This week, Marvel shocked the world – and even Stephen Colbert himself – when they announced that the Falcon was taking over as Captain America in comics. It’s not the first time someone besides Steve Rogers has wielded the shield, but the first time Rogers chose his successor and the first time that Captain America himself is an African American (at least as the public face; we're not forgetting you, Isaiah Bradley). Although Marvel and other superhero comic book publishers have had prominent black superheroes in the past, this decision by Marvel and series writer Rick Remender instantly rockets the Cap’s long-time partner Sam Wilson into the forefront of the superhero genre as a whole.
Newsarama talked with Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing (and long-time Captain America editor) Tom Brevoort about this game-changing decision, comparing it to previous situations such as Bucky Barnes becoming Cap, as well as delving into how Sam Wilson will carry himself as Marvel’s flag bearer through the finale of Captain Americaand into his new ongoing series, All-New Captain America.
Newsarama: Tom, this week we learned that Sam Wilson – aka the Falcon – is stepping up to take on the mantle of Captain America. Is Sam changing his tactics to become Cap, or is the idea of who and what Cap is changing to fit the Falcon?
Tom Brevoort: Well, I think it’s a little bit of both in a sense. Steve Rogers certainly understands that at this point Captain America isn’t just him – it’s a title and a mantle different people have held. While he’s the first and the longest serving, he’s done it, not done it, both before and after the deep freeze. There seems to be ample evidence, including the period of time in which he was dead, that the idea and ideal of Captain America will and should go on beyond him. He sees himself now as merely the first and latest in a long string of custodians to embody this notion.
So now, after the recent adventure with the Iron Nail in Captain America in which the Super-Soldier Serum that’s kept Steve young and virile for so long is now neutralized, shut down and sucked out, Steve has now been restored to sort of the state he would naturally be in had he lived on all those years. The reality is that now he’s got to pass that mantle onto someone else. While he is still as mentally acute and just as sharp and battle savvy as he ever was, he’s no longer physically in the condition where he can live up to the demands and duties of being Captain America. That being the case, the person he decides to pass the mantle onto – which, in previous occasions Steve didn’t get to decide – is Sam Wilson, the Falcon.
I think it’s something of a no-brainer of a decision on his part; Steve and Sam go back many years at this point. They’ve fought shoulder to shoulder, and are true comrades and brothers in arms as only guys who have gone out so often and risked their lives and shared dangerous moments can have. Steve realizes that Sam might not have the same approach in every situation, but he is honest, trustworthy, valiant, loyal and worthy to carry the shield and take on the name and position of being Captain America. That being said, Sam Wilson is different than Steve Rogers.
Sam Wilson grew up in a different era than Steve, and has a different background and somewhat different world view. Sam believes in the broadest sense the same things, but he will go about embodying the notions of Captain America in a much different way. Sort of the first indication of that is evidenced in a sequence from an earlier issue of Captain America during the Nuke story which saw him taking down Nuke who had gone rogue and attacked foreign soil with the American flag on his face. So in addition to being tasked to take down Nuke, Cap and Falcon were also tasked to keep the situation quarantined – the government didn’t want any information of this happening being broadcast to the public. Their mission was to make sure no information comes out because it would be a black eye for America. But during the heat of the battle, there was a certain point where Sam was faced with the decision to destroy a camera he had confiscated from a reporter who happened to be on-scene; Sam doesn’t destroy it and instead stands by his principles and returns the camera to the reporter even though it does create a national incident and a lot of ill will towards America and Captain America himself. So Sam is going to do things that are different than maybe what Steve would do, and maybe not in line with what S.H.I.E.L.D. would ordinarily do.
The primary difference between Sam and Steve is that Steve is very much a soldier. Steve went into the military, even trying to get in before he was physically able, and then after being transformed into Captain America served as a soldier during World War 2. Coming back out of the ice, he similarly sought out a position equal in working with S.H.I.E.L.D. Steve is very comfortably with the chain of command; he’s comfortable receiving and carrying out a mission order. That’s very ingrained in him. That’s not to say he’s a blind follower, but the structure is comfortable to Steve.
Sam comes from the other side of things; he was a social worker, and is all about living ‘boots on the ground’ in the community, with the ordinary people of the city and the world. He’s not a trained or experienced soldier, although he’s worked extensively with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the past. He’s not necessary comfortable with the chain of command, nor working with people he doesn’t know or trust; blindly following orders without understanding what’s going on is not something Sam does. He’s a deeply moral individual, and will follow his own mortality and beliefs.
That being said, Sam takes the role of Captain America very seriously. But even then he’s not completely prepared for the changes to his life when he goes from being the Falcon to being Captain America. There’s a big difference between fighting a bad guy and fighting a bad guy dressed in the colors of the nation. People draw a different conclusion on things based on how he chooses to present himself to the world.
Nrama: That being said, will Sam Wilson be retaining his wings he had as Falcon when he steps into the role of Captain America? And what about Redwing?
