The Lost Shield of Captain America

Cover of Captain America Comics Issue 1
Captain America Comics Issue 1

Captain America’s shield is one of the most iconic images in the history of comic books, but where was it when Cap’ made his cinematic debut?

Captain America debuted in 1940, at a time when American comic books were experiencing a trend of patriotic themes in the midst of World War II. Americommando, Spy Smasher, Yankee Girl, Captain Aero and The Shield were similar heroes who had all recently made their first appearances when Captain America Comics #1 landed on store shelves. The popularity of this first issue inspired discussions between original publishers Timely Comics and film studios on the prospect of translating the character to screen. Pages of this first edition were sent to studios, including Republic Pictures, to develop into film proposals.

Cover of Pep Comics No. 1
Pep Comics No. 1

Within weeks of the first issue’s release, MLJ Magazines – the creators of the aforementioned character The Shield – sent a letter of complaint to Timely, regarding the visual similarity of Captain America and his original, triangular shield to their character who had appearing in Pep Comics months earlier. For this reason, by the time the second issue of Captain America Comics appeared on shelves, it was with an amicably redesigned, circular shield that would become his signature tool.

Posters and lobby cards appeared promoting the Captain America film serial in 1944, and they featured the same shield that had by then become famous. Fans attending screenings each week must have been eagerly awaiting the introduction of the shield, only to be left hanging. The absence of one of Captain America’s main features in his screen debut stems back to that initial comic book release.

When writers from Republic Pictures received samples from the first issue of Captain America, they worked on a script based upon what they had seen – reportedly only a few pages of action scenes. They developed an original script which had been intended to include a shield, albeit the one they had seen from the comic book’s first edition. When filming began in 1943, the shield prop proved to be heavy and difficult to use in action scenes. When stunt performers suffered injuries early in production, the prop was removed from the remainder of the shoots, and the only reference to it remaining in the serial is the shield on Captain America’s belt buckle.

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