WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2, "The Star-Spangled Man," now streaming on Disney+
The people behind The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
have made it clear that their series will explore what it's like to be a Black superhero in modern-day America. The latest episode
of the Marvel Studios/Disney+ show put that on display, with a trip to Baltimore
that highlighted those struggles. But it was also a comical exchange in said trip that also allowed Marvel to take a shot at Black heroes from their franchise rivals.
Bucky Barnes takes Sam Wilson to the Monumental City to meet Isaiah Bradley
, a Black veteran who was previously given the Super Soldier serum before being locked away for stealing Captain America's costume. On their way to Isaiah's house, they run into a couple of kids, one of whom calls Sam out as "Black Falcon."
"It's just Falcon, kid," Sam mutely replies.
"No, no," the kid replies, "My daddy told me it's Black Falcon."
"Is it because I'm Black and I'm the Falcon?"
"Well, technically, yes."
"So are you, like, Black kid?" Sam retorts.
It's a laugh-out-loud exchange, especially as Sam's final remark leaves the kid silenced. But it's also a fun tongue-in-cheek call-out to the various Black superheroes over the years who needlessly had the name "Black" included in their pseudonym. Marvel itself is guilty of this very thing. Bill Foster made his debut in the comics as "Black Goliath" in 1975, and it took almost 30 years before he finally became just Goliath. And of course, there's Black Panther, though in that case the moniker more so refers to a title than a descriptor.
More guilty of the "Black" superhero naming convention is Marvel's chief rivals in DC Comics. Like its competitor, DC has made an effort to include more Black characters at its forefront, including Cyborg, Vixen, Hawkgirl, and even versions of Green Arrow and Green Lantern in the form of Connor Hawke and John Stewart, respectively. However, they have not shied away from the titles mocked in Sam Wilson's conversation.
Black Lightning was DC's first Black lead superhero, back in 1977. He was helmed by Tony Isabella, who helped develop the character of Luke Cage for Marvel. If his name didn't make his ethnicity clear enough, the character also initially took on more stereotypical mannerisms to differentiate himself from his secret identity of school professional Jefferson Pierce. That included wearing an exaggerated afro as part of the Black Lightning disguise, as well as speaking in a form of '70s street vernacular known as "jive."
Later that year, Hanna-Barbera was developing its animated series The All-New Super Friends Hour
. But the studio's disputes with Isabella
meant that they could not make use of the Black Lightning character. Instead, they created a brand new Black hero with essentially the same power set specifically for the show. He was named Black Vulcan. The character did not have much shelf life beyond the various shows he appeared on in the '70s and '80s, showing how he was a facsimile of Jefferson Pierce, down to the needless "Black" naming convention.
It should be noted that, like Marvel, DC has made efforts in recent years to curb this instinct. Black Vulcan's character has pretty much been retired, paving the way for less problematically-named characters like Static and Juice. Black Lightning has had more staying power, even keeping the name as he helmed his live-action debut
in the CW series of the same name. Regardless, the dialogue from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
highlights the complicated history of Black superheroes in comic book culture, down to their very names themselves.
Directed by Kari Skogland, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stars Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Wyatt Russell, Noah Mills, Carl Lumbly and Daniel Brühl. A new episode debuts each Friday on Disney+.