This week we are continuing our series to prep you for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. A couple weeks ago, we did a bit of a deep dive into the comics that shaped Bucky into the Winter Soldier we see on the silver screen. It was quite a tipsy-turvy tumble down the rabbit hole; however, the Falcon has an even stranger story in the comics than Winter Soldier!
Hope you brought a parachute because we’re diving straight in.
The Dawn of Falcon
Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon, premiered in Captain America #117, published in 1969. When we first meet him, he is just a normal everyday social worker/falconer who answered an ad in the paper to travel to a small island to entertain a group named The Exiles.
As it turns out, the Exiles are a group of ex-supervillains exiled to that island by The Red Skull, and now they hate the Red Skull and are trying to take over the island from the island’s indigenous people. When Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, arrives on the island, Sam Wilson, being the upstanding citizen that he is, is now trying to unite the tribes to fight against the Exiles.
So, it should be noted here that when Captain America arrives, he arrives as the Red Skull. This is because he lost a fight to the Red Skull in the prior issue where the Red Skull, using the Cosmic Cube that he stole from A.I.M., switched bodies with ol’ Cap and then sent him to die at the hands of the Exiles, whom he knows to hate him and want revenge. They hate the Red Skull, not Cap, though if they are supervillains, they would most likely hate Captain America at least as much as Red Skull, if not more, but that is neither here nor there.
Captain America initially finds it difficult to hide since, you know, he has a gigantic red skull for a head. He fights against the Exiles and, just as he is about to lose to them, a big falcon swoops out of the sky to save him. He finally gets away and finally realizes that this giant red skull is a mask. So he takes it off and looks like a normal dude with black hair, a realization the Red Skull wasn’t counting on, which — if you think about it, is really a bit of commentary on the obsessive nature of evil, but that is an essay for another time.
As he runs away, he stumbles into Sam Wilson, sees him with the falcon that saved him, and realizes that Sam Wilson must have a heroic heart due to this fact. Hearing of his plight against the Exiles, Cap convinces Sam Wilson to train with him, to become a better fighter and to don a costume so he might stand as a symbol for the indigenous peoples of the island. So he does, and since he loves his falcon Redwing, so much, he takes that name — The Falcon.
The training all happens an issue later, in Captain America #118. Then Red Skull, in issue #119 — now weary of the fanatical fawning of the American populace for Captain America, whose likeness he has stolen — transports Cap and Falcon to the castle in Germany where he carried out his diabolical plans during WWII.
And, of course, Captain America and Falcon win and then literally run off into the sunset together.
From here, Captain America and Falcon didn’t team up again until Captain America #126 and then, finally, in Captain America #134, the two of them share the title, making it Captain America and The Falcon.
During this time, the Falcon does not fly.
Yes. You heard that correctly. He doesn’t have wings. He has a telepathic link with his falcon, Redwing, but he himself — the hero known as Falcon — does not fly.
Ultimately, he’s just a really skilled fighter with a kickass bird.
However, in 1974’s Captain America and The Falcon #169, after Cap shows up to help save Falcon from some thugs beating him up, Falcon voices his discontent. For thirty issues now, a little over two years of comics, Falcon has had no powers — he’s just Cap’s … wingman.
As he says to Cap —
Who knew it was so easy to get superpowers?? Just have one of your lab buddies whip up a serum or a suit! Anyone can do it!
Comics are the absolute best.
With the help of Cap, Black Panther arrives in Harlem to pick up Falcon and bring him and his girlfriend Leila to Wakanda to figure out what sort of powers to give him. The answer is actually pretty simple — his name is The Falcon, so why not give him wings so he can fly?
That’s exactly what Black Panther does, giving him a suit with wings so he can glide. His new winged suit is quickly put to the test when some villains kidnap Leila and the two heroes have to go save her. And his first time using his suit — he stumbles and knocks himself and Panther out cold.
