Our first Captain America wasn’t who you think…

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Isaiah Bradley is a fictional character in the Marvel Comics universe, an early product of the United States’ Super-Soldier program (codenamed Project: Rebirth) during World War II. Producing the world’s first Captain America.

In World War II Super Soldier program operated by “Reinstein” used African American test subjects to create the formula that will turn Steve Rogers from a skinny, but patriotic, army reject into Captain America.

Project: Rebirth begins as a collaboration between US, British and German eugenicists led by Dr. “Josef Reinstein” and Dr. Koch. Reinstein’s early attempts to refine the formula are tested on African-Americans. Three hundred of these soldiers are taken from Camp Cathcart and subjected to potentially fatal experiments at an undisclosed location. Only five subjects survive the original trials. In the name of secrecy, US soldiers execute the camp’s commander and hundreds of black soldiers left behind at Camp Cathcart. The government tells the families of the three hundred subjects that their loved ones had died in battle.

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Due to field missions in Europe and internal strife, Bradley emerges the sole survivor of his test group. He steals a spare costume and a shield intended for Captain America before he engages in a suicide mission to destroy the Super-Soldier efforts of the Nazis at the Schwarzebitte concentration camp. There, he is able to assassinate Koch, but the mission ends when the Germans capture Bradley. Bradley is later rescued by German insurgents, only to be court-martialed and imprisoned at Leavenworth around 1943. In 1960, Bradley is pardoned by President Eisenhower and released.

Considered to be the “Black Captain America”, Isaiah Bradley is depicted as an underground legend among much of the African-American community in the Marvel Universe. A number of the most noted Africans and African-Americans of the twentieth century’s last four decades visit Bradley as a sign of respect and, in many cases, hero worship. He receives fictional visits from Malcolm X, Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Alex Haley, Nelson Mandela, and Colin Powell. Outside the Black community, however, he remains largely unknown. When he arrives as a special guest at the wedding of Storm and the Black Panther, several African-American heroes are awestruck, including Luke Cage (who describes him as “the first me”), Goliath (Bill Foster), Monica Rambeau, Triathlon, and the Falcon. However, the Canadian-born Wolverine is totally unaware of the man’s identity or importance.

Meanwhile, the long-term effects of the test serum severely damage Isaiah Bradley’s mind and body, similar in part to the effects of various steroids and Alzheimer’s. In 2003, Steve Rogers (Captain America) learns the truth behind the Super-Soldier program and attempts a reconciliation with the now-childlike Isaiah Bradley. However, Captain America never discovers that the true mastermind behind the Super-Soldier program is the clandestine organization Weapon Plus and that Bradley is only one in a long line of Weapons, including Wolverine and Fantomex.

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Isaiah’s grandson, Elijah, became the costumed hero “The Patriot” and carries on his legacy. He was the leader of the Young Avengers and they have helped save the world on numerous occasions before disbanding.

 

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