By STEVE GORMAN
(Reuters) - An African American character will soon strap on the star-emblazoned shield and step into the red, white and blue uniform of Captain America in the pages of Marvel Comics.
The character of Captain America first appeared in 1941, as a super soldier fighting the Nazis. He was revived by Marvel in the 1960s and became an icon among Marvel's lineup of heroes.
The change in characters was announced on the publisher's official website on Wednesday. It is built around the retirement of Captain America's original alter ego, Steve Rogers, who finds he has lost the extraordinary strength and agility he had once gained from injections of performance-enhancing "super soldier serum."
Rogers will hand the Captain America persona to his much younger friend and cohort, the character Sam Wilson, already a comic book star in his own right as the true identity behind the winged superhero known as Falcon.
A three-page explanation of the transformation was posted under the headline: "It's time for an all-new Captain America." It was authored by Marvel writer-artist Rick Remender and editor Tom Brevoort, part of the creative team involved in the publisher's re-launch of several of its popular heroes.
The Captain America update also was unveiled by Marvel Comics' chief creative officer, Joe Quesada, during a Wednesday night TV appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."
It came one day after Marvel's announcement that another founding member of its Avengers superhero team, the hammer-wielding Norse god Thor, would be reintroduced as a woman.
For now, the changes in both characters - Thor and Captain America - will be limited to the pages of Marvel comic books. Chris Hemsworth will continue to play a male Thor, and Chris Evans a white Captain America, in Marvel's feature films.
When Sam Wilson suits up as Captain America this fall, the character will undergo more than a mere racial transformation.
Wilson will don a modified version of the familiar Captain America costume and keep Cap's trademark circular shield, according to Remender and Brevoort. But he will retain a key vestige of his old Falcon persona - retractable wings that give him the power of flight.
As for the old Cap, Steve Rogers will stick around to serve as a strategic advisor to his successor, Marvel said.