To shake things up, notable comic book characters are sometimes taken out of commission and replaced. Most of the time, the original titleholder rallies and returns to their rightful place to remind readers why they were so appreciated to begin with. However, when Steve Rogers lost his youth and was forced to pass his shield on to a new Captain America, something different happened.
Sam Wilson, formerly known as Falcon, was the surprise pick over other fan favorite options such as Bucky or Nomad. We had our new Captain America and he was different in so many ways. Whether his stories were coming from Rick Remender and Stuart Immomen or Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuna, Sam Wilson’s time as Captain America has already been an amazing ride full of powerful moments. Here are the best 15, so far.
15. DENOUNCED S.H.I.E.L.D.
There are many, many differences between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson and how they approach a situation. As Captain America, Steve was often the boy scout who respected authority — within reason, of course. Sam, on the other hand, has always been more willing to share and act on his own opinions, where Steve would likely fall in line. As you could imagine, this caused some issues once Sam was approached by S.H.I.E.L.D.
After the international spy organization was exposed by the Marvel Universe’s own Eric Snowden-type hacker, a line was drawn in the sand and Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. were clearly on different sides of it. While the relationship was already strained, issue #1 of “Captain America: Sam Wilson” saw Sam officially distance himself and make headlines across the globe calling him “Captain Anti-America” and citing a drastic drop in approval ratings. This move even put him at odds with Steve Rogers himself. As the new Captain America, Sam had yet to win over the public in any way resembling how his predecessor did. His decision to take a stand against both Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D. surely didn’t help.
14. RHODEY’S EULOGY
Captain America is a black man. We repeat, the symbol for American justice in comic books is black. For Marvel, the decision to make that move was as commendable as they come. However, the one thing that’s even more respectable about the decision was that no one shies away from it. Many of Sam Wilson’s storylines as Captain America center on his identity as a black citizen in today’s United States, which is a place the shield has never gotten a chance to fully shine.
To take a full-on deep dive into this new territory, issue #10 of “Captain America: Sam Wilson” brought Marvel’s most recognizable black characters together in an A.M.E. church in Philadelphia for the funeral of James Rhodes for what was essentially a black superhero meeting. Everyone from Nick Fury to Storm to Brother Voodoo met in honor of their fallen companion and to hear Sam deliver a moving eulogy to thousands. In the words of Misty Knight, “Sam, you are a black man and you are Captain America. Nobody every notices history when it’s happening, but let me tell you — that is not a thing, that is the thing.”
13. TRI-CAP TEAM-UP
Everyone knew Steve Rogers wasn’t going to stay out of the game for too long. Even before the sentient Kobik (a Cosmic Cube in the shape of a little girl) restored his youth and strength in “Captain America: Sam Wilson #8,” readers saw it coming. However, what they didn’t know was what this meant for the future of the shield. Honestly, Sam and Bucky were wondering the same thing.
Before they could solve that complicated dilemma, the trio of former/current Caps had to tend to some urgent matters, such as fighting off a city full of angry former super villains. The best thing about being in Pleasant Hill was that Sam, Steve and Bucky had more than enough people to punch and throw around. The moment of truth came at the end of the fight when Mach VII, who had been fighting alongside them, fan-boyed out for Steve Rogers only to be corrected. Steve then proceeded to give his cherished shield back to Sam because “it didn’t come with any conditions, it wasn’t a loan.”
12. FIGHTING SIN
A superhero’s replacement isn’t really legit until they take on their predecessor’s foes. Unfortunately for Sam, most of Steve Rogers’ best villains weren’t around anymore. However, their own successors were, and were in line to take out America’s new shining star. At the front of that line was Sin, the daughter of the Red Skull. The meetings between Captain America and the Red Skull were often classics, and their spiritual reunion in “All-New Captain America” #3 was no exception.
Sin brought Sam to the brink after giving him a peek behind the curtain. She told him that his entire backstory was changed after he was actually a criminal whose memories were replaced by her father’s use of the cosmic cube. Then, in a true power move, she threatened to kill everyone he loved if he didn’t take off his wings and jump to his death to crush the spirits of his supporters and the legacy of Captain America forever. What Sin didn’t realize at the time was that making a hero who spends half of his time flying jump off of something tall wasn’t the best strategy.
In a lot of ways, the Marvel Universe reflects the real world. After all, art does imitate life, right? When the real political climate is in a state of flux, the same is likely to happen in comics, and “Captain America: Sam Wilson” has been used to perfectly explore that concept. In general, background characters don’t get enough respect with their importance to comics. Their tone and facial expressions can set the mood for an entire environment. In Sam Wilson’s stories, many of the background characters have been those who disagree with him being Captain America, whether it be for political reasons or because of thinly-veiled racism.
