The second episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier dropped last week and besides the phenomenal action, adventure and thrills, the second episode introduced a character from Marvel Comics that not many people are familiar with.
Episode 2 of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier did a lot in its one hour run time including introduce the new Captain America John Walker along with his sidekick Battlestar. What it also did was reveal a dark chapter in the history of the Marvel universe. One that has deep roots in the darker parts of American history, especially its history with its citizens of color. That history is manifest in the introduction of Isaiah Bradley, a former super soldier who spent most of his life in prison being experimented on by the very government he volunteered to serve.
In the episode it is revealed that Bradley was made a super soldier and even faced off against Bucky when he was the Winter Soldier during the Korean War. What many fans don’t know is that the character of Isaiah Bradley and his tragic history as the first black Captain America is taken from the comics.
In 2003, writer Robert Morales and artist Kyle Baker introduced the character of Isaiah Bradley in a limited series for Marvel called Truth: Red, White and Black. In the wake of Steve Rogers disappearing into the ice, America decided that it was going to continue its super soldier program. With the original formula gone and its creator dead, they bring in Dr. Wilfred Nagel to continue the program. Instead of using volunteers, the government tests their serum on black soldiers without their knowledge causing many to either mutate or die in the process. Isaiah is one of the only soldiers to survive the process as the government executes the other soldiers and tells their families that they died in battle.
In the comics, Isaiah finds out about the German’s continuing their super soldier program and steals a spare Captain America uniform and prototype shield to stop them. After stopping the German scientist in charge of the project at a concentration camp, he is captured by the Nazis who want to reverse engineer the serum. After being liberated and returning to the states, Bradley is court-martialed and sent to Leavenworth for the next 30 years where the government continues to experiment on him before he is released by presidential pardon.
Isaiah Bradley’s tragic history in the Marvel universe is an indirect callback to the infamous Tuskegee experiments in Alabama in which hundreds of black men were told they were being treated for syphilis only to be lied to by the United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for over 40 years to test the effects of untreated syphilis in patients. The study resulted in hundreds of deaths even though penicillin had been developed and was being used to treat syphilis.
The writers and producers of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier are making a conscious decision to highlight not only the interpersonal conflict between these two characters, but to also showcase some of the bigger problems in the world that super powers cannot solve. Showcasing the tragic story of the first black Captain America Isaiah Bradley shows that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is looking to go beyond just superhero storytelling and touch on real world issues including how governments treat the people who lay down their lives to defend them.