Captain America’s Super-Soldier Serum has a dark legacy in the Marvel Universe, one that is awakened in a new Man-Thing comic.
Warning: spoilers for Avengers: Curse of the Man-Thing #1 are ahead.
Captain America has been a beacon in Marvel Comics for several decades now, but the truth about his iconic origin story has casted long shadows over the Marvel Universe. Chosen by scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine in World War II, Steve Rogers was transformed from a scrawny, sickly man into a formidable warrior with Erskine’s Super-Soldier Serum. Heralded as a medical and scientific wonder for his peak human abilities, Captain America went on to inspire wartime America with his acts of bravery and heroism. But while the United States basked in the heroics of their new super soldier, numerous sinister imitators began their own experiments to replicate Erskine’s formula, with scores of new heroes and villains created from unsuccessful experiments.
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A new comic, Avengers: Curse of the Man-Thing #1, throws the details of Captain America’s transformation onto a much darker timeline that erupted after Erskine’s discovery (written by Steve Orlando, art by Francesco Mobili, colors by Guru-eFX, and letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles). In the issue, the Avengers are called in after strange plants in major cities around the world have started to burn civilians alive after touching them. The plant behind the madness is none other than the husk of Man-Thing, a swamp creature who was once a scientist named Dr. Ted Sallis. When the plants release hordes of winged creatures, Captain America is swallowed up by the plant and transported into Man-Thing’s consciousness. There, Steve is attacked by jingoistic villains William Burnside, Nuke, Protocide, and Anti-Cap, who are all created in an effort to replicate Erskine’s serum. In confronting these evil imitators of himself, Captain America is forced to reconcile with the legacy of his origin story.
This fight between Captain America and his evil counterparts is part of a recent resurgence of stories based on the fallout of Erskine’s discovery. Characters like American Kaiju, Man-Thing, and Isaiah Bradley’s Patriot were all created from scientific trials gone awry, making this dark legacy inseparable from Captain America’s mythos. When viewed in the larger scope of the Marvel Universe, Captain America’s origin story has become the original sin determining many aspects of Marvel Comics today. While in the moment it created one of the best leaders in superhero comics, it also opened doors for science’s more sinister applications, suggesting that knowledge itself is a superpower that must be carefully guarded.
Steve Rogers’s transformation unlocked a new understanding of human potential in superhero comics. The idea that superheroes could be made in a lab instead of born has brought a uniquely scientific angle to the Marvel Universe, marking a departure from previous superhero comics that emphasized magic and wonder. Centering Captain America’s origin story in Avengers: Curse of the Man-Thing #1 acknowledges the history of how science has birthed some of Marvel’s most popular heroes, some of whom at great personal cost.
Captain America’s Origin Story May Be The Key To Understanding Man-Thing.
Man-Thing is a bizarre character, but when viewed in relation to Captain America, he can be understood as a representation of how impossible it currently is to create heroes like Captain America. As the issue shows, the process of developing a duplicate of the Super-Soldier Serum was an insurmountable task for Ted Sallis, consuming every aspect of his life. After Sallis destroyed his research, injected himself with the only dose he created, and seemingly died in a car crash, Man-Thing as created by a combination of the serum in Sallis’s body and the magical properties of the swamp water he crashed in. That is, Captain America’s origin marked a dead end for Ted Sallis’s life as he knew it.
Rather than building off of any personal qualities Sallis had before he died, the serum instead built off of the swamp environment. This makes Man-Thing less a reflection of Ted Sallis himself, and more a reflection of the manner of his death, contrasting sharply with Captain America’s origin. As such, it isn’t difficult to see why Man-Thing is far from the hero that Captain America is.
Man-Thing Gives Captain America The Opportunity To Reflect On His Own Flaws.
Regardless of how great of a hero Captain America is, his success will always come with an asterisk next to it. Aside from giving him peak human abilities, the Super-Soldier Serum amplified Steve Rogers’s personal qualities, including his good heart. This is what made him such an effective soldier out in the field: he was powered by principle just as much as he was by muscle. Therefore, the Super-Soldier Serum became such a desired formula due to the fact that Steve out-performed in his role as America’s hero.
The reality is is that there is only one Steve Rogers, and as his brushes with Nuke, William Burnside, Protocide, and Anti-Cap in Man-Thing’s consciousness demonstrate, it is impossible to scientifically create another Captain America that can truly rival the original. Captain America was created in a bygone past marked by characteristically pure intentions, none of which continue to exist in the Marvel Universe. In contrast, Ted Sallis reveals that he was working on creating a Super-Soldier Serum not to help the world, but to directly help himself and his family. Times have changed, and the application of scientific discovery have changed.
Captain America’s origin story is one of the core narratives that runs through the Marvel Universe. He remains an inspirational figure to both readers and superheroes alike for both his principles and his heroic feats. The specific details of his origin launched Marvel Comics on an investigation into humanity’s scientific potential that has spanned several decades now.
While Captain America has represented the very best of human potential, his existence has brought out the very worst of human potential in those who have sought to create the Super-Soldier Serum. From the experiments on Black American men that resembled the real-life horror of the Tuskegee syphilis study, to the creation of America’s own kaiju, the search for a Super-Soldier Serum has resulted in catastrophic harm. Ultimately, the legacy of his own creation is a burden that Captain America must bear alone.
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