Ever since scrawny Steve Rogers received the experimental super soldier serum that transformed him into the perfect American soldier, Captain America has been there to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. While America has certainly changed over the years, Rogers’ ideals as Captain America haven’t; Rogers is a firm believer in protecting the rights of all Americans and leading by example. This Star Spangled boy scout is considered to be one of the greatest superheroes ever created, and it’s easy to understand why. But when Rogers stepped away from the Captain America mantle and passed the title to his longtime partner and friend Sam Wilson, it proved to be quite the controversial decision.
Despite fighting side by side for decades, Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers are radically different people. They have drastically different views on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and their takes on Captain America couldn’t be more different. Once Wilson had transitioned from The Falcon into Captain America, the new Cap found himself with plenty of fans and plenty of detractors. But both sides have valid points; after all, the controversial “FalCap” had plenty of highs and plenty of lows. So with Wilson recently ditching the Captain America mantle, join CBR as we take a look back at Wilson’s all-too-brief run as Captain America and run down what made this Cap the best, and what made him suck!
15. BEST: NOT YOUR DADDY’S CAPTAIN AMERICA
Steve Rogers is a living legend, and his time as Captain America has made him an icon. Rogers’ commitment to truth, justice, and the American way have made him synonymous with the stars and stripes. But as time has gone on, the American landscape has changed drastically, and it took a new Captain America to deal with a new America.
When Sam Wilson suited up as Cap, he wasn’t shy about burning bridges if it meant doing the right thing. Be it standing up to authority or fighting the unpopular fights, Wilson used the iconic mantle of Captain America to fight for those that don’t normally fit into the old fashioned American dream. Sure, Sam’s approach to the Captain America legacy didn’t win him many fans, but at the end of the day, Sam understood that Captain America is about justice for all, not just the majority.
14. BEST: WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE
Before Steve Rogers clad himself in the stars and bars, he was just a skinny kid from Manhattan with a dream to fight the good fight. Rogers’ rough and tumble upbringing made him perfect to fight tooth and nail for the American dream, but the transition from New York street rat into patriotic super soldier meant Rogers’ had to do a lot of on-the-job learning.
When Sam Wilson assumed the Captain America mantle, he already had a decade of experience under his belt as The Falcon. Sam has cut his teeth fighting against all manner of Earth-threatening villains, fighting both as a solo act, a perennial partner to Captain America, and as a member of a variety of teams including the Heroes for Hire and the Avengers. Over his time fighting alongside Steve Rogers, Wilson had plenty of time to learn the ins-and-outs of the shield, allowing Wilson to combine his experience as The Falcon and his knowledge of Steve Rogers to make for one entirely new Captain America.
13. BEST: CAP-WOLF!
In Captain America #402, Wolverine stumbles upon the body of a man killed by a werewolf. Captain America’s pilot and part-time murderous werewolf John Jameson coincidentally happens to be missing, leading to Cap getting involved in the search for his friend. Through a series of wacky situations, Steve Rogers is eventually bitten by a werewolf, transforming the hero into the fearsome Cap-Wolf. It was ridiculous, and it remains one of the most mocked comic events of the ’90s. But Sam Wilson inserted into this legendarily silly plot made it an equal amount of ridiculous fun as the original.
When Wilson was transformed into a werewolf by the mad scientist Dr. Karl Malus in Captain America: Sam Wilson #3, fans collectively rolled their eyes at this throwback to Cap’s most ludicrous storyline. But over four issues, Wilson managed to make the werewolf transformation enjoyable, as he had to adjust to his new hairy form. Wilson grappled with his new wolfy ways, even managing to contract fleas, as his friends cracked Teen Wolf jokes, only to eventually revert back to his human form. This silly, lighthearted story managed to be one of the best parts of Sam Wilson’s run as Cap.
12. BEST: IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Captain America is nothing without a support system. Over his decades-spanning career as Cap, Steve Rogers built up a circle of trust composed of friends and confidants that he could turn to for assistance. While Steve had the likes of Sharon Carter and S.H.I.E.L.D. in his corner, Sam Wilson opted to go a little more grassroots with his confidants.
After burning his bridges with S.H.I.E.L.D. early into his tenure as Cap (more on that later), Wilson assembled a ragtag group of supporters to help him fight the good fight. With his close friend and former lover Misty Knight assuming the role of second in command, Wilson would round out his team with gentle giant Dennis Dunphy (better know as the formerly homeless and all around smelly vigilante Demolition Man) and immigrant teen Joaquin Torres (fittingly assuming the mantle of the new Falcon). This group was far from typical, which definitely suited this far-from-typical Captain America.
