'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' Reminds Us: The First Captain America Was Black
This week's episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier found Bucky and Sam teaming up to battle the villainous Flag-Smashers, the shadowy gang of rebels seeking to unite the world, which … doesn't sound so bad? But they also wear spooky Purge masks, so go get 'em, guys! It also turns out that their freaky masked leader is really a curly-haired young woman played by Erin Kellyman -- which probably came as a shock to anyone who didn't see Solo: a Star Wars Story.
But the biggest bomb dropped by the episode was Isaiah Bradley's introduction, the Marvel character who was first featured in the 2003 comic mini-series Truth: Red, White & Black. Penned by Robert Morales and illustrated by Kyle Baker, Truth chronicles the experiences of a squad of Black World War II soldiers who are kidnapped and experimented on by the American government to perfect the Super Soldier serum that is ultimately used on Steve Rogers.
Inspired by real-life U.S. atrocities like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Truth showed how Captain America, not unlike the country he represents, is built on a history of systemic oppression and calculated barbarism. At the end of the series, Bradley pilfers the prototype Captain America costume and goes on a Nazi-killing spree -- making him, technically, the first Captain America.
When it was first announced, Truth was met with a torrent of public vitriol ranging from the objections of fanboys to outraged think pieces from right-wing journalists to, according to (then) Marvel editor Alex Alonso, anger from "outright racists who just don't like the idea of a Black man in the Cap uniform." While it's available digitally, the collected trade paperback of Truth ultimately fell out of print -- which may be due to Marvel chairman/asshole Ike Perlmutter's policy that "Marvel cannot carry inventory."
Still, some fans have been calling for Bradley's story to be incorporated into the MCU for years. And maybe we should have seen this coming because way back in 2014, while promoting Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Anthony Mackie referenced Bradley while addressing the "controversy" of Falcon inheriting the Captain America mantle in the comics, reminding audiences that "the first Cap was a Black dude."
It seems likely that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will ultimately be the story of Sam deciding to step into Captain America's role -- which could have easily just been a thing that happened between movies. But by drawing it out in the length of a TV season and by introducing Bradley, the show is actively wading into the thorny moral complications of that decision, all in the framework of a buddy cop movie from the late '80s.
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