If you had to name one character off the top of your head that you would hold above the rest as iconic and endemic of Marvel comics history then odds are that you'd pick the star spangled man, Captain America himself.
Cap didn't just cement Marvel as a thoroughly heroic, patriotic, all-American company but also became the longest running figurehead for Marvel's flagship superhero team: the Avengers. Even since he was chipped from the ice he's been centre stage as the most prolific leader of the Avengers and a key member of the Illuminati, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Secret Avengers.
More than that, he's emblematic not just of Marvel comics but of patriotic ideals and - more importantly - how they should be used. Because he's not just an unthinking patriot following orders blindly, he's "the moral compass that has inspired generations to do better and believe in more than themselves".
Nothing illustrates this more accurately than the Civil War narrative of the comics, the filmic adaptation of which is coming in May in the form of [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409).
Which leads us to this: the Captain America 75th Anniversary Special, which airs tonight on ABC 20:00 - 21:00 PM [ET].
Though canonically Steve Rogers was born on the 4th of July 1920, his pen and ink form was brought to life on the page by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in his Marvel Comics debut in March of 1941 (Captain America Comics #1), nearly 75 years ago. And so Marvel's Captain America: 75 Heroic Years documents and celebrates the life of Captain America, however fictional it may be:
"New York, 1940. A new era on the horizon. Little did the world know then that this decade would shape the course of history in ways never before seen. Though two men who walked those New York streets, a pair of artists and creators, had a strong feeling of what was to come. They were Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two first generation Jewish-Americans who believed in their country, believed that the atrocities taking place in Europe needed to be answered, and most importantly, they believed in freedom. And it was an image of freedom that they would create..."
The names of Simon and Kirby will be well known to comic book fans; Kirby in particular as he also co-created the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk alongside Marvel legend Stan Lee.
The one-hour 75th Anniversary Special covers not only Captain America's origins and the influences that Simon and Kirby brought to the table from their own lives to create him, but the way in which Cap has functioned as a fluid symbol, reflecting the conflicts of the era in which he finds himself.
For example The Death of Captain America, the 2007 - 2008 story arc which immediately followed Civil War, has been read as a reflection of the political landscape at the time - the revamping of a post-9/11 American Dream with former sidekick Bucky Barnes taking up the mantle of Captain America after Steve's death.
Because Captain America has never only been Steve Rogers. Bucky Barnes took up the shield whilst Steve was considered dead post-Civil War, and remained the man in the star spangled mask at Steve's insistence following his return in Captain America: Reborn (2009 - 2010).
Following Bucky's apparent death in Fear Itself (2011) Steve took up the mantle again, and then back in July of 2014 the shield was passed on from (a then nearly 100-year old) Steve to Sam Wilson / The Falcon, relaunching as All-New Captain America.
The fact that the man behind Captain America's mask is currently Sam, the first mainstream African-American superhero in comic books, is no accident. As Steve himself says during Civil War, Captain America is an idea - not just a man, not just a mask - and he's an inclusive idea, one that anyone can aspire towards.
Marvel's Captain America: 75 Heroic Years explores and reflects upon this ever changing narrative, featuring comic book icons Stan Lee, Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb; [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](tag:722469)'s Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet; Marvel Studios producer Louis D’Esposito, [Marvel's Agent Carter](tag:1119765)'s Hayley Atwell, and the current man behind the shield himself: Chris Evans.
Simon and Kirby, who created Captain America, both passed away a while back; the 98-year old Simon in December 2011 and 76-year old Kirby in February 1994. In their place their family members appear in Marvel's Captain America: 75 Heroic Years to talk about the character they created, who ensures that the legacy of freedom that these two artists created will live on as long as we remember Captain America.
Oh, and also Steve punched Hitler. A lot.