At the peak of public backlash, Sam became the punching bag for right-wing media pundits who demanded he give the shield back to Steve Rogers, even though he’d gotten Steve’s blessing; again, this was inspired from real Twitter, which hosted similar views. This led to U.S.Agent, among others, confronting Sam in front of hundreds of people and trying to #TakeBacktheShield by force.
10. FIGHTING AMERICOPS
Stories of black people being harassed, disproportionately arrested and sometimes killed by American police officers have become part of the regular news cycle over the past couple of years. While these instances affect all people, they have a much more significant impact on black communities. In another example of art imitating life, “Captain America: Sam Wilson” has taken on the challenge of tackling police brutality in a way that everyone could understand; and it was pretty genius.
Far-right politicians (who probably have ties to Hydra) worked nonstop to legalize the use of a group of deputized mercenaries called the Americops. The Americops were initially depicted as a way to help fight crime, but it quickly became clear that they mostly just hung around black communities using excessive force whenever they saw fit. After debating how he should get involved, Sam finally stepped in. Things quickly escalated and he found himself in a lose-lose situation. Would he let the cops beat him and cause the people to riot or fight back and be depicted as a criminal? The commentary on police brutality was both refreshing and relevant.
9. FIGHTING THE SONS OF THE SERPENT
As Captain America, Sam Wilson isn’t able to stick to protecting people in New York or wherever he decided to bunker down. Despite his name, he doesn’t even have to reserve his protection to people within the U.S. borders. This was made clear from the very first issue of “Captain America: Sam Wilson” when he set up a hotline for any injustices he could put to an end. After getting a bunch of calls that should have never been made, he got his first case.
A group known as Sons of the Serpent took it upon themselves to wear hoods — yes, seriously — and patrol the Mexican border for immigrants. There was even a reference or two to “the mighty wall” that was going to be built and all of the normal, cliched complaints you normally hear about immigration in 2017. Sam hit the scene, was called “Captain Socialism” and came to defend the unarmed travelers until an unexpected interruption happened in the form of his old friend, Steve Rogers. This event was so seismic, it even made headline news across multiple networks.
8. RETURN OF CAP-WOLF
With characters that have been around for more than 75 years, you’re bound to get some insanely entertaining storylines. A prime example of this was when Steve Rogers got turned into a werewolf — commonly known as Cap-Wolf — in the 1990s. He had the appearance of a werewolf, but kept his mind in tact because… reasons? The story arc was pretty brief and Steve was later returned to his human form, with readers likely assuming they’d never see Cap-Wolf again. Thankfully, they were wrong.
Only nine issues into his time as Captain America, Sam got turned into a werewolf by Dr. Karl Malus in a cruel joke and nod to the past. If it wasn’t clear how high everyone in the Marvel Universe’s tolerance for insanity is, watching them not give a second thought to Sam being transformed into a werewolf tells you enough. The best part is that Sam had to walk around like this for a whole four issues before he was turned back into a human. That means readers got four whole issues of jokes about fleas and dog groomers.
7. LEAKING FOOTAGE
Rage was a teenager who got too close to some chemicals and was transformed into an 8-foot-tall behemoth of a man, despite his young internal age. Over time, he’s earned his namesake and walked a fine line between hero and vigilante. However, he’s always been there to fight for his community. When the Americops were walking the streets and slamming people against the sidewalk, Rage was there to fight for them. Unfortunately, doing this shot him straight to the top of the Americops list. After stopping a robbery at a local pawn shop, Rage was confronted by a group of Americops who proceeded to beat him bloody and arrest him after.
Sam investigated the incident in “Captain America: Sam Wilson” by using his network of birds to playback footage of the Americops’ brutal assault of Rage. He took it to local government officials, asking that they intervene, but they claimed their hands were tied. Sam was then stuck with a question many people have been forced to confront when it comes to police brutality. Was it the right thing to do to release the footage to the public? What do you think?
6. VS. THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
After releasing the footage of his police assault, Sam showed up to support Rage at the local jail, a lot like how Steve Rogers used to do for him, and tried to bail him out. However, Rage wouldn’t accept his help so that he could serve as an example of just how crooked the justice system can be. Everything that could’ve gone wrong did. The judge who presided over the trial had a reputation for being “hard on crime;” on top of that, Rage was stuck with an overworked public defender and the footage Sam got of the assault was deemed inadmissible.
