With the Disney+ streaming service preparing to release “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” starting Friday, March 19th, 2021, I decided to research further into the history of the character, The Falcon. What I discovered was not only amazing, but what was a risky move by Stan Lee and Marvel.
The United States saw the landmark victory for equality passing the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This act, also known as the “Fair Housing Act”, prevented anyone from discriminating against another person for sale, rental, or financing of a home based on their race, religion, national origin, or sex. A landmark victory for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.
Together with Stan Lee, Gene Colan created the character of Sam Wilson, aka, The Falcon. An African-American superhero from Harlem, who teamed up with, and was great friends with, Captain America. The Falcon made his first appearance in the 1969 September issue of “Captain America #117”.
In an interview with Gene Colan in 2008, Colan revealed some background information that inspired him to create The Falcon:
“ …in the late 1960s [when news of the] Vietnam War and civil rights protests were regular occurrences, and Stan, always wanting to be at the forefront of things, started bringing these headlines into the comics. … One of the biggest steps we took in this direction came in Captain America. I enjoyed drawing people of every kind. I drew as many different types of people as I could into the scenes I illustrated, and I loved drawing black people. I always found their features interesting and so much of their strength, spirit and wisdom written on their faces. I approached Stan, as I remember, with the idea of introducing an African-American hero and he took to it right away. … I looked at several African-American magazines, and used them as the basis of inspiration for bringing The Falcon to life.
(Colan, Gene. “Introduction,” Marvel Masterworks: Captain American Volume 4, Marvel Publishing: New York, 2008, p. 2)
The comic book backstory differs greatly from that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though I believe both pay homage to the character of Sam Wilson in different ways.
Sam’s first appearance in the comic books shows him on the island called Exile. This was a place the Red Skull, Captain America’s mortal nemesis, had placed several of his former Hydra allies turned enemy. The Red Skull, using the Cosmic Cube, switches bodies with Captain America and using the Cube banishes him to the island of Exile. All the while Red Skull prances around New York in the body of Captain America.
During this time, Captain America discovers he is wearing a mask to make him look like the Red Skull. After removing the mask he uses mud to disguise his features, change his hair, and bumps into Sam Wilson with his pet falcon, Red Wing.
We later learned that Sam Wilson was in a plane that crashed on the island leaving him stranded. While there, Sam discovers that the Hydra agents are enslaving the island natives. Sam vows to help the villagers fight back against the Nazi Hydra agents.
Learning of Sam’s plan to inspire the natives to fight back, Steve Rogers, concealing he is Captain America, inspires Sam to create a costume and give the natives of the island a symbol to rally behind. Thus, The Falcon is born. (see Captain America #117 for the whole story.)
Similar to the Sam Wilson of the comic book origins, Sam Wilson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a hero both in, and out of, costume. The first movie we see him in is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” A former combat soldier, he turns his attention to helping other veterans deal and cope at his local VA. When Captain America and Black Widow come to him for help and shelter, he decides to join forces with Captain America in trying to stop S.H.I.E.L.D. which has been infiltrated by Hydra. We learn that as a soldier, he used a special EXO-7 flight suit codenamed “Falcon”. Afterwards we see him join the Avengers and the MCU character of The Falcon is born.
At the end of “Avengers: Endgame” we see the shield of Captain America pass to Sam Wilson. In 2014, Marvel comics had Sam Wilson take on the mantle of Captain America himself and I hope we will see that reflected in the upcoming tv-series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”.
Stan Lee was a man who believed that everyone had the capacity to be a superhero, and they took a big risk creating an African-American super hero just one year after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The success of this character went on to inspire Marvel to create many more African-American characters such as Storm of the X-Men, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Miles Morales (Spider-Man), Blade, and many others.
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