The superhero civil war over the Superhuman Registration Act continues to rage, with Steve Rogers leading the anti-registration Secret Avengers. Meanwhile, Sharon Carter wrestles with her SHIELD-sworn duty to support the Registration Act versus her love for Steve, Nick Fury spies on S.H.I.E.L.D. with the help of Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, and the Red Skull has formed an alliance with Doctor Faustus and Arnim Zola for a new plan to dismantle America and its famed Captain.
When the war hits its peak in a climactic battle in New York, Steve Rogers has a crisis of conscience and surrenders the fight with Iron Man. He is arrested and taken to Manhattan's Federal Courthouse to be tried, but on the steps of the courthouse he's suddenly shot by a sniper. Sharon Carter is there to witness the assassination, with chaos and mourning ensuing in the aftermath. While the Red Skull continues to sow more seeds of panic to place the country in his command, Iron Man looks for the best way to reassure the nation while still honoring Rogers' memory. Winter Soldier hunts Iron Man down, believing him responsible for Rogers' death. Sharon Carter struggles with a dark secret about the assassination. And the question on many's mind is, Steve Rogers is truly dead but is Captain America?
The arc was accompanied by a sister miniseries titled Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, which took the focus off the Captain America supporting cast and instead depicted the reactions of the superhero community, especially that of Wolverine, Hawkeye, The Mighty Avengers and New Avengers, Spider-Man, and Iron Man.
About a year later though, it would turn out that death was just as cheap as it has always been, as Steve Rogers was resurrected in the series Captain America: Reborn, which ran from July 2009 to January 2010.
In promotion for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the arc was rereleased in March 2014 in the form of a prose novel.
Compare The Death of Superman.
The Death of Captain America provides examples of:
- Analogy Back Fire: Red Skull and Lukin trade blows verbally and mentally.Lukin: This isn't what we agreed on, Skull. Our pact was highly specific in the details.Red Skulll: So was the pact between Stalin and Hitler, and we know how that ended.Lukin: Yes, with the death of your master and the rise of the Motherland.Red Skull: You call that rising, do you? Slowly losing a war for five decades while your entire country crumbles at your feet?Lukin: And how is your Glorious Thousand-Year Reich faring, then?
- Back from the Dead:
- When a Steve Rogers' lookalike saves presidential candidate Wright from assassination, the public wonders if it's really him alive again. As it turns out, it's William Burnside, the Loony Fan of Cap who pretended to be him during the 50s.
- It's implied within this arc, but not confirmed until 2009's arc, that the Red Skull's device loaned from Doctor Doom was going to be used to resurrect Steve, and transfer Skull's mind to his body. Sharon even sees a glimpse what resembles Steve's corpse, but she damages the machines and so disrupts the process.
- Batman Gambit: After Faustus keeps forcibly trying to re-indoctrinate Bucky, Bucky pretends it worked so that Faustus will set him free. Faustus isn't so easily convinced, though, and orders him to kill Sharon Carter.
- Beard of Evil: Dr. Faustus's big red beard grows longer as the story progresses. Eventually it's bigger than his own head. After choosing to leave the Skull, he shaves it all off to disguise himself.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Thanks to Doctor Faustus's influence, a whole bunch of allies have become puppets for his bidding.
- Sharon Carter turns out to have fired the fatal shots that killed Cap, and remembered nothing of it until Faustus and Sin made her remember it. As the story goes on she becomes brainwashed for longer periods.
- The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have therapy with the disguised Doctor Faustus disappear shortly after the assassination. They turn up again at a public protest at the White House, and open fire on the crowd.
- Downplayed with the return of William Burnside, aka 50s Captain America/The Grand Director. He is brainwashed under Faustus's control, but as the Falcon points out, he was already crazy well before then.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: Subverted. Bucky goes to the Smithsonian, intending to steal Captain America's shield from there, but the exhibit is so sparsely guarded that he realizes the shield displayed can't be the real one. Sure enough, Tony Stark has the real shield under study.
- Continuity Nod:
- Red Skull and Lukin are still trapped in the same body since Captain America: Winter Soldier. They're just barely getting along, and relying on Zola to find them a way out.
- Bucky visits the grave of Jack Monroe aka 50s Bucky, who he killed as Winter Soldier previously. While there he reunites with Namor, who he fought with during World War II.
