What if you lived in the shadow of somebody else? What if that somebody else was Steve Rogers, and you thought you could never live up to his legacy, even if he’d entrusted you with his shield and the title of Captain America? This is the central premise of Generations: Captain America #1, the final issue in the series of one-shots that leads to Legacy. It also provides a grace note to Secret Empire, and both of Spencer’s Captain America titles.
Despite his role in defeating Hydra Cap, Sam doesn’t feel worthy of the mantle of Captain America. Even after having run a literal Underground Railroad that helped mutants, Inhumans and other refugees escape to Canada after the Hydra take-over, he doesn’t feel like much of a hero. His friend and mentor casts that much of a shadow.
Generations: The Americas #1 follows the same formula as the other issues in the series, but writer Nick Spencer takes the conceit to another level. Sam doesn’t spent a few hours or a few days in an alternate reality to learn a valuable life lesson: He takes an entire lifetime.
The issue is a long flashback that begins with Sam being interrogated regarding what he remembers about the Vanishing Point. In his mind, he is whisked away at the end of the Battle of Washington, Sam finds himself in Harlem just after America entered the Second World War. He is taken in by Elvin Monroe, who gives him clothes and a place to sleep, and gets him a job washing dishes in a restaurant. He also takes the name Paul Jeffries, his father’s first name and his mother’s maiden name.
As he watches history unfold before his eyes, Sam can’t help but enlist. Seeing newsreel footage of Hitler only strengthens his resolve. Although he’s aware of the perils of altering the timeline by remaining a bystander, he sees others joining the war effort, and he wants to do his part.
Life in the army isn’t quite what Sam expected. Training comes easy to the hero, but the segregated barracks, and the poor living conditions afforded to servicemen of color, don’t sit well with him.
As he prepares to go into battle, Sam not only sees hope in the figure of Steve Rogers leading the charge on the ground, he also provides air support for his once-and-future partner in the heat of battle.
A gorgeous splash-page shows Sam as the Falcon in camouflage, flying in front of a squadron of fighters piloted by African-Americans. No doubt inspired by the 99th Pursuit Squadron, an all-Black Air Force unit that was part of the Tuskegee Airmen (so called because they trained at a Blacks-only facility in Tuskegee, Alabama). Spencer makes a powerful statement by showing Sam leading the charge. During the war itself, flight crews in the 99th received far less combat training than their white counterparts, spending only a week in the company of pilots who had seen actual combat.
After the air fight, Sam descends to the battlefield where he meets Steve for the "first" time, but the man he meets isn’t the stalwart super soldier he expected. This Steve is in the first weeks of his tenure as Captain America. He is shaken by combat and has a severe case of impostor syndrome. He confides in Sam that he doesn’t think he can live up to the hype that the government has created around the Captain America persona.
Sam -- or rather Paul -- initiates the friendship by giving Cap the pep talk he needs. Having knowledge of the future, Sam tells Steve that he’s going to inspire generations to come. He also offers a piece of advice: that Steve ask for a round shield he can throw. But Sam also asks for a favor. He wants the existence of the “Man in the Air” to remain a rumor. “Let’s be real here,” he tells Rogers. “If the military’s top guys got real confirmation of these wings, they’d be tempted to put them on a soldier who a looks a little more like… you.”
Thus, over the course of the War, Sam continues to support his friend in combat, and watches him grow into the icon that is Captain America. Yet the Falcon remains anonymous