By Arturo R. García
The Falcon is going to be the new Captain America! Great! But then what?
Oh, you expected this to stick? History says otherwise. But there’s a potential problem ahead.
SPOILERS under the cut
It’s not surprising that Marvel would use the stage of the Colbert Report to announce that Sam Wilson would be the protagonist in a new Cap comic starting this November. As Newsarama pointed out, the company had been suggesting the change was in the works, stemming from a story in which the Captain of record, Steve Rogers, lost the Super-Soldier syrum keeping him youthful.
So in going on the Report, Marvel was banking that his audience — which, one would suggest, includes people who aren’t following the book but are pro-diversity as a matter of habit — would take it as a positive surprise. The announcement could have been handled differently on another show: Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, for example, would have been able to better explain the significance of the move, but she might also have pointed out that the company also acted like Rogers’ “death” just seven years ago was going to stick, or that Marvel has already seen a Black Captain America in Isaiah Bradley from the Truth: Red, White & Black miniseries. Thus, avoiding actual journalists and announcing Wilson’s new role in the safe embrace of Colbert’s “truthiness” was the smartest play.
The company used the similarly friendly confines of The View to announce that an unidentified cis-woman character would be written to take up the mantle of Thor, giving Marvel Entertainment, Inc. a pair of feel-good stories for its comics division, and a chance to see “fans” at ComicsAlliance’s Facebook page reacting to the news of this latest Black Cap as gracefully as the townspeople in Blazing Saddles:
Of course, when it comes to Marvel, the movie tail wags the comics dog; in between the announcements regarding Wilson and the new Thor, the first still photos from Age of Ultron were released, featuring Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth reprising their respective roles from Joss Whedon’s first go-round.
So unless we start seeing pictures of Anthony Mackie rocking the shield in the third Cap movie, or, say, Katee Sackhoff wielding Mjolnir, the best way to approach these new adventures is as a bridge between now and the release of Age of Ultron next summer. Or did readers of The Superior Spider-Man go into the second Spider-Man movie expecting Andrew Garfield to recite dialogue written for Alfred Molina?
But let’s consider this image of some of the heroes featured in Marvel’s “Avengers NOW” branding:
You can see Marvel at least trying to liven up its primary team lineup for the next few months. These “Avengers Of The Next Financial Quarter” look like they will include the Inhuman queen Medusa, the Winter Soldier, a new Deathlok (benefitting, perhaps, from Agents of SHIELD) and the reimagined Captain and Thor, among others. It’s certainly a more inviting sell than Steven Moffat’s attitude regarding the casting in Doctor Who.
It’s less encouraging, however, to discover that the writer entrusted with telling Wilson’s new stories as Captain America is Rick Remender. You might remember Remender from his rather ham-handed approach to race in the pages of Uncanny Avengers last year, and for some of his responses to critiques of that work:
Only in comics, apparently, does telling people to “drown themselves” in urine qualify someone for a promotion. But Remender also found himself in hot water with fans less than a month ago, in a scene involving Wilson that had some Falcon supporters briefly calling for him to be fired.
In Captain America #22, we see a flashback in which Wilson entertains a visit from Jet Black, the reformed daughter of supervillain Arnim Zola. Because she was raised in an alternate dimension, Jet aged more rapidly than a woman from “our” Earth. Since her previous depiction led some readers to speculate that she was still a teenager, Remender writes a line for her where she can announce that she’s at least 23 years old:
You will also note that Wilson is seen begging off from drinking more, only for Jet to encourage him to keep drinking before making an advance toward him:
The “punchline” is the strong indication that Wilson and Jet have already slept together by the time he can remember what happened:
Who knows if they actually had sex and then put their underwear back on, of course. But it’s okay, because even if Jet was evil once, she TOTES wanted him:
Remender was accused of effectively writing Wilson into committing sexual assault against a minor before the furor was corrected on Tumblr. But even allowing for Jet stating otherwise, the scene comes off really awkwardly; the thought of waking up not knowing if you’ve had sex with someone isn’t something a lot of people can brush off with a make-up kiss.
The scene stirred up memories of a 2009 issue of Amazing Spider-Man in which writer Fred Van Lente suggested rather heavily that one of Spidey’s rogues, The Chameleon, had sex with Peter Parker’s roommate while disguised as Parker, which can — under British law, at least — be considered rape. After first telling a fan that he believed rape “requires force or the threat of force,” Van Lente quickly back-tracked, saying the two characters only made out. So, even if Remender has a reveal planned saying Jet and Falcon never had sex at all, his attempt to kickstart a relationship between them lacked nuance, to say the least.
And so this is the writer — tone-deaf on race, seemingly behind the times on matters of sex and consent — who has been entrusted with telling the story of the latest Black Captain America, however long they’re scheduled to run. Besides the fact that stories starring interim superheroes can be enjoyable in their own right (Dick Grayson’s tenures as Batman, Superior Spider-Man and the adventures of Beta Ray Bill come to mind), Marvel has to know that having Sam Wilson carry a mantle so deeply associated with depictions of patriotism opens up the door to the kind of tales that can go beyond the realm of heroics and explore some of those associations.
How would Wilson react to Marvel-Americans who don’t want a Black man as Captain America? How would this change the dynamic between himself and his Black teammates in the underrated Mighty Avengers book? Would Sam see an opportunity to use the platform to make broader statements about race? Would he take it? As we’ve said before, Remender’s work flows best when he sticks to straight-ahead superheroics, and that shouldn’t change in this new book.
But after creating a chance to do more — not to mention the chance to hire a POC writer for a high-profile book — Marvel is sending the signal that this is just a placeholder. So, as high as Sam Wilson might fly in his latest role, it’s not hard to shake the feeling that we’ll be left with plenty of sky left to cover.