Thursday, February 28, 2013

Black Superheroes: The Falcon

Biiiiirrrrrrddd Man!
Real Name: Samuel Wilson

First Appearance: Captain America #117 (1969)

History: Samuel “Sam” Wilson grew up in Harlem. As a boy he found he had an affinity for birds and thus he raised pigeons. As an adult he became a social worker, trying to give back to his community. One day Sam found himself at a place called “Exile Island” and soon discovers the island has been taken over by a rogue group of Nazis who are forcing the locals into servitude. He also meets a falcon who he forms a strong bond with; he names it Redwing. Soon Sam and Redwing are at odds with the Red Skull, the leader (or ex-leader, rather) of the Exiles who uses the reality warping power of the Cosmic Cube to create a mental link between the two new friends. Eventually Wilson meets Steve Rogers, who he later learns is Captain America, who offers to train him and help him create a costumed persona to inspire a rebellion among the locals. To that end Sam Wilson becomes The Falcon and defeats the Nazis on the island. He soon leaves and, armed with a harness that allows him to fly, he becomes Captain America’s longtime crime fighting partner, an Avenger and even an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Beta Says: Ah, Falcon. Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan he is Marvel Comics’ first African-American superhero (Black Panther isn’t American). A social worker from Harlem sounds like a pretty good choice for a background for an early attempt at diversity. It’s shockingly inoffensive when you consider the type of racist garbage creators threw or tried to throw at us in the ensuing years. Yup, I’d say that Falcon was probably the best conceived major African-American hero of the Silver Age/Bronze Age.

Oh right, I forgot; writer Steve Englehart retconned (i.e. retroactively altered) Falcon’s origin in 1975, years after the fact. It turned out that apparently the in addition to using the Cosmic Cube to give Falcon and Redwing a mental link with each other he also used it to erase parts of Sam’s memory. Why? Because…um...er…SCIENCE!! (Actually why would he give super powers to a random dude for that matter?) So Sam Wilson’s “new old” background? Why a mob connected pimp and drug dealer named “Snap” Wilson, of course!


You know it's hard out here for a pimp
When he tryin to get this money for the rent
Let me say it again: Marvel decided to expand the background of its first African-American superhero in history by making him A F**KING PIMP AND DRUG DEALER! IN F**KING 1975! Given the year it’s almost as if someone at the company was really into Blaxploitation and realized that Falcon didn’t have a racially exploited origin story a felt a burning need to “fix him”. Seriously; it’s bad enough that Power Man was a goddamn convict but did we really have to make Falcon a criminal before too? I wonder if the Bullpin at any point wanted to add a new part to Black Panther’s origin that revealed that he spent a few years as a gang banger in California. Because it’s no less racist that the bullshit they did to Falcon!

More rage after the jump.


Falcon...PUNCH!
This really bugs the hell out of me. I hate the idea that companies could barely conceive of an African-American superhero that didn’t grow up in a slum and roll with the wrong crowd (or wasn’t a slave, but that’s a whole other profile). The idea that they were altering characters origins to achieve this is ludicrous to me. Actually scratch that. What’s ludicrous to me is that NO ONE AT MARVEL HAS RETCONNED IT BACK IN THE ENSUING THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS! You can say that folks at Marvel simply made a bad call, which happens to all of us more often than we’d like to admit. However one would think that, as the years went by and writers and editors started being a bit more racially sensitive about this sort of thing, that someone would have said “Hey, that stuff that Englehart wrote a few years ago about Falcon? It’s a little racist. Let’s, you know, change him back to just being a social worker.” Because that would have made sense.

NOPE! Not only has Marvel never displayed any inclination to change the origin, like in a retelling or something, but they’ve since written Falcon as if he suffers from some form of dissociative identity disorder and has a separate Snap Wilson personality that periodically takes over. I will repeat this: sometimes the “Snap Wilson” personality, who is a vicious pimp, takes over the mind of The Flacon, their first African-American costumed hero. But…the retcon…racist…what…?


RRRRAAAAARRRGGHHH!!!!!!

DOES NO ONE AT MARVEL UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS CRAZY?!?!? It HAS to be changed because it’s insane that the first African-American superhero at Marvel Comics is a racist stereotype, and even worse that he was turned into one after his creation! Change him back to a social worker, make him a gardener, make him a teacher like Black Lightning, hell, make him a porn kingpin (at least that’s legal); just don’t keep him as a criminal just because you thought it was fashionable in the f**king 70s!

Phew. Okay, that was about 600 words of pure ranting. Let’s talk about Falcon as a character, shall we?

Since early in his first appearance Falcon has been an ally of Captain America. In fact, much like War Machine to Iron Man, it wouldn’t be a stretched to refer to him as “Captain America’s Black Friend” in a sarcastic tone. Still they were depicted as partners in their war on crime and Cap’s book was even retitled “Captain America and The Falcon”. Also Falcon is kind of awesome. He’s only power, aside from his flying harness, was basically his link with Redwing but over time writers have further developed it as a link with all birds…at once. He can see through birds through concentration, which pretty much means he has eyes all over the city (making it difficult for criminals to escape him), and even the power to control birds. Which, you know, could result in untold destruction if he wasn’t such a great guy. The Falcon is shockingly powerful if he uses these powers carefully and cleverly. Add to the fact that he’s a great fighter (everyone trained by Captain America apparently become super fighters, not unlike everyone trained by Richard Dragon in the DC Universe) Falcon is a pretty badass dude.


Pictured: Falcon, Redwing, and their white friend
You may never have heard of Falcon, which is okay (though depressing considering his historical significance) as he hasn’t appeared that much in pop culture. Well, he has shown up in a couple of cartoons, including a starring role in the god awful Mighty Morphin Avengers Avengers: United they Stand but it still seems the average person doesn’t know who he is, other than as a random black guy in red. This will likely change in 2014 as Anthony Mackie is set to play Falcon in the upcoming film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which might lead to the character joining the Avengers in 2015’s Avengers 2 which would make him the most high profile black superhero out there (assuming it’s also a billion dollar movie). We’ll see how this works out for Sam in the long run.

Also Falcon will be appearing in the main cast in the upcoming cartoon Avengers Assemble…but I don’t wanna talk about that.


Despite everything, he's still pretty cool
Redwing's not bad either


That’s it for this year’s look at the many black superheroes in comic books. Since I didn’t do an intro I see little point in doing an outro. I feel I screwed up last year by only doing three posts but I think I’m comfortable with the amount this year. I hope you enjoyed it too.

2 comments:

  1. Actually, The Falcon wasn't the first ongoing African-American at Marvel.
    Gabe Jones (Howling Commandos/S.H.I.E.L.D.) was the first ongoing Black character.
    And Dr Bill Foster (a scientific genius), who later became Black Goliath/Giant-Man II/Goliath IV) also predated Sam...er...Snap...or is it Sybill?

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    1. Bill Foster may predate Sam Wilson but he doesn't become Black Goliath until 1975, which means The Falcon was still a superhero before him. Though I like that Foster is a scientist despite it being the 70s.

      And Gabe Jones wasn't a superhero so I don't count him.

      I only ever meant that Falcon was Marvel's first African-American superhero, not their first African-American character.

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