The mostly-white jury only deliberated for 10 minutes before coming to their conclusion. The ruling was never said out loud in issue #19 of “Captain America: Sam Wilson,” but the speculation (which remains at the time of this list’s writing) runs rampant. Captain America has always tried to stand for what’s right and just. However, a lot of Sam Wilson’s stories depict how the system meant to help him isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
5. TEAM-UP WITH NOMAD
When you’re in doubt, you should ultimately convince yourself that you’re more than capable of achieving the task at hand. Of course, we’d be lying if we said getting a push from friends doesn’t help from time-to-time. That’s one of the purposes Nomad helped fill in for a newly-minted Sam Wilson in his very first issue as Captain America in “All-New Captain America” #1.
Sam was kicking butt and taking names during a Hydra base infiltration until the awkward moment arose where he completely missed three bad guys while throwing his shield. Fortunately for him, Nomad, Steve Rogers’ adoptive son, was working undercover and helped him pick up a spare. Sure, Nomad made some jokes about how he should’ve been the next Captain America, but he knew Sam was qualified. Nomad was later captured by Baron Zemo and left to die, which inadvertently helped push Sam even further into owning his new role and saving the world. Luckily, a little comic book magic brought him back from the dead to take on Zemo, only to maybe die again.
4. MISTY KNIGHT
Yeah, Misty Knight’s relationship with Iron Fist is cool and has some pretty great moments, but have you seen the chemistry she has with Sam?? At this point in the series, it’s pretty safe to say that Sam Wilson wouldn’t be where he is, maybe even alive, if not for Misty Knight’s support. They first reconnected in “All-New Captain America” #2, when she saved his life in the first of what feels like a dozen times so far. Eventually, their relationship grew as Sam didn’t have too many people to lean on besides her. Whenever Sam needs some tough love — emphasis on tough — Misty’s right there ready to hit him with an axe kick to keep him focused, and then spend the night with him to distract him. She even knows when to step in and send him away from the world to decompress. Sam and Misty forever!
3. A NEW FALCON
The main reason Sam was in Arizona and fought the Sons of the Serpent in the first place was because he was looking for a kid named Joaquín Torres, who had gone missing. When he found him, he had his DNA merged with Redwing to give him the wings and eyes of a falcon. It was only fitting that he take on the mantle and become Sam’s sidekick.
The introduction of Joaquín meant a lot of things. For starters, it meant that Sam couldn’t go back to being Falcon anymore because the position was filled (sure, there could be two Falcons if there are two Caps, but does anyone really want that?). Secondly, it put him into a position of leadership now that he had his own protege to look after instead of always looking to Steve Rogers for advice. Lastly, it helped add even more diversity to a title that already heavily featured it. In only a few issues, Joaquín has proven himself to be a natural at his new job and helps keep Sam balanced when his veteran sensibilities sometimes make him too cautious and reserved.
2. PROTECTING THOR
Marvel sent shockwaves through the comic book community when they released the cover for “All-New, All-Different Avengers” #4. A black Captain America and a female Thor already had a portion of the Internet fuming and confused, but #4 had an image of them kissing in midair like a scene ripped out of a teenage fanfic.
In the issue itself, the kiss actually happened. Thor just did it because she felt like it and had learned to live every moment as if it were her last. In issue #5, Thor and Sam get sent to a different timeline during a battle but were separated from Mjolnr, Thor’s mighty hammer. That’s when Sam realized that the teammate he’d developed a crush on was actually Jane Foster, who was suffering from cancer.
The relationship between the two soon changed as Jane was mostly vulnerable and Sam was the only defense they had against Kang the Conqueror’s army of Equinoxes. After the battle was over, Jane and Sam met out of costume talked about her motivations to be Thor, even though it completely undoes any progress she made with her cancer diagnosis.
1. BECOMING A VIBRANIUM ROADBLOCK
Sam had shown that his mind and spirit could live up the pressure of being Captain America. But what about his body? To be fair, he was trying to fill the shoes of someone who was genetically engineered to be at the peak of human physicality. This question was put to the test when he came face-to-face with Antonio Rodriguez, also known as Aramdillo. Rodriguez was permanently bonded to a super suit that allowed him to roll into a ball and shoot himself in any direction, making him a rolling ball of destruction.
The fight continued as Sam tried talking some sense into him. Before getting through, he had to take a number of direct hits from a villain whose strength far outmatched his own. This included sticking one of his vibranium wings into the ground and making his body a roadblock against however many tons of force. But which do you think was the true showing of strength?
What have been your favorite moments from Sam’s time as Cap? Let us know in the comments!
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