Chasing Amazing was barely a few months old when the first Captain America movie was released in 2011, but I inadvertently started a trend when I wrote this post about my personal relationship to Cap to coincide with the film’s opening day. In the years that have followed, I’ve developed posts designed to tie-in to Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Thor 2 and sorta/kinda The Avengers (that post was written days before I took a mini-hiatus from the site).
Today, for the first time in Chasing Amazing history, I’m tasked with coming full circle in that I’m doing another post about Captain America to coincide with the North American opening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As such, I’ve had to rack my brain a bit to develop content that felt uniquely connected to this film, which is an adaptation of one of my favorite non-Spider-Man stories as created by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. I couldn’t just recycle what I did in 2011, and to be honest, there wasn’t a Captain America/Spider-Man team-up from the pages of a Spider-Man comic that I felt absolutely compelled to write about. That’s when I stumbled about this two-part story from the Stan Lee/Gene Colan run on Captain America & Falcon (published in 1971), which featured a couple of interesting tidbits to wax poetic about. Oddly enough, the bulk of these tidbits examine Spider-Man’s relationship with the Falcon, rather than with the titular hero, Captain America.
The Lee/Colan run is not fondly remembered as a highlight for the Captain America series, but the duo did manage to create the Falcon, aka Sam Wilson, who was the first African American superhero featured in a mainstream comic. Wilson’s insertion into the world of Captain America comics allowed Lee and Colan to explore the pertinent issue of race, though in retrospect, a lot of what was published reads a bit forced and contrived today. But I do think Lee and Colan stumbled upon something when they juxtaposed Falcon’s newbie status with the long-reigning “public menace” Spider-Man in Captain America #137-138.
In this story, Falcon and Captain America had a spat over Cap’s pining for Sharon Carter, forcing Wilson to go out and prove himself to his partner. Falcon sees Spider-Man swinging across Harlem (which is Wilson’s turf), and thinking that he looks like he’s in a hurry, decides that the editorials in the Daily Bugle must be right and that the Web Slinger is a crook. Falcon stalks Spidey back to Peter’s apartment, and mistakenly abducts Harry Osborn, thinking he’s Spider-Man.
Spidey swings into action and defeats Falcon rather easily (though Lee and Colan were smart enough to at least have Spider-Man comment on Wilson’s strength rather than make one of their characters look like a total punk in his own series). But after leaving the scene, Falcon is beaten and abducted by some goons working for a rather laughable “That’s so 70s” villain named Stone-Face. Naturally, Spider-Man feels responsible for Falcon’s predicament and proceeds to rescue him. The arc concludes with Falcon, Cap and Spidey teaming-up and defeating Stone-Face and his awful taste in clothing.
On the surface, Captain America #137-138 is just your standard team-up story that uses a formula that would become commonplace once Marvel started publishing designated team-up books: the titular hero or heroes randomly bump into another Marvel character, there’s some distrust/discord, the heroes realize by dropping their issues and combining their forces, they can save the day (though Spidey is barely a participant in the final fight sequence in #138).
But looking more deeply into this story, I am fascinated by the Falcon/Spider-Man dynamic. This idea of Wilson needing to prove himself nearly two years after being introduced as Marvel’s first African America hero is both interesting and precarious. But I think the slippery slope is avoided by pitting him against Marvel’s most loveable loser in Spider-Man. From a storyline perspective, it just makes sense for Falcon to target Spider-Man in his quest for validation. At the time these two issues were published, Spider-Man was fresh off of being accused of murdering police Captain George Stacy, furthering damaging his reputation in the eyes of the public. Falcon, meanwhile, was dealing with the public seeing him as nothing more than just a lackey for the “real” hero, Captain America.
The end result is two characters that appear as outcasts in the world of superhero-dom. Spider-Man is hopelessly unable to turn the public’s perception of him in his favor, while Falcon is stuck in the shadow of a hero who is a larger than life icon. With these facts in mind, it seems inevitable that Spidey and Falcon would first meet under adversarial circumstances since neither had any reason to see the other as being a “true” hero. I wish we could have gotten a little more interaction between these two once all of their differences were resolved, but Lee and Colan were likely more concerned with focusing their story on Cap and Falcon.
Meanwhile, I don’t anticipate I’ll be able to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier this weekend, but I’m hopeful I will before the end of this month. I know it’s hard to judge a movie on its trailer (never stopped me before), but there’s just something about the visual and narrative tone of what I’ve seen that makes me think this is going to be one of the better Marvel Studios films. I’m especially interested to see how the Falcon is used (played by Anthony Mackie), as I think the character is a bit underrated in today’s world of comic book fandom. Considering a story that is as structurally mediocre as Captain America #137-138 was able to draw me in based primarily on the Falcon’s characterization, I’m hopeful that this film can capture that appeal in a way where he’s not just another random sidekick/cheerleader for the main hero.
All images from Captain America #137-138: Stan Lee, Gene Colan & William Everett. Cover by Sal Buscema