of retaliation and guilt. Fleeing to the desert, Stark and his severely battle-damaged Iron Man suit are rescued by his close friend and military liaison, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes. On returning to work, Stark decrees that his company – inherited from his father – will no longer produce weapons.