Brevoort: Yes, the wings will be integrated into the costume. They will be able to pop out and retract. It doesn’t make any sense in the world for a flying superhero, for example, to stop flying when he takes on the job. He’ll continue to have wings, so Cap will be flying. And his bird Redwing will certainly be around as much as he has been before. But what that also means is that Sam-as-Cap will have a wider range of abilities; beyond Redwing, Sam has the ability to see through the eyes of other birds so that gives him quite the advantage Steve never had. Sam has a whole new set of talents to draw and learn with as he carries the shield. And speaking of the shield itself, while at first he certainly won’t be as good as Steve was in handling it, he will be combining what he can do with what Steve did to maybe have some new tricks.
Newsarama: Sam-as-Cap will kick off the upcoming All-New Captain America #1, but will he debut in his new role before that?
Brevoort: By the end of Captain America #25, Sam will be Cap.
Nrama: So who designed the new Captain America costume Sam is seen wearing?
Brevoort: Carlos Pacheco designed the new costume for Sam, which was kind of a no-brainer given he’s been working on the series and is also a huge fan of the character… plus he does a great Falcon. I love the way Carlos articulates the wings on his version of the Falcon, and if you look at recent issues you can see how he brings the avionics of the character in a way a lot of people don’t think about it. Carlos’ Captain America outfit for Sam is a design that still says it’s Cap, but also incorporates enough of the iconography of the Falcon so people know it’s Sam. It seemed like a challenge Carlos would be well able to take on, and he did. It was a fairly easy process; he did a couple of initial designs, and we went back and forth with some tweaks and that was it.
Nrama: And who will Sam be facing down in All-New Captain America?
Brevoort: I don’t know how much I can tell you honestly without spoiling the stories in Captain America and Avengers & X-Men: Axis. Sam is going to be involved in both, obviously. I can say that you’re probably going to see some classic Captain America adversaries in a new light and in a new way. I think certainly during the course of the first year you’ll see a new take and a new wrinkle on the notion of Hydra. And Rick will also be picking up where he left off with Arnim Zola in his first arc on Captain America, continuing to take that character from being considered as a C-Level quirky weird threat and building him into an A-Level menace. You’ll see the same sort of thing happen with other Cap characters in context with Sam as well.
Sam will also be running with a partner, a new Nomad, so he’s not completely a solo act. He’ll have someone to be his wingman, as Sam was the wingman to Steve before him.
Nrama: Can you give us any clues as to who this new Nomad is?
Brevoort: Even saying Nomad may be saying too much; people who have been reading Captain America should be able to connect the dots.
Nrama: Point taken. We’ll leave our readers to speculate in the comments.
So with Sam-as-Cap, a new Nomad appearing, as well as Redwing as air support, what happens to Steve? Is he out of the picture?
Brevoort: Steve’s not gone. He’ll be around and available to lend his tactical skills, experience, and battle savvy brain to help Sam.
Nrama: In the cover to Avengers #35 we saw what looked to be Falcon carrying Cap’s shield – is that in fact Wilson as Cap in that flash-forwarded future? And presumably an elderly Steve Rogers beside him?
Brevoort: That is correct. As I said when we started to promote the “Time Runs Out” and “8 Months Later” stuff, all of the stuff in shadows there are actually here in these solo books getting started; Sam Wilson is only one of them. There are more hints and clues to be found in those images.
Nrama: This isn’t the first time someone else has taken up the mantle of Captain America, even in your tenure thinking back to Bucky’s time with the shield. But for Sam Wilson, it’s very different feeling to me. How did you feel about it when first presented it, and what do you feel it offers as far as story goes here and now? And how hard was it to get it approved by the higher-ups at Marvel?
Brevoort: I’ll start with your last point first: very easy. We simply wrote out what we wanted to do, and sent it up to our publisher Dan Buckley and he said, “Yeah, fine. That sounds good.” This is an idea that Rick has had cooking early on, from in the midst of the Dimension Z story. This is one of the reason why we brought Sam back into the book, to begin placing a foothold and developing the player in context of what was going on. This is why when Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out and everyone was asking about a Falcon book, we said “we’ve got big plans coming” because they in fact were; bigger than people would expect.
This decision was incredibly easy. We here at Marvel aren’t precious with our characters; we’re precious with our storylines and our storytelling, but we’re not afraid to shake things up and do different things with them. It’s 2014 – in some ways this shouldn’t be a big deal. Yes, we’ve seen it in a couple places, such as the Sentinels of Liberty series and certainly the Truth miniseries, but there is something that is very appealing to me on a primary level that we get to live in a world where an African-American man is Captain America. And he’s not a secondary Captain America, or a substitute or a replacement – he is Cap. Really, as much as anything that’s why we went ahead and did this. There’s a whole audience out there whom this will speak to very strongly. There’s an audience there who could use us to say things more strongly, and to be as diverse and welcoming to all people as we can. This was about as close to a no-brainer as they come.