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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
There was some minor news the other week about how Marvel Comics was going to replace the current Captain America, Steve Rogers, with his long-time crime-fighting partner Sam “The Falcon” Wilson (who was recently played by Anthony Mackie in this past summer’s The Winter Soldier). Since it was revealed on the popular The Colbert Report, other news media outlets have reported that Captain America was now going to be black. Overall, there has not been much controversy over this change, which I speculate comes mostly from the fact that the “new” Cap is an already established character, and that it seems to be a natural evolution of where this current storyline was heading. In other words, it makes sense.
But despite what the news outlets are saying, this is not the first time Captain America is black. Comic fans will automatically point to the 2003 mini-series, Truth: Red, White, and Black, in which readers learn of Isaiah Bradley, a black man who also functioned as Captain America during WW2. However, Bradley still wasn’t the first. Truth is there was another black Captain America published before that. And he was Sam “The Falcon” Wilson.
Wait…is Marvel retreading ground? Yeah, comic book companies do that a lot. Chances are the Marvel editors (and seemingly all comic media outlets) had forgotten about this relatively obscure story. But don’t worry loyal readers. I’m here to tell you all about it!
In the late 1990s, Marvel Comics launched a second Captain America comic subtitled Sentinel of Liberty. SOL was largely an anthology series that told a variety of Cap stories from his past (and, in one instance, his future). In issues 8 and 9, Cap and the Falcon are trying to calm increasing race tensions in Harlem (Falcon’s home turf). Things are not going well and making problems worse is a white supremacist group claiming that Cap supports their beliefs which the Harlem residences believe sight unseen. This group also has an African American working for them in order to further their agenda (for reasons left mostly unexplained). Things continue to escalate, and Cap is seemingly killed in action.
These issues have a big ‘70s vibe with the racial tension (which the Cap comics of that era dealt with in some capacity with the Falcon character). They never address when it takes place (as comics are always in the perennial now), but they give hints of 70s décor (with a novelty Nixon prop in the background of a costume shop).
Anyway, turns out Cap was really captured by the bad guys (never explained how since it was very apparent that his body was turned into ashes – COMICS, Everybody!) and, under mind-control, starts to train their henchmen. But, we don’t learn that until the end of issue 9.
In the meantime, since the Falcon earlier commented on how Cap doesn’t see color (a phrase rightfully ridiculed in 2014, but completely fine in 1999) and that symbol of “Captain America” is for everyone, he dons a Cap costume and continues the fight in Harlem. It doesn’t go as well as Falcon-Cap doesn’t have the fighting prowess as the original Cap and, even worse, is attacked by his fellow African Americans (they, apparently, don’t see color either).
Eventually, Falcon-Cap finds his way into the lair of the white supremacist group and discovers their ultimate plan: to create an airborne virus that only attacks people of color. In other words, if someone is black, they’re toast. If you are white, you are fine.
Yep. You read that right. The story doesn’t go into what happens to Asians or Hispanics. Presumably they are targeted too (white supremacy after all). This is a plot development that is so incredibly goofy that it can only work in any “serious” nature in comics.
In the end, the virus is a dud as it too doesn’t see color and kills anyone who inhales it. So much for white privilege. Falcon-Cap ends up saving the day and the original Captain America. Falcon then goes back to being Falcon and Steve Rogers resumes his role as Captain America. All is well in the world.
Under the pen of Mark Waid, I am not sure how serious this tale was meant to really be. On one hand, you have some good stuff with race relations (with some light black-exploitation for good measure), but the story is trying to emulate the ‘70s without it being the ‘70s. I’m not sure it works in that regard. For a straight up adventure, it works just fine.
But, really, none of that matters. What does matter is that Captain America was black long before now. And Sam “The Falcon” Wilson was that black Cap. His new gig as Cap really isn’t all that new.
I wonder if they’ll even reference this adventure.