Does Captain America have superpowers?
Oy. This is one of those questions which gets bandied about every time someone looks closely at the things Captain America does in the comics but a Marvel licensed product says: Captain America has no superpowers.
I usually find myself screaming YES! He does! Then I remember I’m in polite company and excuse myself to mumble quietly in the corner about his list of superhuman abilities and feats — keeping helicopters from taking off, jumping over a twelve foot fence, dodging bullets at point blank range… did I see him jump out of a third story window and land at least partially on his shield recently?
<psst> Civil War…
To continue to muddy the waters of metahuman ability, I will remind the courts of the relativistic view of Captain America, and by proxy, the Winter Soldier and the Black Panther, all whose abilities are listed at the peak of Human ability and evolution, literally the best it is possible for a Human being to be.
The Answer-Man’s Archive:
Does Captain America have superpowers?
Yes. When all is said and done, Captain America has always been listed as the pinnacle of Human evolution. The concept of Peak Human would be considered superhuman to anyone who wasn’t.
If you had a person who was an Olympic level athlete IN EVERY SPORT POSSIBLE, he would appear to be an awe-inspiring superhuman even to those people who were already Olympic athletes because of his breadth of abilities.
- Captain America is NOT considered superhuman because in the canon Marvel Universe, it is at least possible for a human being to be capable of SOME of the feats he performs.
- He is considered NOT superhuman because he does not have any significant abilities outside of the BEST A HUMAN (any particular well-trained, Olympic-level athlete) could have — except for his running— that IS superhuman, no matter how you slice it.
- He is not considered superhuman because if you were to analyze his DNA, you would find nothing out of the ordinary; no mutant genome, nor any trace of extensive mutagenic effects similar to the Fantastic Four or the Hulk.
- The Super-Soldier Serum altered his body by bringing out the BEST HUMAN GENOME OPTIONS possible (and the continued regeneration of the serum over time.)
In our universe, he would be most assuredly be considered superhuman because he has:
- Strength greater than any known Olympic athlete. He has clearly been documented bench pressing 1,100 pounds. 700 pounds is considered a nice peak number for professional weight lifters.
- Kirill Sarychev first presses 330 kilograms (730 lb) and then 335 kilograms (739 lb) with wrist wraps on November 22, 2015 at the SN PRO 2015, Russian Federation, Moscow. — Wikipedia
- The agility of an Olympic-level gymnast, capable of feats of acrobatics not possible without his unique brand of strength, coordination and stamina. Captain America does parkour-type feats, running and jumping as well as gymnastic torsion merged in acrobatic combat techniques in a fashion barely unequaled in the Marvel Universe.
- He has the hand-eye coordination of an Olympic-level archer or marksman. He can throw an object like a baseball for over 100 yards with near-perfect accuracy. Games of physical skill such as pool pose no challenge to his ability to predict the movement of multiple objects simultaneously. He uses this ability to dodge people shooting at him by predicting the paths of the bullets.
- He exhibits the combat ability of a master martial artist, fusing, Judo, Akido, Boxing and his own acrobatic martial arts style into a unique and powerful offensive-defensive fighting style. Despite the strength disparity between him and many of his opponents, he is a formidable foe, striking pressure points with nerve strikes and the edge of his shield to damage opponents who might believe themselves to be beyond his ability to harm.
- He is able to swim as fast as any Olympic-level swimmer and hold his breath for over 20 minutes.
- He has increased awareness of his physical presence in space. His prioperception gives him an increase in his apparent reaction time.
- This increase is enough that he can predict the movement of bullets from firearms, even at close range. He is not dodging the bullet per se, he is simply not where his enhanced reflexes tell him bullets will travel as he moves.
- Running a mile (1.6 km) in 73 seconds (49 mph/78 kph). He is running twice as fast as any normal human, and nearly as fast as a horse!
- He has also had a sustained run of five miles in just inside of five minutes, carrying a 140 pound man. We can assume this is working at the peak of his physical capacity.
- He does not build up fatigue poisons at the same rate as a normal human, giving him unheard of levels of stamina and endurance. He can fight for over an hour, full out without fatigue, loss of pussiance, or loss of accuracy.
- In our universe, Captain America would be considered Superhuman because there wouldn’t be anyone even remotely as capable in as many fields as he can encompass.
In the Marvel Universe the border between Human and Superhuman has a slightly wider spectrum and in it, Captain America resides just at the border between Peak Human and Minor Superhuman.
For those of you who feel the need for complete transparency: Captain America did have superhuman strength for a period in the 1970s. Poisoned by Viper, an antidote gave him super-human strength. Strength so great he was forced to relearn how to fight in order not to hurt people.
This super strength was gained in Captain America #158 and lasted until Captain America #193. But wasn’t fully explained that he had lost his superhuman strength until Captain America #218.
In Avengers #170 we see Cap hard at work bulking up again, feeling the loss of his super-strength profoundly.
Don’t be fooled, while Captain America’s superhuman strength by which normal men were as fleas to him was gone, he was still going to be whipping four times his weight in Olympic level weightlifters.
What can Cap do without his shield? Why is he even considered a superhero?
