Sam Wilson was and is my Captain America.
The Winter Soldier is my favorite Marvel hero, but Sam Wilson is my Captain America. While I loved Bucky’s tenure as Captain America in Ed Brubaker’s series, he wasn’t fit for the role. He was too bitter and unsure of how he fit into the legacy.
That isn’t to say that I don’t love Steve Rogers as Captain America. I do. He’s optimistic, stalwart, and soft-spoken, knowing that his actions are more important.
He’s also, historically, very progressive in his ideology. Most people don’t seem to remember that, preferring to view him as some partisan-neutral figure, but he’s not. He’s actually fairly left-leaning. Sure, some of what was considered progressivist in the ’60s and ’70s is a bit outdated now, but even the fact that he was friends and supportive of a gay man, Arnie Roth, during the Reagan administration, when gay folk were being blamed for the AIDS epidemic.
Even the villainization of the Commie-Bashing Captain America from the 1950s shows a bit of a left-leaning strain in the creative DNA behind Steve Rogers.
But that’s not what we are here to talk about. Steve Rogers, despite his words and actions, is often perceived as a partisan-neutral figure. He’s not, but sometimes interpretation of a text is more important than the text itself, death of the author and all that.
Sam Wilson was a Captain America that loudly and proudly took a side. He didn’t pick a so-called neutral position and fearfully stick to it. He took a side. He stood up to police overreaches, racist border vigilantes, and the near-third world state of the inner cities due to decades of “tough on crime” policies, wealth-supporting tax plans, and other forms of systematic oppression.
Sam Wilson is my Captain America. As someone who knows there is not partisan-neutral path to the future and the myth of an apolitical comic about a man wearing a damn American flag is just that, a myth, he is the one many, myself included, desperately need right now.
At the risk of resurrecting the overused Dark Knight quote, he is the Captain America we need, but, demonstrably from the reactionary and tone-deaf backlash to Marvel’s “replacement heroes,” not the one we deserve right now.
Kudos to Rick Remender and Nick Spencer for bringing this version of Captain America to life, if only briefly.
That brings us to Rodney Barnes and Joshua Cassara’s Falcon #1. It is keeping the dream of a black hero who stands up for the most maligned and downtrodden still alive.
And it does so in a pretty ballsy fashion.
The Falcon, along with the all-new Patriot, are in Chicago. There is a gang war going on between two groups: the Southstone Rangers and the Spanish Kings. Instead of beating the tar out of both crews and locking them up, leaving room for another gang of disenfranchised and impoverished youth to take over, Sam wants to work with them to bring about a peace and a truce.
The mayor of Chicago is less than thrilled about this.
Immediately, I can see this plot hacking a fair amount of readers off. He’s working with violent criminals, yes, but he wants to find a way to end the violence that can allow for redemption and peace. The prison system has provably become a thing not intent on redeeming its inmates.
Hell, in Sam Wilson: Captain America, it put the former New Warrior, Rage, in a coma, possibly forever.
The gangs are all for this peace too. They don’t want more violence. They don’t want more dead. They have the hope that the Falcon can bring something good to them with this attempt at a truce.
The Patriot brings a more youthful and relatable edge to the comic. He’s sarcastic, chatty, and more eager to put his life on the line than a teenager probably should be. However, this makes him endearing as hell. He’s the new Bucky for the Falcon. You know, Bucky as a sidekick, not James Buchanan Barnes as a person.
That’s the weird thing about using a nickname as a codename.
This comic works so well with this narrative of human suffering and attempted redemption for Sam. The shadow of Secret Empire is still on this comic, but it uses that mess of a story for a springboard. Funnily enough, it works pretty damn well as a springboard.
There are times when the narration from Sam wavers a little too much into the realm of naked philosophizing, which doesn’t quite feel like Sam’s game. He works more often in the material than the hypothetical, so having him turn into a social science major for small stretches feels a little out of character.
However, those moments are brief, and they are, at least, relevant to the story at hand for the most part. The philosophizing about how gods perceive man at the beginning is a bit odd.
The meaning of the ending to this issue in regards to overall plot is a little odd. It seems to imply fallibility of all parties involved while outright demonizing the system which has caused all of this. I’m fine with both messages, but the ending is still… otherworldly compared to the grounded nature of the majority of the book.
Joshua Cassara’s artwork is so good. It’s gritty and textured. It paints a world that is suffering, and the Falcon’s new, darker costume fits in. The bright red highlights still give a bit of light and hope, which is what Sam wants to bring here. Patriot’s costume does the same, as he is an optimistic youth.
Rachelle Rosenberg, as always, brings the atmosphere and the color balance needed for good coloring work. She rocks this comic, and her work jives with Cassara perfectly.
The only significant criticism that I can give is the fact that this isn’t a Captain America comic. That’s not the fault of anyone on the creative team. Captain America is a symbol. That shield and costume brings something to the table, something that was drained a bit when Steve was first brought back and now lost completely with Sam dropping the shield. David F. Walker and Ta-Nehisi Coates bring narratives comparable to this and with similar themes in Luke Cage and Black Panther respectively. That’s great, but there is power in the name Captain America, and it’s a shame that it’s been stripped away from the black heroes of Marvel Comics. Hopefully Falcon, Luke Cage, and Black Panther can still get their message out there without the shield.
Needless to say, I highly recommend this comic. It was incredible, moving, and daring. Pick this one up. It’s a must-read.
Also, check out my fellow Bleeding Cool reviewer Lacey Jackson’s review of this, which should likely be out soon.
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