Since the much publicized “Death of Captain America” storyline and with his appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cap’s former partner and longtime friend Sam Wilson, known as The Falcon, has seen a return to lofty heights he enjoyed previously as Steve Rogers’ number one guy. It’s readily discernable how essential the character is to the storyline and to the mythos of his more celebrated partner.
The late 1960s and the 1970s were times of change in American culture, and this was reflected in superhero comics, which had become much more in tune with contemporary youth during the early years of Marvel Comics.
One of the major areas of change during that period was race relations, and creators at the major comics publishers moved to include African-American characters. Black Panther joined the Marvel universe and very quickly become a member of the Avengers. Slowly, other characters like Black Lightning at DC and Black Goliath at Marvel joined the ranks. Many of them, at least at first, had the word “black” in their name, almost as if it was required. But did you know one know one of the most prominent African-American characters from this time was The Falcon?
First seen in Captain America #117, Sam Wilson was a street-savvy crime fighter on the neighborhood level. The Falcon quickly teamed up with Captain America, and by #134 the cover proclaimed a new title: Captain America & The Falcon. Much like the groundbreaking I Spy TV series casting Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as equal partners in 1965, Captain America & The Falcon was the first black and white duo in superhero comics. It would run that way for just about 90 issues before the characters theoretically went their own ways.
Along the way, readers discovered his true origins, changed costumes, got his famous wings (a gift from Black Panther), discovered his mutant ability to communicate with his bird, Redwing, and found out just what made him tick.
Even after his departure as a regular character in Captain America, the team-ups didn’t end. Falcon has been a member of the Avengers, once forced on the team as part of government regulations (complete with contentious supporters and detractors, much like one might expect in the real world), and later as an invited member. He starred in a try-out solo story in Marvel Premiere and then his own mini-series. Periodically he’d reappear in Captain America.
Eventually he rejoined the pages of The Avengers and has taken a prominent spot in some stories, particularly those during the tenure of writer Geoff Johns. He also teamed-up with Captain America again in a short-lived second title, Captain America & The Falcon.
He’s also the subject of a mini-bust and a statue by sculptor Randy Bowen.
As newer comic readers are discovering the characters, many who were kids during The Falcon’s early days are now established creators in the business and have a real love of the character. It will be interesting to watch the heights to which they have him fly.