Falcon’s fate in the movie version of the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) is up in the air right now. Avengers fans watched Falcon (portrayed by Anthony Mackie) disintegrate along several other heroes (including our beloved T’Challa) last year in Avengers: Infinity War. Avengers: Endgame comes out on Friday—midnight to be exact—and we are all holding on to hope that things will turn around for all of our fallen soldiers (I’m convinced they are all trapped inside the soul world, but I digress). In the meantime, here is Falcon’s history as a comic book character.
Falcon is the first African-American superhero featured in mainstream comic books, and the second Black hero featured in the MCU (Black Panther came first, but he was straight from Africa). He was born Samuel Thomas Wilson in Harlem, New York City. His first appearance was Captain America #117 (September 1969). Wilson was the youngest of three and his father was a prominent minister. He always had a natural affinity for birds and even had the largest pigeon coop in Harlem.
Sam started to rebel against his parents as child by refusing to go to church and questioning their religious beliefs. His parents surprisingly encourage him to read about other religions and world views. For the most part, Sam has a good child hood but things take a turn after his father is killed while trying to break up a fight in the neighborhood. Sam channels his anger and sadness by becoming a social worker and respected community volunteer, but then his mom is shot and killed by a mugger two years later. The next part gets tricky because there are different versions of Falcon’s origin story in terms of how he became a superhero, but the one we will go with unfolded in Captain America issues #117 – #119.
Sam was lured to a remote Caribbean island under the guise of them needing a falcon trainer. The island is where the Exiles, former henchmen and now enemies of the Red Skull, are hiding out. The Exiles enslave Sam along with other locals, and Sam organizes the locals to fight back but they have no weapons, which thwarts their operation. Captain America ends up on the island in Red Skull’s body because Red Skull used the Cosmic Cube to swap their bodies, hoping the Exiles would attack and kill Captain America, thinking it was him. The Exiles do end up attacking Captain America (in Red Skull’s body) and an epic battle ensues. Eventually, a beautiful red falcon (Red Wing) swoops in and attacks the Exiles, which helps Captain America get away.
Captain America later discovers that the bird was sent by Sam and learns Sam’s story. Captain America tells Sam that he can help him become the symbol that the island’s natives need in order to fight back against the Exiles, and that’s how the Falcon was born. Captain America teaches Sam combat training and eventually they launch an attack against the Exiles. Despite not having weapons, they are able to overtake the Exiles with their martial arts skills. The real Red Skull is watching this the entire time, frustrated that his plan to have Captain America killed didn’t work. Realizing that his plan had backfired, Red Skull uses the Cosmic Cube to get his body back but also to transport himself, Falcon, and Captain America to his castle in Germany. Falcon and Captain America defeat the Red Skill and from there, the two become partners in battling evil and eventually, Falcon joins the Avengers.
Years later, the Falcon upgrades his costume with technology that gives him flight, with T’Challa being responsible for at least one version of the suit. Falcon became a popular character with readers, thus supporting the idea that Black characters could be a hit with mainstream audiences. In October 2015, Marvel Comics launched the first of a series starring Falcon as the new Captain America. There has been speculation (or hope) from avid fans that this storyline could cross over to the Avengers films, but we’ll have to see what happens to Steve Rogers first!