Captain America and Bucky have been part of the Marvel Universe since before it was the Marvel Universe. Cap’s first appearance was back when the company was still called Timely Comics, and Captain America was one of its first big hits. The character, or at least, the title of Captain America has a long, complicated history in the comics, and a surprising amount of these characters have found their way on screen. This is going to be a quick overview, and not a “get every single detail ever” of the history of the character in many of his incarnations. These histories are based on the comic books, and not on the various other versions of the characters.
Steve Rogers/James Barnes
When most people think of this pair of patriotic heroes, this is who comes to mind: the originals. Steven Grant Rogers was a scrawny kid who volunteered for an experimental process to become a symbol for America during Word War II. He received two things that made him unique in the role: the super soldier serum as developed by Abraham Erskine, and an unbreakable shield made of an accidentally created, never replicated alloy of adamantium, vibranium, and an unknown catalyst from scientist Myron MacClain. The accident that created the shield has been studied extensively and never recreated, and Erksine’s formula died with him, moments after Steve received the treatment. Becoming the pinnacle of human perfection, Steve became Captain America, working with various units of the American and Allied Armed Forces, and teaming with assorted costumed champions. When his unit’s “mascot” James “Bucky” Barnes discovered Steve’s secret, he became Cap’s masked sidekick. Captain America and Bucky served together for a few years, then fell victim to one of Red Skull’s schemes. Both were believed killed in action, although both survived to emerge years later. Steve was found in suspended animation in the aftermath of an early clash between the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner, discovered adrift in the ocean by the Avengers, becoming their first recruit after their founding lineup. Bucky fell under the sway of the Russians, and was reprogrammed to become the deadly Winter Soldier. Eventually, the two friends would reunite in the modern era, becoming legends once more as members of the Avengers and various other teams at times. Both characters have famously been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and various cartoons. There were a few earlier live-action versions of the original Captain America, but none of them took off the way the MCU did, where he was played by Chris Evans.
There were some dark aspects to the story of Captain America. After the initial success with Steve Rogers, many countries tried to recreate the Super Solider Serum. A scientist called Josef Reinstein developed a version of the serum, and tested it on 300 African-American soldiers at Camp Cathcart. Out of the three hundred, only five survived the process. The families of the ones that didn’t make it were told their loved ones died in battle. After a few dangerous missions, Isiah was the last remaining survivor. Pushed beyond all endurance, Isiah stole a spare costume and shield from the Captain America project and went to Germany on his own, willing to die in the attempt to destroy the German Super Soldier program. Instead, he was captured and experimented on further before finally being freed by a German resistance group. Returning to the US, he was court-martialed for operating without orders and theft, and sent to Leavenworth prison from roughly 1943 to 1960.He was pardoned by President Eisenhower and released.
Bradley returned home to private life, but rumor of the “black Captain America” went through the community, drawing a lot of high-profile visitors over time, both among civilians and heroes. Outside of the black community, he remained unknown and at best an urban legend. Years later, he finally met the original, Steve Rogers, but by that point the serum had left Isiah suffering from symptoms highly similar to Alzheimer’s. Isiah’s grandson Eli took up the codename Patriot and became a founding member of the Young Avengers. A version of both Isiah and Eli appear in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
William Naslund/Fred Davis
Naslund was born in Philidelphia, a gifted athlete. Like many young men, he wanted to make a difference when America entered World War II, and devoted himself to becoming the best fighter he could, and learning to handle an approximation of Captain America’s shield. He was approached to join a team of costumed adventurers, and became the Spirit of ’76, a patriotic themed hero as a part of the Crusaders. The Crusaders later learned they’d been duped and most of them quit the hero scene. Naslund fought on, believing in the idea. Near the end of World War II, when the original Captain disappeared and was believed Killed In Action, President Truman asked Naslund to step into the role. He did, although he lacked both the Super Soldier Serum and the original, unique, shield. He carried the Army’s best imitation of it, made of a high-strength steel alloy. Naslund served as Captain America through the end of the war, and a bit beyond. He was killed by the robotic servant of Adam II while bringing word to his post war team, the All Winners Squad, about an assassination plot.
