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The best Captain America shield-bearers of all time

cover of United States of Captain America #5
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

2021 marks the 80th anniversary since Captain America's debut in 1941's Captain America #1, and to celebrate Marvel has reunited Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and John Walker for a road trip adventure titled The United States of Captain America, in search of the vaunted shield, which has been stolen. 

Along the way, they'll meet new, local heroes who have taken up the legacy of Captain America to protect their own communities including:

These varied heroes will form what Marvel has dubbed a 'Captains Network' of local heroes allied with and inspired by Captain America - many of whom wield shields of their own.

Could one of these five heroes be the next to take up the official Captain America shield? If so, they'd be joining a tremendous legacy of heroes over the last eight decades. Here are the 10 best heroes who have wielded Cap's shield so far.

Cable

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The scion of the Summers clan, Cable is the cyborg son of a clone from the future, and he's still really not the weirdest guy on this list. 

As a mutant freedom fighter, Cable has made war in many possible timelines including the present, where he has crossed paths with Captain America and the Avengers several times, including during the series X-Sanction in which Cable attempted (and largely succeeded) to single-handedly take on Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

Cable was seen in one of these far-flung timelines carrying Captain America's familiar shield after a long quest to obtain it, wielding it as the ultimate symbol of liberty and freedom.

William Burnside

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

After Steve Rogers was presumed dead in the closing days of World War II, a number of replacements were sought to fill his shoes as Captain America. Though his legacy was kept alive by men like Jeff Mace and William Naslund, William Burnside, a lifelong follower of Cap's deeds, knew that these replacements weren't the real deal.

After discovering the secret Super-Soldier serum formula, Burnside underwent plastic surgery and changed his name to Steven Rogers, anticipating that the government would give him the serum and allow him to take the real Steve Rogers's identity. Burnside met Jack Monroe, a student who shared his passion for Captain America. After a brief career convincing the world that he and Monroe were the original Cap and Bucky, Burnside was presumed dead in an explosion.

Burnside later returned as a pawn of the real Steve Rogers' enemies, clashing with the real Bucky Barnes before finally being captured and placed into secret rehabilitation.

Jeffrey Mace

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Jeff Mace started his heroic career as the Patriot, a costumed sentinel of Liberty contemporary with the original Captain America, even briefly serving as a member of the Invaders. Though he had no powers, he was a gifted combatant and strategist, also spending time with the All-Winners Squad before the end of the war.

After William Naslund, the first successor to Captain America's mantle, perished, Mace took up the identity, fighting alongside his new sidekick, Golden Girl.

Mace eventually retired in the '50s, returning to his civilian life as a reporter. Years later, dying of cancer, Mace was granted one wish, which lead to all of the former Captains America uniting for a single adventure in an alternate reality.

William Naslund

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Originally fighting crime as the Spirit of '76, William Naslund took up residence in the United Kingdom, joining the super-team the Crusaders. Throughout World War II, Naslund fought alongside the allied forces on the Crusaders, as well as joining the All-Winners Squad.

When Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes were thought dead at the end of the war, President Harry S. Truman selected Naslund as the new Captain America, granting the identity of Bucky to a boy named Fred Davis. Naslund was eventually killed himself, while thwarting a plot to assassinate then-candidate John F. Kennedy.

Isaiah Bradley

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Captain America has a secret history. A history drawn from a dark but true chapter of the American military. 

After Dr. Erskine, the scientist who created the Super-Soldier serum, died leaving Steve Rogers the only recipient of the now-defunct formula, the US military began experimenting on hundreds of African American soldiers in an attempt to duplicate the process that created Captain America.

Ultimately, Isaiah Bradley was among the only survivors of this process, a group which began undertaking secret missions for the US Army. Before embarking on his final mission, Bradley took up a Captain America costume and shield - a theft for which he was court-marshaled and imprisoned until President Eisenhower finally released him. 

Eventually, Bradley's grandson Eli followed in his footsteps, donning a costume and shield of his own as Patriot of the Young Avengers.

Major Victory

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Vance Astrovik is a walking temporal conundrum. 

In the current timeline, he becomes Justice of the New Warriors after his mutant powers manifest, eventually joining the Avengers. But in another timeline, he grows up to become an astronaut, venturing into space, fighting the alien Badoon and joining the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the distant future.