Captain America’s shield does not define him
It’s never been about the shield. The shield is just a tool. And maybe a symbol if you’re into those kinds of things. Here’s a look behind the curtain at the Avengers’ mansion.
“Hey new guy, get in line. Cap’s gonna be here in a few minutes. He’s never late.” Hawkeye tightens up and stands at attention. The new recruits don’t seem all that enthused to be here and Hawkeye remembers a time when he was like them; a long, long time ago…
Captain America enters the room, his shield strapped to his back. His critical blue eyes sweep over the new recruits, and with a dismissive glance he strides toward the center of the training arena.
“Good afternoon and welcome to your first day in Hand to Hand Fundamentals. You are here to learn how to operate when things get close and tight.”
Hawkeye pipes up wondering why he has to be here with these other newbies.
Cap turns toward Hawkeye and his gaze grows cold. Hawkeye stares back defiantly for a second and then looks away. “You don’t think you need to be here do you, Hawkeye?”
“Your powers mean nothing! In a fight for your life, on the battlefield — powers are only as useful as the soldier who wields them. They are no excuse to not know how to fight. They are a tool in a fight. They are a tool to defend yourself with.
“No offense, Cap, but I’ll put my bow up against your fist any day of the week.” Hawkeye’s smug confidence in his abilities bolsters his courage in the face of Cap’s rationale for their training sessions.
“That is a nice bow. Did you make it?”
“Damn right I did.”
Cap reaches out his gloved hand, palm up. “May I?” Hawkeye hands over his pride and joy. With a speed and casual strength Hawkeye forgets Cap is capable of, he splinters the bow and drops the pieces onto the floor.
Hawkeye remembered the bruises from that day and every other day after that for years. Cap was relentless in his training, pushing them to their physical limits both in terms of their endurance and their ability to survey the battlefield and determine where best to apply their particular craft in combat.
And Cap was right. Hawkeye would one day thank him for every beating he took learning to fight Captain America. In hand to hand he could never take Cap, but any normal guy that got between Hawkeye and what he wanted would definitely know they were in a fight. Though he would never tell the old war dog that if he could help it.
Cap taught Hawkeye and the other Avengers a lot of other things about combat, not just hand to hand but the strategy of how to fight. Cap taught Hawkeye to seek his first targets shooting from higher ground because of the advantage high ground gave to the person who held it.
Once the high ground was clear, his objective was to take and hold that high ground providing cover fire to his team on the ground. Stun the small fry, bind or blind the big targets, immobilize or slow suits of enemy armor.
Hawkeye had to admit while his circus-trained skills were great at hitting the target, Cap had taught him which targets were worth hitting first. Cap has always been teaching the Avengers, from the first day he was rescued from the ice, even hardcases like Hawkeye, who assumed they never had anything to learn from a guy without superpowers. Cap has stood up against anyone who was anyone and never once flinched.
Even dying, the only thing he could think about was protecting people…
The session ended with only a few broken bones and hurt feelings from the new kids and Hawkeye ushered them out the door. “What’s he doing now?” One of the new recruits asked as he watched Cap cleaning up the training room.
Hawkeye smiled. “Now the Old Man is going to really train. If you want to see what he can do, come up to the observation deck. I can tell you a few stories about him. I’ll spot you from on top, Cap.”
“Thanks, Hawkeye, can you set up Theta 3?”
“Gotcha. It’ll just take a second.”
“No worries, I will need a few minutes to stretch out. Let me know when you are ready.”
“And that, kid? That’s just his warm up. He’ll do it all again later. He’ll handicap himself to do it without his shield… and in less time.”
“But why? I thought the shield was part of who he was.”
“Weren’t you listening back there? It’s never been about the shield. Weapons can’t use themselves. It’s about person behind the weapon or the powers that matter. Without a mind, a weapon is nothing.”
Hawkeye looks down before he continues because he remembers getting this lesson firsthand. “He trains like this because he never wants a situation to come up, he hasn’t already prepared for. His mind is his weapon. His body is just a tool. His shield is just a very nice prop. Pay attention, rookie, that is the closest you will ever come to seeing perfection in action.”
Smiling, Hawkeye watches Captain America and then looks back at this new hero, freshly minted, and remembers he was once this raw too. “And don’t you dare repeat that. I’ll deny ever saying it. Don’t want the Old Man to think I’m going soft.”
More Captain America: The Greatest Avenger
- What makes Captain America stand out among The Avengers? (besides his leadership, integrity, strength of character, willingness to sacrifice and worthiness to pick up Mjolnir in time of need?)
- Can we use selective breeding to create a human with the abilities of Captain America? (Ye gods, I hope not.)
Parts of this article were first published on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange — “Is Captain America Superhuman?” and Quora — “What can Captain America Do Without His Shield?” © Thaddeus Howze, 2015
The Answer-Man’s Archives are a collection of my articles discussing superheroes and their powers in relationship to their respective universes. You can find other Archives on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Since they insist on constant entertainment and can’t subscribe to cable, Thaddeus writes a variety of forms of speculative fiction to appease their hunger for new entertainment.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies:Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short(2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (UK, 2012), and Possibilities (2012).