Fred Davis, of all things, was a bat-boy for the New York Yankees, but he helped the original Captain America and Bucky for a brief time in 1942. He was the best they could come up with to replace the original Bucky, and he received intensive training for the part. Davis survived his first partner, and went on to help Jeffrey Mace, the third Captain America. Davis was shot in the leg in 1948, never fully recovered, and developed a permanent limp. After his wound forced him to retire from superheroics, he became part of the clandestine V Battalion, a group that hunted war criminals. Years later, he was killed by a Russian sleeper agent as part of a plot against the original, returned Bucky. Neither character has been depicted outside the comics as far as I am aware.
Jeffrey Mace/Fred Davis
Jeffrey Solomon Mace was a New York native and wartime correspondent for the Daily Bugle. When he saw Captain America in action, he became inspired to join the fight on the home-front. He became the Patriot, and founded the Liberty Legion, a States-based team during the War, sometimes fighting alongside a sidekick known as Miss Patriot. After the war, he continued his heroic activities, and, when the second Captain America was killed, stepped in to become the third. He fought alongside the second Bucky, who helped train him for the role. He retired in 1949, married fellow hero Golden Girl, and enjoyed a quiet, happy life. He died of cancer in the 1980’s, the original, returned Captain America at his bedside. A version of Jeff Mace appeared on the fourth season of Agents of SHIELD, although with no ties to Captain America and minor powers. He was played by Jason O’Mara.
William Burnside/Jack Monroe
If a legend is around long enough, it can take on a dark side. Sadly, Captain America is no exception. William Burnside grew up obsessed with the patriotic hero, and was one of the few civilians not fooled by the later replacement Caps. He got a doctorate in US History, and his obsession deepened. Traveling to Europe, he managed to find a forgotten journal from a Nazi scientist, and an early version of the Super Solider Serum in the notes. Elated, he returned to the states, legally changed his name to “Steve Rogers,” had plastic surgery to resemble his hero, and presented his findings to the US Government. His timing was good in some ways, in that Jeff Mace had just stepped down as the Captain, and the government wanted a symbol for their controversial war in Korea. He became Captain America, but the war ended and the government didn’t feel the need to continue funding his adventures. Stymied for a time, he became a teacher and met Jack Monroe, an orphan who bore a resemblance to the original Bucky. The pair became heroes and injected themselves with the formula. Unfortunately, both the formula wasn’t finished and the stabilizing “Vita Rays” weren’t in the notes Burnside discovered.
The early days of their career went well, stopping a few villains and even getting help from Golden Age hero Golden Girl, who had been an FBI Agent in her civilian life. The heroic partners clashed repeatedly with a later version of the Red Skull, among other villains. They clashed most often with Communist agents, in keeping with the era they operated in. The paranoia of the time and the unstable serum led to mental issues for both Cap and Bucky. Eventually, they were placed in suspended animation by the government to keep them out of trouble. They fell into the clutches of master brainwasher and manipulator Dr. Faustus. Burnside descended into madness and villainy, was reported dead several times, and went in and out of suspended animation at different points. Later, he clashed with the original Bucky, who was then Captain America himself. Eventually he was officially declared dead, and placed in intensive therapy.
Jack Monroe had an even more confusing history. Born on Pearl Harbor Day, Monroe eventually fell in with the above detailed Burnside and operated as Bucky. Clashing with the original Captain America and Falcon, Monroe and Burnside were in and out of suspended animation and government custody. Monroe, freed of Burnside’s influence, later took the name Nomad (another of Steve Roger’s identities) and partnered with the original hero. He was reported dead (again), and ended up being programmed by radical government agent Henry Peter Gyrich. Nomad was turned into Scourge, a masked man who hunted and killed supervillains, using captured villain weapons as part of his arsenal. Freed from control by the Thunderbolts, Monroe got more bad news from Dr. Jane Foster; the serum in his system was more and more unstable and was killing him. Increasingly unstable, he eventually was killed by the original Bucky when he was still under the Winter Soldier programming.