In that timeline - Vance Astro's original life - he eventually travels back in time, becoming an honorary Avenger and finding his younger self, setting off the chain of events that changes his fate for good. 

But in his own time, our future, he finds Captain America's shield, wielding it as a symbol of his heroes, the Avengers, as Major Victory.

Superman

(Image credit: DC/Marvel Comics)

Though we're flirting with disaster by opening a can of worms that involves stories which may or may not be canon (in which waaay too many heroes have used Cap's shield to fully get into), we couldn't help but include Superman on this list of heroes who have wielded Captain America's shield because, frankly, it's just plain freakin' cool.

Much like Cap wielding Mjolnir (which, as you can see, Superman also picked up), the moment when Superman took up the arms of the Avengers in Kurt Busiek and George Perez's JLA/Avengers limited series was a meeting of two comic book icons that fulfilled the wonder of the premise set forth by the series' concept.

Superman may not have ever filled in as Captain America - but before JLA/Avengers, the heroes were combined in the DC/Marvel mash-up Amalgam one-shots that spun out of the original Marvel vs. DC as Super Soldier, who carried a shield in the shape of Supes' iconic S-shield emblem.

John Walker

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

When Steve Rogers, disillusioned with the orders of a corrupt government, gave up the mantle of Captain America, the search began for a replacement.

The powers that be quickly settled on John Walker, a vigilante operating as the Super Patriot. Walker was far more violent than Rogers, carrying out vicious retribution against his enemies.

Walker was also unstable, leading to an incident wherein he left several of his enemies in critical condition. Rogers, now operating simply as "The Captain," took Walker down before finally reclaiming his mantle as Captain America. 

Walker was eventually rehabilitated, even serving on the Avengers as U.S.Agent before being named warden of the Thunderbolts program to rehabilitate former supervillains - which led to Walker eventually operating alongside the T-bolts for a time in an alternate reality.

Walker is featured in an upcoming new U.S.Agent title from writer Christopher Priest, as well as in Disney Plus's Marvel Studios streaming show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, played by Wyatt Russell.

Learn more about U.S. Agent right here.

Sam Wilson

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Steve Rogers' longtime friend and partner Sam Wilson, AKA the Falcon, has a long, convoluted history wrapped up in mutant powers, mind control, and the Red Skull. But one thing that's for certain is that he has remained one of Cap's staunchest allies through it all, even serving alongside Cap as an Avenger time and time again.

Cap and Falcon are such close allies that Wilson was Rogers' hand-picked choice to replace him as Captain America when the super-soldier serum was sucked from his body, leaving him an old man. Wilson, as Captain America, even served alongside the Avengers and continued to operate as Captain America through Steve Rogers' Hydra corruption in Secret Empire.

Sam Wilson is one of the two leads in Disney Plus' upcoming streaming series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier alongside Bucky Barnes - a show which could decide the next MCU Captain America.

Bucky Barnes

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes was Steve Rogers' sidekick during World War II - and like Cap himself, Bucky was thought dead after the same encounter with Baron Zemo that left Steve Rogers frozen in ice at the tail end of the war.

Though Cap was later discovered and thawed by the Avengers, Bucky's fate is a little stranger. He was captured, reanimated, and brainwashed by the Soviets into becoming their top assassin, the Winter Soldier.

After decades believing Bucky to be dead, Rogers finally crossed paths with his former partner during one of his Winter Soldier missions, though Barnes was too far gone to be redeemed - or so it seemed.

Eventually, Bucky regained his memories, even replacing Steve Rogers as Captain America while the latter was thought dead.

He's also one of the prime candidates to potentially take over as Cap in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is set to take a leading role in Disney Plus's streaming TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier alongside Sam Wilson - another hero who filled in for Cap in comic books.

Steve Rogers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Who could top this list but the one and only, the original Star-Spangled Avenger, Steve Rogers?

Everyone knows the story - a 98-pound weakling, too sickly for the Army, volunteers for an experimental procedure which turns him into the one and only American super-soldier, Captain America.

He's been in and out of the mantle for years, serving under other codenames, in other costumes, and other capacities, but sooner or later, it always comes back to Steve Rogers wielding the shield.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)