I SUPPORT BLACK SUPERHEROES [Belser-Verse, Part 4.2]: The Red, White, and New.

The Many Faces of The Patriot

The Captain America rip-offs

After the creation of Captain America in 1941, his popularity inspired a bevy of similarly themed heroes like Fighting American, Miss America, The Spirit of ’76, Jack Flagg, Free Spirit and so on.  One such superhero was The Patriot who debuted in The Human Torch #4 (Spring 1941) with both a two-page text story by writer Ray Gill, with a spot illustration by artist Bill Everett, and a 10-page comics story by writer Gill and artist George Mandel.

The original Patriot, Jeffrey Mace

The character of The Patriot has been described as “a bargain-basement Captain America with an uncanny knack for stumbling into Axis conspiracies and had none of the charisma of its inspiration“.

The original Patriot, Jeffrey Mace, was a reporter at the Daily Bugle, who was inspired by Captain America to become a superhero himself. As the Patriot, Mace fought Nazis and supervillains during World War II and helped to found the superhero team ‘The Liberty Legion”. Known as “America’s homefront heroes“, The Legion fought saboteurs and other wartime threats within the United States. Mace is recruited to be the third Captain America before retiring in 1949. While Mace himself stopped fighting crime, the name of The Patroit has lived on as a mantle for young black men.

Elijah ‘Eli’ Bradley

Eli Bradley, the second Patroit

Eli Bradley became the second Patriot in the Marvel Universe. He was created by writer Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung and debuted in Young Avengers #1 (April 2005). Bradley is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley and nephew of Josiah X. When Iron Lad began his search for the next generation of Avengers, he came to the Bradley household in search of Isaiah’s son, Josiah X.

However, Josiah had been missing for several months and Iron Lad met Eli instead. Upon his recruitment, Eli initially claimed that he had powers that originated from a blood transfusion from his grandfather Isaiah, whereby he gained the abilities of the super soldier serum.

Eli explaining his heritage to Steve Rogers

However,  this revelation turned out to be a lie. Eli’s mother Sarah Gail, was conceived before Isaiah’s involvement with the experiment that turned into a Super Soldier. So, Eli did not inherit his grandfather’s powers genetically.  Elijah really gains his powers artificially from the drug MGH (or Mutant Growth Hormone).

MGH is an illegal street drug that causes brief periods of superhuman abilities in the users. The side effect of MGH is that it promotes irascibility and unpredictable behavior in individuals. With this in mind, The Young Avengers convince Eli that he does not need superpowers to be a superhero, and he becomes the leader of the Young Avengers using his  own natural intelligence and athletic abilities.

Eli gets a legit Super Soldier boost from his grandpa

Eli is critically injured in a battle with the Kree and Skrulls, and he ended up getting the blood transfusion from his grandfather– which actually does give him superpowers. Over time, Elijah left the team while all the remaining Young Avengers became full-fledged Avengers. The character was last mentioned as moving to Arizona to work in voter registration.

NOTE: Writer Allan Heinberg has stated that Bradley’s drug usage is based on his own history,

“Since I had personally had a recent (and regrettable) experience with steroids, steroid use was something I wanted to write about. For better or worse, Eli’s race was never a factor in those storytelling decisions, and I hope that by the end of this arc, Eli’s story will be an inspiring one to all our readers”.

Rayshaun Lucas

Rayshaun Lucas, the newest (and current) Patriot

The newest Patriot, Rayshaun Lucas, was introduced during the ‘Secret Empire‘ storyline. He was created  by writer Nick Spencer and artist Daniel Acuña and he debuted in Captain America: Sam Wilson #18 (March, 2017) as Shaun Lucas and in Secret Empire: Brave New World #2 (August, 2017) as The Patriot.

Rayshaun “Shaun” Lucas was a teen activist living in Brooklyn with his mother who idolizes Sam Wilson. Wilson releases footage showing that teen superhero Rage being wrongfully accused and savagely beaten by Keane Industries’ private security personnel, The Americops. Following Elvin’s unjust conviction, Shaun painted his face to resemble Rage’s mask and then slipped out to firebomb a local bank, before participating in the subsequent riots in New York City.

After Sam Wilson resigned as Captain America, Shaun washed the Rage mask from his face and began to draw designs for a costume that he called the Patriot.

Rayshaun Lucas in action

After the Black Widow finds a notebook with a Patriot suit drawn on it in the backpack of Lucas when he arrives at the secret Hydra resistance base known as “the Mount,” she gives the notebook to the Tony Stark A.I. associated with Riri Williams, who in turn builds the suit. After trying to stop a group of bullies from taking an iPad from a little girl, Rayshaun gets beaten up.

Afterwards, the Tony Stark A.I. calls Rayshaun and gives him the Patriot suit that was made for him, explaining that Rayshaun gave him hope again and that the suit is a way to thank him. Rayshaun trains in combat with an A.I. version of Black Widow, confronts the bullies while he wearing the suit and defeats them, giving the little girl her iPad back. Spider-Man Miles Morales and the new Falcon Joaquin Torres tell Rayshaun that they heard about him and that they are looking forward to having him on their team of teen heroes, The Champions.

The Patriot under the tutelage of Misty Knight and Sam Wilson

He later appears in the desert where he overhears a discussion between Sam Wilson and Misty Knight. He then tells Sam about the people who need his help and support him, despite what the HYDRA government says. This conversation inspires Sam to re-assume his mantle of Captain America. The Patriot later becomes the Falcon’s sidekick, where they deal with the gang violence in Chicago.