11. BEST: JUSTICE AT ANY COST
Sometimes, slapping on a pair of tights and punching a bad guy in the face just isn’t enough these days. Problems simply aren’t always black or white. After all, when Sam Wilson was confronted with a problem concerning government funded violence against poor black communities, Wilson had to get creative to stomp the problem out at the source.
After inner city vigilante Rage is arrested and accused of robbing a pawn shop, Wilson eventually discovers that Rage is not only innocent, but the government mandated Americops security force had resorted to excessive force when taking him in. When Wilson discovers that his network of birds had managed to capture footage of the Americops’ brutality against Rage, Captain America makes the difficult decision to leak the footage online to allow the public to see the Americops’ mistreatment of Rage firsthand. It was a controversial decision, but it just shows that Wilson isn’t afraid to get creative when fighting for justice.
10. BEST: WON’T YIELD TO S.H.I.E.L.D.
Sam Wilson wasted no time in burning bridges with the largest spy organization in the Marvel Universe, and he did it in the most public way possible. While Captain America has become practically synonymous with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, Wilson was not prepared to suffer S.H.I.E.L.D.’s spy shenanigans. In issue #1 of Captain America: Sam Wilson, a hacker leaked the shady dealings of S.H.I.E.L.D., leading to division among Marvel’s superhero community.
While many found ways to justify S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hush-hush projects, Wilson took a public stand against the organization, using a press conference to distance himself from S.H.I.E.L.D.. The move had the public label the new Cap as “Captain Anti-America,” but this very public spat established that Sam Wilson wasn’t in the market to compromise his principles.
9. BEST: BLOCKING OUT THE HATERS
Steve Rogers has become synonymous with the star spangled outfit of Captain America. While there have been others to don the winged mask, Steve Rogers is largely regarded as the best. Thus, when Rogers stepped aside from the Captain America mantle, many fans and characters weren’t happy to see the radically different Sam Wilson assume the role. In fact, they were outraged to see the outspoken, socially-minded Wilson become Cap, and, as this is the 21st century, it inevitably led to a social media campaign, with detractors of Wilson rallying around the hashtag #TakeBackTheShield.
Sometimes, art has a way of imitating life, as IRL fans turned up their noses at the new Falcon Cap. But Marvel didn’t bow to public pressure to reinstate Steve, and neither did Wilson. Despite vocal critics lambasting him at every turn, Wilson focused on what was important: protecting the world as Captain America.
8. BEST: AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
As Captain America, the eyes of the world are on your every move. Every action you take will be discussed and critically examined, be it positive or negative. While Steve Rogers wasn’t one to embroil himself in controversy over his actions of Captain America, Sam Wilson’s dedication to using the Captain America mantle to fight for all Americans earned the new Cap plenty of controversy.
During his brief run as Captain America, Wilson fought for Mexican immigrants by waging a very public war against hooded border-protecting racists, and he later clashed with the government-sponsored Americops in an effort to help those in primarily black inner city neighborhoods. Battles such as these had detractors labeling Wilson “Captain Anti-America,” but Wilson understood the mantle is bigger than middle class white America; no, for Wilson, Captain America is about fighting for truth, justice, and the American way for all Americans, regardless of the controversy.
7. WORST: NOT YOUR DADDY’S CAPTAIN AMERICA
Steve Rogers is the closest thing America has to a living, breathing apple pie. The man is like a bald eagle’s cry turned into a human being. Steve Rogers practically exudes Americana, with his “Aw, shucks” personality, his perennial “by the books” approach to life, and his love of truth, justice, and the American way. Sam Wilson, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.
While Captain America and The Falcon have fought side-by-side as partners since the ’70s, this doesn’t mean the duo have always seen eye to eye. Rogers prefers to trust in the government and the system; Wilson had a lifetime of distrust of the American dream, having grown up experiencing the institutionalized racism and roadblocks of being black. Despite being clad in the red, white, and blue, Wilson wasn’t always the biggest proponent for the American dream, making him quite different from the Captain America we knew and loved. For some — though definitely not all — that was a bad thing.
6. WORST: THROW OUT THE RULE BOOK
While Steve Rogers may be busy crushing civilization under his iron heel in Secret Empire, there was a time when Rogers was the closest thing the Marvel Universe had to a super powered boy scout. Rogers understood that Captain America came with a laundry list of requirements, including setting an example by always playing by the rules. Be it working with S.H.I.E.L.D. even when he didn’t agree with their tactics, or trusting in the judicial system to handle wrongdoers, Rogers made sure that he was working within the lines. Sam Wilson had a very different approach to the Captain America mantle.
