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During ABC’s television special celebrating the 75th anniversary of Captain America (which aired on Tuesday, January 19th), a big revelation was unveiled: Steve Rogers would be returning to the Captain America mantle in Spring 2016. For those who haven’t kept up with Marvel Comics lately, Steve Rogers was aged after losing his super soldier serum and handed the Captain America name and shield to his friend and longtime ally Sam Wilson, previously known at The Falcon. Having a black Captain America was a big deal, but the writing was on the wall that eventually Steve Rogers would be back as Cap. So what does this mean for Wilson and Marvel? Can two Captain Americas co-exist?
Turning The Falcon into the new Captain America had some elements that I always thought were problematic. It wasn’t that there he is a black Cap. Technically, Isaiah Bradley had already been a black super soldier (and his grandson is the hero Patriot), though he didn’t garner the same buzz because it was a historical story. Rather my issue was that Marvel was taking a successful, interesting and original black character and rebranding him with an alter ego known primarily as a white guy. The implication was that becoming Captain America was a promotion for Sam Wilson, though The Falcon had always been a great character. Being black was a major part of The Falcon’s character, but it wasn’t the primary adjective used to describe him. The Falcon was black but also many other things whereas Wilson was the black Captain America.
At the same time, there is my (and other’s) good opinion of The Falcon and then there are sales. The Falcon had never been able to sustain a regular solo series. Sam Wilson as Captain America has, albeit in the short term. This raises the question of whether Marvel wants to move their characters to the “legacy” status the way that many DC characters have historically been (mostly pre-New 52). Legacy characters refer to long-standing super-heroes that have had different alter egos, almost as if the names are handed down. The DC characters that originated in the Golden Age are good examples – Flash went from Jay Garrick to Barry Allen to Wally West. Green Lantern went from Alan Scott to Hal Jordan to Kyle Rayner.
For the most part, Marvel has not established their characters as “legacy” characters. Spider-Man is Peter Parker. Dr. Strange is Steven Strange. Captain America is Steve Rogers. There have been some deviations from that those identities, but they are usually temporary. However, some changes have stuck. Captain Marvel went from being the Kree hero Mar-Vell to now Carol Danvers while her Ms. Marvel name was taken up eventually by Kamala Khan. Lately, too, Marvel has been playing more with making the heroes’ identities fluid. Jane Foster became Thor, Amadeus Cho became Hulk, and first Bucky Barnes and then Sam Wilson became Captain America. They have also established many Spider-Man-related characters and Miles Morales even uses the same hero name as Peter Parker.
The tricky thing about making Sam Wilson the only Captain America is that it was always going to be temporary. Steve Rogers is too firmly aligned with the Captain America identity to go away, especially in association with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a movie in which Steve Rogers will be Captain America this summer and 2016 is also the 75th anniversary of the characters, so while Marvel tried to make old man Steve useful in a strategic sense in S.H.I.E.L.D., it was clear that he was eventually going to become young again and be Captain America again. So what does this mean for Sam Wilson?
For now, it seems that Marvel is going to keep both Sam and Steve as Captains America. Writer Nick Spencer confirmed that Captain America: Sam Wilson would be continuing, even after Captain America: Steve Rogers debuted. It’s possible Marvel could keep both. In the 1980s, Marvel had Cap and U.S. Agent, who was a Captain America in a darker costume and attitude. As mentioned, there are multiple Spider-Mans, too. Still, is this good for Sam Wilson? Wouldn’t he now be seen as the second-tier Captain America? Conversely, would Marvel been seen as backtracking if they turned him back to The Falcon? While I wouldn’t view that as a demotion, some would. You also have to wonder if The Falcon would sell comics as well as Captain America: Sam Wilson. Really, considering how much Marvel lately likes to have its heroes fight, I wouldn’t be shocked if we eventually saw Steve pitted against Sam in “Cap Wars.”
Whether you think Marvel Comics was being progressive or cunning (or both) by making Sam Wilson become Captain America, they had to know this day was coming. Steve Rogers was always going to return to the Cap identity. So hopefully, they had a great plan for what to do with Sam Wilson when that happens. Having two Captain America characters at the same time with the same name is messy (“Look, it’s Captain America! …No, the other one.”), but making Sam Wilson back into The Falcon also has its issues. I believe Marvel is going to try both as Captain America and hope that works out. If/when that doesn’t, we will see a major change with one or both of the Captains, probably occurring in something like “Civil War III” or “Secret Wars II 2”. In any case, I hope they don’t screw up/over Sam Wilson, who is an important part of Marvel’s history and present in his own right.