Sam Wilson

Sam Wilson as the new Captain America

The most recent Captain America run other than Steve Rogers was performed by a black man that worked in tandem with Cap for many years: Sam Wilson, The Falcon. The Falcon was the first African-American superhero in mainstream comic books, The character first appeared in Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969). Created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan, The Falcon came about at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Colan recalled his creation in 2008:

“…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.”

Becoming The Falcon

The Falcon’s first costume in his debut and finding ‘Redwing’

Samuel Thomas Wilson was born in Harlem, New York City, as the son of a minister. Wilson had a natural affinity for birds and trained pigeon. In his teens, both of his parents were killed due to street violence. Consumed by grief and “angry at the world” Sam moves to Los Angeles and develops a new persona: a criminal named “Snap” Wilson.

“Snap” ends up in a plane crash on Exile Island, a island taken over by the Exiles, a group of nefarious criminals who worked with The Red Skull during World War II. The Exiles were forced to remain there and enslaved the natives. While hiding on the island, Wilson finds a large red falcon that he names ‘Redwing‘. The two shared a remarkably strong bond from the beginning. 

Steve Rogers befriends Wilson on the island. As part of his plan against Cap, the Red Skull uses the Cosmic Cube to mentally fuse Wilson with Redwing, creating a “super-normal mental link“. This eventually gives Wilson a number of powers over all birds, including being able to ‘see‘ through their eyes. The Skull also uses the Cube to rewrite Wilson’s memories, erasing his time as Snap Wilson and re-branding him as an optimistic social worker. Steve inspires Wilson to adopt a new persona to inspire the island natives to a rebellion. Together, they create the costumed persona of ‘The Falcon” and defeat the Exiles and the Red Skull.

The Falcon becomes Captain America’s regular crime-fighting partner and receives a winged harness that allows him to fly from the Black Panther. The partnership lasts for many years.

The All-New, All-Different Captain America

The Falcon has stepped in to fill Captain America’s boots one more than one occasion over the years (usually on a temporary basis).

Captain America #126 ( 1968) has Falcon framed by a criminal named Diamond Head and Cap agrees to help Falcon clear his name,While trapped in a warehouse, Cap devises a means of escape for Falcon: By having Falcon put in his uniform.
Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty (1999) #9 has Sam Wilson step in for Captain America, who is believed to be dead. As Captain America, Falcon has to protect Harlem from race riots.
The new Cap backed up by Caps of the Past

As part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch, an artificially aged Steve Rogers appoints Wilson as his ‘official’ replacement as Captain America in 2015. Wilson was given his own series — All-New Captain America — and became the leader of The Avengers during the ‘Secret Empire‘ storyline. This series of events saw history rewritten and Steve Rogers became the leader of the terrorist group Hydra. The final battle saw Sam Wilson play an instrumental role in the return of the proper Steve Rogers. Wilson relinquished the role once Rogers was restored.

The decision to make an African American the official Captain America was met with positive praise and some criticism. Rick Remender, the writer of the All-New Captain America series, spoke on the decision of making a black Captain America as a chance for representation:

You’re starting to see characters who can reflect other parts of our culture. That reflection is important. It’s important to feel like you live in a culture where you are a part of it, and that you can see yourself in your heroes.”(Abad-Santos, 2015). 

The Flight To The Big Screen

Sam Wilson in the MCU as played by Anthony Mackie

“I can’t ask you to do this, Sam. You got out for a good reason.”
“Dude, Captain America needs my help. There’s no better reason to get back in.”
― An exchange between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Around the same time, Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced actor Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson on the big screen in the  2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the MCU, Wilson is portrayed initially as a veteran United States Air Force Pararescueman who flies using a experimental jet pack with articulated wings codenamed ‘Falcon‘.

After the death of his partner, Wilson works as a PTSD counselor for the V. A. hospital in Washington D.C.  Wilson befriends Steve Rogers and helps him and Natasha Romanoff take out Hydra after they have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. In the aftermath, Wilson becomes Rogers’s new partner to help him track down Bucky Barnes, Rogers’ former best friend who has become the brainwashed Winter Soldier. Mackie would go on to reprise his role as Sam Wilson/Falcon in several films including Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War.

The above clip from Avengers: Endgame shows Steve Rogers handing over the shield to Sam, choosing him as his successor and the new Captain America. Mackie will again reprise the role of Sam Wilson on the upcoming Disney Plus series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which will focus on him to be the new wielder of Captain America’s shield.

In an interview, Mackie was asked what exactly it’s like to carry such an iconic symbol around with him:

“You know what, to be honest, it’s very emotional.”I’ve been in the business for 20 years and I’ve been fortunate enough to do some amazing stuff and work with amazing people. For me, to be a Black man in 2019 and be given the helm of Captain America with the history of Black men in this country is a monumental step, not only in entertainment, but also in my life.”( Dominguez, 2019)

UNTIL NEXT TIME!!

References:

Dominguez,N.  Nov 15, 2019. Anthony Mackie says being ‘given the helm of Captain America’ as a black man is ‘very emotional’. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/anthony-mackie-playing-captain-america-is-very-emotional-2019-11

Abad-Santos, A. Apr 10, 2015. What an African-American Captain America means for Marvel.  Vox.Com. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2014/11/10/7185205/captain-america-remender

-JaDarrel Belser

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