If the first episode of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was mostly stage-setting, then the second episode of the Disney plus series was, well, also a lot of stage-setting—but bigger stage setting! Alongside Sam, Bucky, Redwing (RIP), and Joaquin Torres, Marvel reintroduced Helmut Zemo, halfway introduced the Flag Smashers’ leader (motives still pretty unclear), and introduced introduced, Isaiah Bradley, the “Black Captain America,” seen first in Marvel Comics in 2003.
Bradley’s appearance on screen wasn’t totally out of left field. While not a staple figure in the Marvel comics, Bradley does crop up in several of the Young Avengers comics. (More on that in a bit.) Still, Bradley’s role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may feel a bit random to those of us unfamiliar with the comics; the super soldier serum has become seemingly just a convenient way to manufacture villains and heroes.
But Bradley is likely to play a larger thematic role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a series that has so far been a question of succession—who can or should take up the shield as the embodiment of America. We’re not sure how much social commentary the Disney series is preparing to dish, though it appears conscious of the racial identities of its heroes—which of those identities receives greater popular acceptance, and which are profiled by police. Which gets to be the hero, and which gets to be the sidekick.
For now, we’re excited to be getting not just one, but potentially two new heroes. Who’s the second? Remember that kid who answered Bradley’s door?
Who is Isaiah Bradley in the Marvel comics?
Bradley joined the Army after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, leaving behind his native New York and his wife. The U.S. Army, however, saw Bradley and over 200 other Black soldiers as guinea pigs. Hoping to recreate the lost Super Soldier Serum, the military experimented on Bradley, turning him into a super soldier, but at the cost of the lives of nearly everyone else. The Army then sent Bradley on a suicide mission to stop the Nazis from developing their own serum. Bradley dawned the Captain America costume during the mission and survived, only to return home to a court martial for the “theft” and a jail sentence. He was released with a pardon in 1960. At one point, Steve Rogers even visits Bradley to learn of his experience.
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Bucky says he met Bradley during the Korean War in 1951—the Winter Soldier then unfrozen to help aid the communists. Bradley tells Bucky he was locked up for 30 years and then experimented on, a slight deviation from the comics. Bradley also intimates that it was HYDRA who ran the experiments, not the Army. Though, Bradley blames the Army for his incarceration, so the American government seems to be complicit.
Bradley’s words about identity—“You think you can wake up one day and decide who you want to be? It doesn’t work like that”—seemed to resonate with Falcon, already mired in a heroic identity crisis. Perhaps Bradley will be the one to pass the shield to Falcon—maybe this time Falcon accepts the role; this time from the other “Captain America.”
There’s also another heroic role standing literally at the doorstep.
Is the kid Eli Bradley, aka Patriot?
Bradley is actually less a Marvel comic staple than his grandson, Elijah Bradley, “Patriot.” Patriot is, in fact, one of the Young Avengers. Other Young Avengers include Kate Bishop (Hawkeye) and Billy and Tommy Maximoff (Wiccan and Speed). After Hawkeye airs later this year or in 2022, we will have met each of these heroes. (Joaquin Torres may also join the gang, as he later becomes, in the comics, the successor to Falcon.)
Is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier quietly introducing another Young Avenger to be featured in their on future franchise? We sure hope so.
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