Stan “The Man” Lee’s often credited with creating Marvel, and he was instrumental in shaping what would become the multi-media juggernaut that exists today – but he didn’t create Captain America even if he did give Cap one of his most iconic abilities.
Before Stan Lee was making an obligatory guest appearance in (just about) every Marvel movie, and before he helped recreate the Marvel Universe (though there’s plenty of controversy on that one), he was just a lowly office gofer, working for his cousin-in-law Martin Goodman’s publishing company and dreaming of one day being a famous writer.
Hired on to help out comics legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (who would later go on to co-recreate the Marvel Universe with Lee), young Stan’s job was primarily to do whatever it was the big guys needed: refill ink jars, get coffee, that sort of thing. And then one day two pages needed filled, so the teenager got his big break!
See, in those days, all comics included at least two pages of primarily text. Conventional wisdom has it this was to fulfill postal regulations that all periodicals have some real merit – literature, for example – and funny pages alone wouldn’t cut it for the coveted second-class shipping rate. Usually these text pages were throw-away stories about characters, though sometimes they gave an otherwise unrevealed origin (as with the original Angel or the original Vision).
Stan’s contribution: He penned the very first time Captain America ever threw his mighty shield!
Keep in mind, when Joe and Jack first created Cap, the Sentinel of Liberty had a triangular shield, much like the presidential seal. However, Pep Comics (now Archie Comics) felt it was a little too similar to their character, the Shield, who predated Captain America as the first patriotic superhero. To rectify the situation, Cap’s now-iconic circular shield debuted in Captain America Comics #2.
Given the awesome responsibility of shaping one of Marvel’s major characters, Stan did the sensible thing: tried to hide his identity in shame. See, Stanley Lieber thought he’d never be taken seriously as a writer if word got out he wrote funny books, so he came up with the clever nom de plume “Stan Lee.” He eventually took it on as his legal name.
His debut story? “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in Captain America Comics #3.
The story was a rather mundane one, in which a presumed “traitor” Lou Haines has a falling out with Col. Stevens at the army base where Pvt. Steve Rogers and “camp mascot” Bucky Barnes were stationed (Cap pretended to be an ineffectual, never-to-be-promoted private in those days, pre-dating Gomer Pile, and Bucky’s secret identity was a kid who hung out on army bases while calling himself “Bucky”).
Even in those pre-Fantastic Four periodicals, Stan’s perfection of purple prose was perfectly produced: “The muscular giant shook his enormous fist at the Colonel.” Dig those useful adjectives, man!
The story features some Golden Age staples: Someone blasts Pvt. Rogers for not being as competent as Captain America, Steve threatens to spank Bucky if he doesn’t behave, and Bucky efficiently beats up two thugs while Captain America struggles with one main bad guy. In fact, it is in that one-on-one fight that the key moment for comic book historians occurs:
“Inside the tent, the American Avenger saw Lou Haines about to plunge his knife into the sleeping Colonel’s heart! There wasn’t time for Captain America to reach Haines before the evil deed could be done. But with the speed of thought, he sent his shield spinning through the air to the other end of the tent where it smacked the knife out of Haines’ hand!”
And there you have it, in plain text (but no pictures yet): Captain America threw his shield like a discus!
The rest is history.