The motion picture Captain America: Civil War will soon be upon us and will treat viewers to a cinematic tale in which Captain America and Iron Man are pit against each other. It may be known to some film fans that this story is partially based upon the series Civil War, but perhaps some might benefit from learning more about the past conflicts of Captain America and Iron Man. In this quick series, I'll lead you through the history of Iron Man & Captain America's friendship.
Captain America joined the proper Marvel Universe in the pages of Avengers #4 (1964), in which the Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man & Wasp) found him frozen in ice and revived him. By the end of the issue, Captain America had become a member of the team. At the time, the other four all appeared in titles of their own, but Captain America's home series was the Avengers for awhile. The five heroes would comprise the Avengers cast until issue #16 (1965), when Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp & Thor would depart, leaving Cap to lead three reformed villains (Hawkeye, Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch) as the new team.
Although Iron Man was right there in the midst of Cap's revival, the two characters didn't have a dynamic at the time. In fact, the Avengers as a team didn't have a dynamic. Although they would occasionally make reference to their rotating leadership, there was no lasting conflict between the ranks (not since the Hulk left in issue #2). Even though Marvel's Fantastic Four had made great hay out of the cast having interpersonal dynamics, that element was lacking in the Avengers. It was only after #16 that the team finally became interesting as real conflict emerged (mainly because of Hawkeye's belligerence). Likewise, Captain America was no longer amongst his peers (the four who had revived him in issue #4) and so became the senior member of the Avengers and obvious team leader. Although Cap would come and go from the Avengers over the years, he became almost the "default" leader of the team.
One unusual thing about the Avengers for several years (through writers Stan Lee & Roy Thomas) is that when characters left the team, they nearly always remained gone. Giant-Man & Wasp did return as regular members, but only because their own series had ended. Thor, Iron Man and (by issue #47, 1967) Captain America left the team and mostly stayed away, returning on special occasions such as inducting a new member to the team or battling an exceptionally powerful villain. This was how Captain America, Thor & Iron Man would become known as the Avengers' "Big Three" - not because of their personal interactions, but because any time they entered a story (such as "the Kree-Skrull War") it meant the team were up against something bigger than usual. Thus, it was a long time before Iron Man and Captain America had a chance to appear side-by-side.
After losing his faith in the "American Dream," Captain America was confronted by several Avengers - including Iron Man - in Captain America #176 (1974) as they attempted to persuade him to avoid giving up on his costumed identity. However, Iron Man didn't really speak to Cap on a personal level, simply recalling their past adventures as an ally. The Avengers failed to re-inspire him and Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America for a time.
And there came a day...
It began in an unassuming way. In Avengers #164 (1977), the Avengers made a poor showing against their old foe Whirlwind. Captain America was quick to comment, "this whole team's been falling short of its rep, lately." It sounds like a small matter, but it wasn't; you see, Cap wasn't the Avengers leader at the time: Iron Man was.
Tomorrow! Who threw the first punch?