- A key player in the third act is the insane Captain America from the 50s, still convinced he's the real deal. Sharon knows it's him when she sees the burn scars on his chest, from when he was the Grand Director and Doctor Faustus made him set himself on fire.
- Convenient Miscarriage: Subverted. Sharon and Sin get in a fight, and at first it looks like Sin overpowered her and stabbed her in the stomach. Later on, though, Faustus questions her and finds that Sharon stabbed herself, in an attempt to kill herself and her child so the Skull couldn't use either of them.
- Close on Title: The first issue of the arc, Captain America, Volume 5, #25, ends with the reveal of the title "The Death of the Dream".
- Easy Amnesia: Invoked. In a moment of mercy Doctor Faustus erases Sharon's memory of her pregnancy after she miscarries.
- False Reassurance: "Just relax, woman. There's no need to struggle. Arnim Zola is a doctor too."
- Faking the Dead: After realizing Winter Soldier may be able to inform S.H.I.E.L.D. of the Skull's survival, Red Skull and Lukin fake their death in a plane crash.
- Fate Worse than Death: The Red Skull, of all people, finds cheating death to be horrifying if it involves being uploaded into one of Zola's spare robot bodies, which was the doctor's backup plan for the Skull.
- Fighting from the Inside:
- Faustus' attempts to rebrainwash Bucky go badly, as he's able to fight off the hypnosis every time.
- Sharon Carter eventually starts to overcome Faustus's mental control, enough for periods of lucidity whenever he's not around.
- If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: To test if Bucky is loyal to him, Faustus orders him to shoot Sharon Carter. Instead, Bucky shoots at Faustus, but it's to no avail since the gun is filled with blanks.
- Killed Off for Real: Aleksander Lukin is shot by Sharon Carter. But the Red Skull's mind survives again thanks to Zola's backup plan.
- Legacy Character / Taking Up the Mantle:
- In Fallen Son, Tony Stark suggests to Hawkeye that he take up Captain America's shield. Kate Bishop, herself a Legacy Character of Hawkeye, chastises him for it, and Hawkeye ends up reneging on the offer.
- Steve Rogers' letter to Tony Stark asks that Bucky take up the title after him, believing it will help solve his guilt. Bucky agrees to the offer only if he doesn't answer to anyone, as Steve Rogers was independent and so was he. The rest of the story concerns his journey to fit in his role as the new Captain America.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Sharon Carter is overcome with guilt after discovering she was the one who killed off Steve Rogers, thanks to Doctor Faustus' control of her.
- My Secret Pregnancy: Sharon Carter tells no one that she's pregnant with Steve Rogers' child. Of course, it doesn't take long for the villains, two of which are doctors, to find out. S.H.I.E.L.D. also finds out after discovering her pregnancy test.
- Mythology Gag:
Steve: Remember when I punched Hitler? That was fun.
- As Bucky recalls meeting Steve Rogers in Issue #25, a panel is shown of Steve beating up Nazis at a dock, their poses resembling the famous "Cap punching Hitler" cover of his first issue◊.
- In a flashback to Christmas 1944, Bucky asks Steve if he ever has any fun.
- Red Skull, while inhabiting Lukin's body, wears a mask of his last body's skull-face when his mind is in charge. It resembles the Skull's first incarnation, who was a Nazi figurehead who wore a red skull mask.
- One-Woman Army: As Bucky zeroes in on the S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle delivering Captain America's shield, he wonders who's in that car that Tony Stark would trust only them with such valuable cargo. It turns out to be none other than Black Widow, who's nearly a match for Bucky.
- Pregnant Hostage: Sharon Carter, though it's not known she's pregnant until several weeks after the villains have her.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Kate Bishop is shocked when Bucky kills a HYDRA guard. When she and several other Avengers storm the base with him, she promises not to kill anyone and he responds: "Then let's seriously hope you don't have to."
- Trigger Phrase / Verbal Weakness: Bucky turns out to have a verbal failsafe programmed in while he was Winter Soldier that causes him to instantly faint upon hearing it. The word in question is "Sputnik", but It Only Works Once. Even then, though, Bucky suspects there might be other such verbal failsafes and asks S.H.I.E.L.D. to scan his mind to remove any other latent ones.
- Wham Episode: Captain America #25, when the fatal assassination occurs.