Whether it was publicly distancing himself from S.H.I.E.L.D. or leaking footage related to an in-progress trial, Wilson ascribed to a “rules were meant to be broken” mentality in his role as Captain America. Wilson’s tactics often put him at odds with fellow superheroes, but Wilson firmly believed that the solution to many problems weren’t always cut and dry. Problem is, Wilson’s unconventional solutions didn’t always work out for the best, leading to further problems. Sometimes, it would be wise to remember that the rules are there for a reason.
5. WORST: RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
The vigilante known as Rage has been keeping his inner city neighborhood safe since 1990, and he’s even counted himself as a member of prestigious teams such as the Avengers and the New Warriors. But this experience meant nothing when Rage was savagely beaten by a group of Americops and accused of orchestrating the robbery of a pawn store. When Sam Wilson caught wind of Rage’s predicament, Wilson committed himself to helping his longtime friend. But, in the end, Captain America wasn’t able to beat the American judicial system.
After leaking footage of Rage’s mistreatment at the hands of the Americops, Wilson was informed by the hard-nosed judge presiding over the case that the footage was inadmissible. Compound this with Rage getting stuck with an overworked public servant, and Rage was eventually convicted. It only got worse for Rage, as the hero was beaten catatonic by his fellow inmates once he made it to prison. It’s wild conjecture if Steve Rogers could have helped Rage, but Wilson ultimately wasn’t able to save his friend.
4. WORST: YOU ARE WHO YOU SURROUND YOURSELF WITH
As the leader of the Avengers and one of the highest profile superheroes in the world, Captain America has a veritable army of supporters, friends, and allies. While Steve Rogers could count upon supporters such as S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, Sam Wilson had a much smaller support team to work with. And the team wasn’t exactly composed of the best and brightest the Marvel Universe had to offer.
With a team consisting of a perennial D-List vigilante whose biggest claim to fame is being friends with more popular superheroes, a superhero better known for his repugnant body odor rather than his accomplishments, and an untrained sidekick that is greener than a kale smoothie, Wilson didn’t exactly surround himself with a “who’s who” of the Marvel U. The team suited Wilson’s underdog approach to the Captain America mantle, but who knows what he could have accomplished with a better-equipped squad.
3. WORST: YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE
Captain America is supposed to serve as a beacon of liberty. No matter your color or creed, Captain America is supposed to be the face of America. Whether you’re a Coke fan or a Pepsi fan, or you prefer this sports team to that sports team, we are all supposed to agree on standing behind Captain America. While Steve Rogers certainly met this criteria, the same cannot be said of Sam Wilson.
After taking over the star spangled shield, Sam Wilson immediately found himself with plenty of critics. Vocal detractors took to protesting Wilson, calling for the long time hero to step down and give the mantle back to Rogers. While Wilson found himself with plenty of fans, his appointment as Captain America proved controversial because of his political views, and it proved to be a point of contention with the public. No matter your feelings on Wilson, we can all agree that his run as Captain America was mired in controversy and divisiveness, deserved or not.
2. WORST: AND YOU CAN’T TEACH THAT
Steve Rogers has been fighting the good fight as Captain America since debuting all the way back in 1941. Over his decades as the Star-Spangled Avenger, Rogers has learned the ins and outs of the shield, perfecting his skills as America’s premier super soldier. But these skills were honed over years and years of combat and enhanced by a special serum. Despite an illustrious career as The Falcon, Williams just didn’t have the same level of skill as Rogers, and it showed in his time as Captain America.
Despite fighting alongside Rogers for years, Williams was only able to pick up so much by proxy. He had to learn how to work Captain America’s legendary shield, and it was his lack of familiarity with the weapon that allowed Rogers to play Williams like a fiddle. Before going full-blown evil Hydra leader, Rogers put Williams in a position that required Sam to use his shield to save a senator. However, by manipulating the situation, Rogers was able to make Williams fail to save the senator with the shield, making Sam look weak and unqualified. At the end of the day, Sam could call himself Captain America, but he just didn’t have the level of skill people expect from a Cap.
1. WORST: WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
What really makes a hero great is how he acts when things look bleakest. It’s often said that Steve Rogers’ greatest attribute is his inability to give up. When confronted with insurmountable odds, Rogers would simply double down, rally the troops, and find a way. But when things got too tough for Sam Wilson, he didn’t find a solution or a workaround; no, he up and quit.
After Rage is betrayed by the justice system, Wilson finds himself fed up. In Captain America: Sam Wilson #21, Wilson calls a news conference to announce his retirement from the role of Captain America, effective immediately. The news sends shockwaves throughout the Marvel U, but Wilson has his mind made up. Thus. with a Steve Rogers-led Hydra right around the corner, Wilson hangs up the shield and bolts for a life out in the desert. And thus, Wilson’s brief run as Captain America ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
Do you miss Sam Wilson as Cap? We sure do! Let’s commiserate his loss of the shield together and celebrate his too-short career in the comments!
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