The pull of an illicit life is strong when you grow up in a poor, crime ridden neighborhood, even true in the Marvel Universe. Sam “Snap” Wilson grew up in Harlem, and when he lost his parents he took up a life of crime. That doesn’t mean Sam became a bad person though. His noble side was still there, it was just put to sleep by his anger over his parents’ death. A chance encounter with Captain America was enough to wake it up and send Sam down a different path — that of a costumed superhero. Sam’s friendship with a falcon named Red Wing and his ability to telepathically link with birds led him to adopt the costumed identity of the Falcon. After his initial adventures, his namesake became even more fitting when he acquired a set of mechanical wings that allowed him to fly.
As the Falcon, Sam worked hard to atone for his criminal past. He became Captain America’s trusted friend and crime fighting partner. He even joined the ranks of the Avengers at one point and served with distinction. This March, writer Rob Williams (“What If? Wolverine: Father”) and artist Rebekah Isaacs (“DV8: Gods and Monsters”) bring Sam Wilson back home in the “Captain America and Falcon” one-shot. CBR News spoke with Williams about the book, which is part of a series of one-shots celebrating Captain America’s 70th Anniversary and spotlight the Sentinel of Liberty’s allies and enemies.
CBR News: Rob, over the course of your career you’ve proven you can write a variety of genres, but a scan of your body of work seems to suggest that you’re most at home when you’re mixing the fantastic elements Science-Fiction and superheroes with gritty, real world elements. Was that what drew you to “Captain America and Falcon?”
Rob Williams: Not especially. Those elements certainly show in our Falcon story, “Spikes,” but it was more a love of the characters that attracted me. That’s the case with just about any Marvel character I get a chance to write, to be frank. I’ve been reading these stories all my life, so if an editor asks me if I want to write a Falcon story the answer is usually an overly enthusiastic “YES!!!” Then you try and work out what’s interesting about the character, what would be a good focus. The Falcon’s past suggested that an interesting approach would be to contrast the bright, shiny superhero world Sam Wilson now inhabits with his mean streets background.
â€¨Which elements and aspects of Sam Wilson’s character do you find most interesting as a writer? Which elements take center stage in this special?
In Sam Wilson you have a guy from a poor background whose father and mother were both murdered in separate instances — not a Bruce Wayne freak one-off. There’s a lot of weight there. Then you take into account that he was originally a criminal before he became The Falcon. Everything about his background suggests that it would have been far easier for him to become a criminal. Despite all that he becomes a valued member of The Avengers; a comrade to gods and immortals. His journey’s been a pretty extraordinary one. In “Spikes” we embrace both sides of Sam. We see him as an Avenger and the unease and guilt he then feels returning to his hometown neighborhood as a link to his past pulls him back home.
The title of the one-shot is “Captain America and Falcon” and that partnership between the title characters has been a long running one. It’s even continued from one Cap to the next. Why do you think that is? What does the Falcon mean to Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes and what do Steve and Bucky mean to Sam?
I suppose it’s primarily a matter of trust born of shared circumstance. Steve Rogers has been through so much with Sam Wilson that he trusts him absolutely, so when Bucky took over the shield, The Falcon was passed on as part of the Captain America job description. In our opening scene in “Spikes,” Cap’s in mortal danger and Sam intervenes. Cap says, “Thanks for the save,” and Sam matter-of-factly replies, “It’s what I do.”
Does this story provide an equal amount of focus on Cap and Falcon, or is this more of a spotlight on Sam Wilson? Also, which Caps are involved — Steve, Bucky, both?
This is very much Sam Wilson’s story. Bucky Cap appears in our opening action sequence, as do several other Avengers and a classic Avengers villain. It was a blast to write that sequence, but this was a great opportunity to turn our attention to the Falcon, hopefully showcase the nuanced individual he is, rather than him just being a Cap sidekick.
In terms of plot and theme, what is “Captain America and Falcon” about?
“Spikes” is Sam Wilson’s background catching up with him. He was once a low level criminal called ‘Snap,’ but that was a very long time ago. When he receives a letter from an old accomplice he’s pulled back to his old neighborhood — the place where his father and mother were murdered, streets he no longer visits that often. He quickly realizes that he doesn’t know the people anymore, doesn’t have the easy leads to follow. And, as a celebrity, coming back to where he’s from is going to cause tension. His old accomplice has a son, who’s a great high school football prospect, but he’s been involved in gang violence and now he’s disappeared. The Falcon is used to fighting the Red Skull, Kang the Conqueror etc, but when you’re flying high above, how do you fight and solve street level problems?
Thematically, it’s about whether or not we’re defined by the place we come from. Can we totally leave our backgrounds behind, or are they always within us, not too far from the surface?
What can you tell us about the antagonists of this story? How dangerous are they and what makes them good foils for the Falcon?
In our opening sequence, it’s an old school Avengers villain, providing some “WHO DARES?!” style fun. This is the heightened, bright, spandex world that the Falcon inhabits hanging out with Thor and Iron Man. From that point, however, the antagonists become far harder to spot and nail down. It’s gang violence, social problems, the “real world” intruding. We’re going beneath the mask to show who Sam Wilson is.
Who are some of the other important supporting players in this one-shot?
Hawkeye, Spider Woman, Thor, Iron Man and Cap (Bucky), obviously. From that point on, Sam’s on his own. He’s quickly going to realize that this is a mystery that he can’t solve by calling on The Avengers to help. He has to do this alone, and there’s not an easy save to be made by punching out the bad guy.
How would you describe the tone of “Captain America and Falcon?” The solicits suggest a vibe somewhere between superheroes and the television show “The Wire.”
That’s probably fair, yes. When Editor Tom Brennan offered me the job, we talked about a real life story that someone Tom knows had been involved in. Then I read up on Sam Wilson’s background in Harlem, his existence as a street criminal prior to becoming The Falcon, so it’s not quite as straightforward as that. But I loved “The Wire,” so its influence is there, sure.
What’s it like working with Rebekah Isaacs? What do you feel she brings to the book as an artist?
Rebekah’s great, both in terms of the good looking, hugely accessible aesthetic she gives her pages and in terms of storytelling. She sends through thumbnails and, from a narrative perspective, they’re always spot on; very clean pages, really attractive. A very good artist friend of mine says that her pages remind him of an early Adam Hughes, which is some compliment, and I can see that. Her “DV8” mini-series from Wildstorm looked wonderful and we’re working on something else together for Marvel right now, featuring Iron Man (can’t say too much about it yet). I think she’s going to be huge in years to come. She does great superheroes, and for “Spikes,” her style makes for an interesting approach. In our opening Avengers action sequence – Rebekah’s art really seems at home. Then we go street level and that clean look asks some real questions of the character. The change of worlds is seen through the same eyes. It’s a nice approach.
I should also mention the killer cover by my “Wolverine: Father” collaborator Greg Tocchini. This is a great looking comic from start to finish, and it’s cool to be able to dig a little deeper into one of Marvel’s perpetual backups. Give him the stage; celebrate where he is now and where he came from. Coming from his background of tragedy to being one of The Avengers, it’s really a triumphant journey for Sam Wilson. On a human level, he’s a good, altruistic man. He didn’t have to be. We all have those choices to make.
I understand you have some more Marvel work that you can’t talk about yet, but what about from other publishers?
I’m still a regular with 2000AD in the UK, writing things like my longtime future crime series “Low Life” with the brilliant D’israeli — there’s a complete “Low Life: Paranoia” GN being released in the US in July through Rebellion, actually. I’ve also recently written a Judge Dredd that the great Brendan McCarthy will be drawing. That’s a thrill.