‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ dropped by to see one of the best obscure Marvel characters of all time.
One of the joys of the Disney+ Marvel shows so far is the opportunity to spotlight more obscure characters from the comics, and this week’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier brought out a doozy. After getting absolutely worked over by a crew of super-soldiers, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Sam (Anthony Mackie) seek the advice of none other than Isaiah Bradley, known in Marvel legend as “The Black Captain America,” played ferociously here by none other than TV legend Carl Lumbly. (M.A.N.T.I.S.!)
Bradley’s story is a classic American tragedy, told primarily through the mini-series Truth: Red, White, and Black—arguably the most poignant thing ever printed by Marvel—by writer Robert Morales and artist Kyle Baker. A native New Yorker and bright-eyed optimist, Bradley enlists in the military after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, he’s immediately forced—along with 300 other African-American soldiers—into the government’s shadowy attempts to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Their tests are horrific, and only a small band of survivors make it to the other side to form an elite team of superpowered commandos: Bradley, the hot-tempered Maurice Bradley and demoted Sgt. Luke Evans.
Tragedy and betrayal dwindle those numbers down to one; Bradley, the sole survivor, is sent on a suicide mission into the heart of Germany to stop the Nazis’ own attempts at the serum. Before he leaves, Bradley steals the official Captain America costume and shield. Miraculously, he also survives the mission, returning home…where he’s immediately arrested for stealing the shield. He served part of a life sentence before a pardon, his accomplishments buried completely, but the tale of the “Black Captain America” lived on in the Black community for generations.
Although Bradley was confined to his home because of the Super Serum side-effects, icons came to pay their respects, like Nelson Mandela, Richard Pryor, and Muhammed Ali. “I remember Denzel and Spike Lee were going to do a movie about it years ago, but they wound up doing the Malcolm X story instead,” Agent Damien Spinrad tells Steve Rogers in Truth: Red, White, and Black #7.
Which is basically where we find Bradley in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—with the added little bonus reveal that he’s the one who ripped off Bucky’s arm back in the day—a legend to those who know, but a complete unknown to the world, including Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers, living a scarred existence.
“You know what they did to me for being a hero?” he tells Bucky and Sam. “They put my ass in jail for 30 years. People running tests, taking my blood, coming into my cell.”
The confrontation couldn’t have come for a more emotionally-charged moment for Sam, who just relinquished Captain America’s shield—and the implied passing of the mantle along with it—back to the U.S. government, who basically patted him on the head for it. Thanks to Bucky, Sam just learned a Black Captain America is possible. It happened. But man, look at the cost.
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