However, after the thugs throw Falcon and Black Panther off a cliff, Falcon realizes it’s now or never and he is able to fly. Essentially, this is him being thrown out of the nest, so to speak. So Falcon rescues Black Panther, they kick the villains’ asses and then Falcon and Leila return to America to show off their new powers.
However, things are amiss in America as Cap has been embroiled in some deep state propaganda against him and, in the time Falcon was in Wakanda, half of the nation has turned against Cap — but that’s all part of a seminal Captain America story called Secret Empire, which we’ll cover in the next article for this series.
For now, that is the origin of the Falcon. He’s a social worker who fell in love with birds, learned how to be a falconer, answered a random ad in a newspaper to go to an island he’d never heard of to entertain some dudes named “The Exiles” with his falcon Redwing, became a freedom fighter on behalf of the indigenous peoples of the island only to one day randomly run into a stranger who trained him to be a better fighter and that stranger was actually Captain America with whom he later teamed up and went on a series of adventures with until he finally earned his wings.
But — that’s not his true origin.
The True Origins of Sam “Snap” Wilson
Sam Wilson’s true origin is revealed a year later, in Captain America and The Falcon #186, first published in 1975.
Still have that parachute we discussed? Because this is where we take a pretty big dive.
Remember the island where The Exiles live? Where Steve Rogers first discovered Sam Wilson? And remember how Sam Wilson was a social worker from Harlem who answered an ad in a paper to travel to this strange island to entertain some people with his falconer skills? So, none of that is real. That was all an alternate reality generated by the Red Skull to create the perfect sidekick for Captain America so that, when the time was right, the Red Skull could turn this most trusted of sidekicks against the Sentinel of Liberty himself.
The true origin of Sam Wilson is that he was actually a street hustler from Harlem who went by the sobriquet of “Snap.” He rose through the ranks of the gangs and was asked to go to Rio to run some drugs down there. However, having learned to be a pilot himself, he decided to hi-jack the private jet — it was just him and the pilot — and in doing so he crashed off the coast of the island. That is where Red Skull found him just moments after transporting Cap there.
When reading the comic pages below, don’t forget that the Red Skull and Captain America, at this time, had switched bodies, so it may look like Cap is hypnotizing Sam Wilson, but it’s actually Red Skull in Cap’s body.
Seeing a perfect opportunity to create Cap’s perfect sidekick — a like-minded, liberal African-American with a soft spot for social work and a desire to root out injustice wherever he finds it — Red Skull changed Wilson’s memories to make him the social worker that Steve Rogers met and befriended, also giving him the loose power of being able to sorta talk to Redwing. It’s that alternate personality that’s persisted until now.
However, in this comic, Red Skull has now reverted Sam back to Snap and hypnotized him to attack Captain America, giving Cap the option: kill or be killed. However, the fight is stopped by Peggy Carter and another SHIELD agent, allowing them to take Falcon back to a hospital to deal with this new knowledge.
We should note here that this is not the first time that Falcon had been turned against Cap — that also happened earlier in this comic
But like, at least his entire life hadn’t been a lie up until that point, right?
Other Relevant Falcon Stories
While everything up until now has covered the important aspects of Falcon’s life, there are still a few comics that should be mentioned to give you a more comprehensive view of his life and give you some more great reading.
While Sam Wilson’s parents have been mentioned here and there, it’s not until 1983, in Captain America #277 that we get a full backstory on what exactly happened to Sam’s family. In a six-page back-story entitled “Snapped,” we see Sam Wilson running for Congress and find his sister talking to some friends about him, relating their tough Harlem upbringing to them.
As we discover here, Sam watched as his father, a loving minister who always strove to do what was right, tried to break up a street fight and was murdered for his interference. Then, a few years later, as Sam and his mother walked home, his mother was mugged and shot out of anger for only having a few bucks in her purse. Losing his father was a lot, but losing his mother was too much. That was the turning point for Sam Wilson to transform into the hardened mobster, taking up the name “Snap” because he “snapped.”
As his sister points out to her friends, Red Skull did not transform Snap Wilson into a different person, he actually reverted Snap back to Sam, essentially giving back to his sister the brother she thought she’d lost.