John Walker/Lemar Hoskins
John grew up in a small town in Georgia, idolizing his older brother, who died in active duty with the Army. Walker grew up, joined up, and served honorably, but felt he missed out on a chance to be a hero since he served in peacetime. Later, he heard about the Power Broker, a shadowy figure who was conducting illegal experiments that gave people powers. Walker was one of the few lucky ones who survived with no ill effects, gaining greater than human strength. He became Super-Patriot, a very conservative figure who clashed often with the original Captain America. Part of Walker’s organization was Lemar Hoskins, who stayed by his side and shared his values. Walker had adventures, some real, some staged as part of a PR campaign. When Steve Rogers went through a period of disillusionment and retired as Captain America, Walker was approached, and given more intensive training, by the mimicking villain Taskmaster among others. Walker was a controversial Cap, clashing often with other heroes, but learning a bit along the way. When Rogers was ready to return to his title, Walker became US Agent, and continued as a hero, although often at odds with his teammates. Walker continues as a hero, one of the ones that works closely with the government.
Lemar Hoskins grew up in Chicago, joined the Army, and served his time, leaving honorably with fellow veteran John Walker, and followed Walker to the Power Broker, gaining enhanced strength. When Walker was made Captain America, Hoskins became his partner, although quickly discarding the “Bucky” name due to the racial overtones. He selected the name Battlestar, even getting a shield like the original one carried by Steve Rogers. When Rogers became Captain America again, Hoskins left the government, working for a time with Silver Sable’s Wild Pack. He was one of the heroes who opposed government registration in the Civil War, and has gone on with his own heroic career, although never one of the better known heroes.
Walker and Hoskins have both appeared in The Falcon and Winter Soldier series on Disney+.
James Barnes was born in Indiana, a military brat orphaned when his father died in action. Barnes was adopted as the mascot of his father’s unit, and eventually befriended Steve Rogers when he came to the camp. Barnes learned Steve’s secret and insisted on becoming Rogers’ partner. As Captain America and Bucky, they became legends in World War II, eventually disappearing after a clash with the Red Skull near the end of the war. Both survived, in very different ways. The wounded Bucky was found by the Russians, had his missing arm replaced, and was conditioned to become the Winter Soldier, a deadly assassin. While under their control, he had a relationship with the Black Widow and helped Logan escape the Weapon X program, among other things. Eventually, he managed to escape their control and worked occasionally with SHIELD.
When Steve Rogers apparently died after the Civil War, Bucky eventually became the new Captain America. In his time as Cap, Bucky managed to make friends and establish good relationships with many other heroes, joining one incarnation of the Avengers. Eventually, Steve returned to being Captain America, Bucky faked his death, and went to work under deep cover for SHIELD. Eventually, more heroes learned he had survived, and he works occasionally as a reluctant hero and/or intelligence asset for SHIELD or similar organizations.
Bucky was in various cartoons, and is best known for his MCU incarnation, where he is portrayed by Sebastian Stan.
Sam Wilson/Joaquin Torres
Samuel Thomas Wilson was born in Harlem, and grew up with his preacher father and loving mother. He lost both parents by his teens and moved to Los Angeles, becoming a career criminal known as Snap. On his way to a “big score” in Rio, he crashed on a remote island, and met Steve Rogers, which changed his life. Sam became the Falcon, Cap’s partner, eventually getting wings that let him fly, designed by T’Challa, the Black Panther of Wakanda. Wilson’s mind and even his history were altered when the Red Skull came into possession of the Cosmic Cube. Sam worked with Cap for a long time, and was on various teams of Avengers. Sam reconciled with his changed life, despite the Skull’s best efforts, and remained a hero, working with many other heroes and teams over time.
Sam took his turn as Captain America when Steve Rogers lost the Super Soldier Serum for a time and physically aged a great deal. Steve himself designated Sam as his replacement, which didn’t sit well with some people. Sam’s time as Cap was controversial, bringing to the fore a lot of racial issues. At the direction of the US Government, John Walker, former Cap and then US Agent, clashed with Sam over the right to bear the shield. Early in his time as Cap, Sam met Joaquin Torres, a Latino youth who was captured and experimented on by the Sons of the Serpent. Torres was permanently changed, gaining powers but a nonhuman appearance. Proving his bravery, Torres became the new Falcon, working with Sam as Cap, and later the Champions. When Steve returned to being Captain America, Sam was once again the Falcon, sharing the name with Torres.
Sam has been in various cartoons and in several movies in the MCU, played by Anthony Mackie. Torres recently appeared in the Falcon and Winter Soldier series on Disney+, played by Danny Ramirez.
There have been assorted versions of Captain America from other timelines, many claiming to be from the future. Whether any of them will come to pass remains to be seen.