Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Black Superheroes: Patriot II

A black sheriff Bucky?!?

Name: Elijah "Eli" Bradley

First Appearance: Young Avengers #1 (2005)

History: Eli Bradley is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, an ex-soldier who was part of a government sponsored program during World War II to recreate the super soldier serum that created Captain America. The program opted to test the unstable formula on unwitting black soldiers and Isiah was the lone survivor, giving him peak physical abilities amongst other attributes (Note: we will probably need to talk about Isiah in more detail another time). Years later, following the events of Avengers: Disassembled where the Avengers were disbanded, a mysterious time traveling youth known as Iron Lad trigged the Avengers Failsafe Program (set to activate in the event of the Avengers ending) that led him to various superpowered individuals with connections to the team in order to revive it. Eli was one for those selected. He explained that, even though his mother was born before Isaiah received his powers, after being wounded he received a blood transfusion form his grandfather which gave the boy similar physical attributes. Taking the name “Patriot”, Eli joined Iron Lad’s new team, the Young Avengers.

Over time the Young Avengers became a successful crime fighting team but eventually the truth came out; Eli had lied about the source of his powers, and he had actually been using Mutant Growth Hormone (basically super powered steroids) to gain his abilities. After quitting the team in shame but later rejoining, Eli was seriously injured while aiding Captain America and was only saved by a lifesaving blood transfusion…. from his grandfather, just like the story he had earlier made up. The process embowed him with enhance physical abilities similar to that of his grandfather and Captain America and he continued to fight alongside his friends in the Young Avengers, this time with actual powers to back it up.

Beta Says: Eli Bradley was a major character in the mid-2000s for Marvel as part of their big Young Avengers push, a team of characters inspired by or part of the legacy of established Avengers characters. Eli has an extra nod as he is tied to the then recent groundbreaking comic Truth: Red, White & Black. That comic is very historically relevant and deserves its own article, but the short version is that it retcons both the nature of the experiment that created Captain America and its purpose wherein it explains that, with the comic creator’s taking inspiration from the real-life tragedy of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the United States government experimented on black soldiers. Eli’s grandfather was the star of that book, but it ends in a way where it wouldn’t be appropriate for Isaiah to enter the fold as a hero in the “modern” Marvel universe. But Eli, trying to live up to his grandfather’s legacy, could be and it opened a lot of opportunity to tell mature stories about the complexities of race and patriotism.

But then eventually Marvel got tired of him and replaced him with a new young black kid to be the Bucky to Sam Wilson’s Captain America. Cool. Cool cool cool.

More about the rise of the Patriot after the jump.

Steroids are bad unless the US government gives them to you!

Actually, Eli wasn’t the first time Marvel attempted to create a new character to follow-up on Truth. There was a character named Josiah X, who I believe in Young Avengers that’s who was actually targeted for the Avengers Failsafe Program but found Eli instead. But Josiah X is…a little silly, I guess. He’s Isaiah’s genetic son but he’s also a clone kind of (since Marvel and DC sometimes act like characters having natural born kids is too icky for readers) and it feels messy and convoluted. Eli, being a grandson with no super science hijinks involved, feels better. That said, in order to justify Eli not having his grandfather’s powers they opted to say his mother was born before the experiments, which wouldn’t make sense because that would put her birth before 1942 and why would a woman that old have a teenage son in 2005, let alone whatever the current year in Marvel is right now with its rolling timeline?

Patriot was one of the primary characters featured in Young Avengers along with teammates including with Hawkeye/Kate Bishop, Hulking, Wiccan, Stature/Cassie Lang, a younger Vision with little relation to the original, and others over the series’ history. Eli was depicted as a kid who wanted to do good but struggled with trying to honor his grandfather’s legacy and keep up with his mostly superpowered teammates. A young man so desperate to live up to Isiah’s example that he was willing to abuse steroids, and then had to face the consequences of doing so. He had personality clashes and had romantic relationships; all the sorts of things you expect from a core member in a book about teenage superheroes. It was fun; Young Avengers was a great book, and the somewhat uptight Patriot was a huge part of its success.

They forgot to assemble a female presence on the team 

Unfortunately, nothing last forever, and Eli’s time in the sun would come to an end a few years later. This story is pretty complex, so I will give you the short version: Young Avengers was created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung who were the primary creative team for the series. However, due Heinberg’s busy Hollywood career, the book ended up being temporarily shelved and Marvel wanted to wait until both men were available before bringing it back into play. Therefore for several years the team, including Patriot, were in a sort of limbo where they would pop up here and there but rarely have too much focus on them. Finally, both creators reunited to work on the maxiseries Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. Again, I don’t want to go through the whole thing, but the important part for this article is that Eli was an outspoken opponent of what the rest of the team was trying to accomplish during the book (finding the Scarlet Witch) and in a moment of panic he interfered with a spell being conducted that would have possibly restored powers of the mutant population (having been stripped by the Scarlet Watch years earlier) because the man leading it was Doctor Doom, who could not easily be trusted. Sadly Patriot screwed up and it led to a series of events that resulted in the death of Cassie and Vision. Combined with his belief that his hasty action robbed the mutants of getting their powers back, Eli resigned from the team in disgrace and inconsolable guilt and actually moved away from his grandfather, likely so he would never again be tempted to dawn the Patriot costume.

While he has appeared every now and then, as of this writing Eli has stayed retired these past ten years. Cassie Lang has come back to life since then and the mutants almost immediately got their powers back anyway in a story Children’s Crusade helped set up (See my coverage of AvX). Still, Eli has not returned to action to rejoin his friends, even when the team reformed a couple of years later. In fact, while Eli remained sidelined Marvel actually created a whole new black teen hero to take the mantle of Patriot to serve as Sam Wilson/Falcon’s sidekick when he was Captain America. Seriously, they were so committed to never having Eli appear again that they invented a whole proxy character, one Rayshaun Lucas, to fill a role that would have been absolutely perfect for him. Jesus Christ, Marvel, what the hell?

Eli explaining that there's only room for one Patriot!

Unfortunately, that’s where our story ends for now. Eli is still MIA and I don’t know when the next time we’ll see him will be. But there is a little ray of hope for Eli fans; he shows up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Played by Elijah Richardson, he has a minor role in the Disney+ show Falcon & The Winter Soldier, living with his grandfather Isaiah (who has a much bigger role). In fact, the MCU has been introducing several members from the Young Avengers team (Kate Bishop in Hawkeye, Cassie Lang all throughout the Ant-Man movies, Scarlet Witch and Vision’ twins in WandaVision, and even America Chavez, who joined a later iteration of the team) along with other young heroes who feel like they’d be a fit (Ironheart and Ms. Marvel). It feels like we might see some iteration of the team on screen in the future at some point, and why bother having Eli on screen at all if they weren’t thinking of using Patriot in that group? And since, currently, Marvel is a creative equivalent of a snake eating its own tale, if that is indeed the plan there is a high chance we’ll see the Patriot II in comics sooner than later.

And I hope we do. There’s a lot of stories that you can tell with a character like Eli Bradley, especially in today’s social and political climate. The idea of seeing a back kid wrapped in an American flag fighting for the sake of justice, who happens to be tied to a horrific injustice perpetrated by the very government that uses said flag…the stories write themselves.

For more on Patriot check out his profile on World of Black Heroes.

Farewell Patriot; Marvel didn't know what to do with you

Well, that’s it for Black Superhero Month this year I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even learned a little bit these last few weeks. Do you have any black superheroes that you’re fond of? I’d love to hear who and why in the comments!

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