From here, we fast forward to 2002’s Avengers #57 where we see that Sam Wilson is starting to hone his ability to talk to Redwing by also now communicating with all the birds in the city. In essence, he’s the Avenger’s version of big brother as he has billions of eyes across the city now.
We also get some really great high-flying Cap and Falc team-up action, following along with Falcon in the sky as Cap tumbles over rooftops as they seek out their villain du jour — Mr. Hyde.
For perhaps one of the best standalone Falcon stories you can find, look no further than Geoff Johns’s Avengers #64. This entire issue centers on Falcon as he confronts the Avengers’s U.N. liaison, Henry Gyrich — who’s the very definition of untrustworthy bastard. Gyrich and Falcon do NOT get along and, as they argue throughout the city they come across a woman whose children have just been kidnapped by a villain named Scarecrow — no, not the Batman one, this is the Marvel Scarecrow and he’s decidedly not as cool as Batman’s.
Gyrich is sympathetic to the woman, but also tells her that the Avengers don’t handle little, inner-city things like kidnappings — they are reserved for larger, world-ending threats. That’s all Falcon needs to send him on one of his best solo missions. He uses all the birds in the city to hunt down the kidnapper than descends upon him with one of the best hero monologues and some of the best art Falcon has ever had, complements of writer Geoff Johns — yes, the Geoff Johns — and artist Ivan Reiss.
While there are a lot of other great Falcon comics to read, including his most recent run by writer Rodney Barnes where he fights Mephisto’s son Blackheart, goes to hell and fights his own demons so he can save the world — the last Falcon story we are going to highlight is Christopher Priest’s run on Captain America and The Falcon, from 2004.
So, here’s the deal — if Christopher Priest is writing for the character, you should read that book. When the man took over for Deadpool, he made break the fourth wall for the first time. When he took over for Black Panther, he completely revitalized the character in a way that much of what he wrote was used in the Marvel adaptation of the character, and in a lot of ways, it’s not different here.
The series, starting off with a story titled Two Americas, sees a new Captain America on the scene. This one, a hyper-violent ex-Navy Seal, leaves a trail of bodies behind him — the exact opposite of what our good-ol’-fashioned Steve Rogers would ever do. The story ends up being a war of ideologies between the two captains, with Falcon stuck in the middle between the two.
Now, forgive me, but this gets a little confusing. See, at this exact same time they were kicking off the hugely-transformative Avengers Disassembled arc in many of the other comics, so there’s some story crossover here that gets confusing. All you really need to know is that Scarlet Witch screwed with Falcon’s mind a bit to make him vacillate between his two personalities — Sam and Snap. Sometimes he’s the upstanding social justice warrior, other times his violent, gangster persona seeps through, causing him to act out of character.
However, despite how confusing this can be at times in terms of following the narrative, it actually works for a story about post-9/11 America really well. Ultimately, at least by my reading, what we end up with is two Americas — both white — warring over the ideology of “seeking peace” or “firing first.” Between those two ideologies we have Black America being told by both sides what to think when, in the end, Black America wants to be left to make up their own minds, set their own path and be left alone to follow that.
Also we get this really kickass sequence where Falcon gets new wings from T’Challa and they are solid sound holograms using Wakanda Vibranium technology and they are bad ass and they stick with the character up until the present day. Like — legit — just look at that sequence — it’s some of the best Falcon has ever had!
And that wraps it up for this article on the Falcon backstory, but there is still more to tell!
In our final article prepping you for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we will talk about Steve Englehart’s Secret Empire from the early 70’s, which lead to Cap taking on the name Nomad; the post-Civil War death of Steve Rogers, which led to Winter Soldier picking up the shield; and the storyline that saw Steve Rogers rapidly age when he lost his super-soldier serum, leading to him giving the shield to Falcon. We’ll also get into the saga of John Walker going from Super-Patriot to taking Cap’s place to eventually becoming U.S. Agent.
This article was originally published on 3/29/20