'Falcon and Winter Soldier' episode 3: Just who are these guys, anyway?

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

April 8, 2021 — Welcome to Who Are These Guys, Falcon and Winter Soldier edition!

The third episode, “Power Broker,” introduced some people and concepts that are a little farther off the beaten path than usual. Leave us get to it, then:

 

SAM WILSON

I didn’t want to jump in without revisiting our main characters, whose comic book background may surprise some folks.

For one thing, Falcon wasn’t called Falcon when he was introduced in 1969 because he could fly — because he couldn’t fly, at least at first. The only avian thing about him was that he had a telepathic connection to his pet hawk, Redwing. After Rogers and Wilson had been partners for a while, that was extended to all birds, and Falcon got his flying rig from the Black Panther to live up to his namesake. (T’Challa and Steve Rogers are big buds in the comics, just like the movies.)

And yes, Sam has served as Captain America, when Rogers was incapacitated (2014-2017). He even took on a partner of his own named Falcon.

 

JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES

Bucky had a typical early-days-of-comics origin in 1941 — which is to say “terrible.” Bucky was the orphan mascot at U.S. Army Camp Lehigh, Virginia, where Steve Rogers was masquerading as an ordinary soldier while operating secretly as Captain America. Barnes discovered Rogers’ masquerade in the very first story in Captain America Comics #1, and demanded to become his partner. Rogers agreed, because taking untrained teenage orphans on dangerous missions is a terrific plan.

No, wait, it’s not. It’s really not. The reason for Bucky’s existence is that teen sidekicks were very popular at the time. (See: Robin, introduced in 1940 and practically doubling sales of Batman comics overnight.)

In the modern era Bucky’s origin has been revamped, so it’s significantly less child-endanger-y. In the new, secret origin, it’s revealed he was of age when he became Bucky, and extremely well trained — by British commandos, no less. He didn’t get the job by luck, but was assigned to Rogers by the U.S. government, which wanted someone to do the dirty jobs they didn’t want Cap to be seen doing. That is to say, Bucky would slip in the back of some Nazi base to slit throats and set bombs, while Cap would charge in dramatically from the front, with a newsreel camera on him.

That actually makes some sense. Lemons, meet lemonade.

When Marvel editor Stan Lee decided it was time to revive the Star-Spangled Avenger in 1964, he invented the backstory of Rogers being frozen in a block of ice since 1945. Bucky, it was explained, was killed in the same explosion that sent Rogers into the cooler. (Lee famously hated sidekicks.) Rogers agonized over that for decades, until writer Ed Brubaker dreamed up the Winter Soldier saga.

Bucky also served as Captain America for a time, when the Living Legend of World War II was believed dead (2008-2010).

 

ZEMO

Hey, remember that explosion I told you about a couple of paragraphs ago? That was caused by Baron Heinrich Zemo, a Nazi scientist who really hated Captain America a lot. That’s because when Zemo invented the insoluble Adhesive X, Cap and Bucky destroyed his lab, accidentally gluing Zemo’s purple mask to his face permanently.

When Cap was thawed in 1964, Zemo was still alive, living in the jungles of South America, still in his purple mask. When news reached the Amazon basin that the Sentinel of Liberty had returned, Zemo immediately set about creating the Masters of Evil to finally kill his arch-foe. Unfortunately for Zemo, he died instead.

Enter Heinrich’s son Helmut, the 13th Baron Zemo. (Helmut Zemo is the name of the movie character, who is Sokovian, not German.) Helmut has attempted to finish his father’s job in a variety of ways, including creating a phony superhero team named the Thunderbolts that was really a new Masters of Evil in disguise.

Remember that name: Thunderbolts. I suspect you will hear it again.

 

SHARON CARTER

When Lee revived Captain America in the 1960s, one of the tragic aspects of the character was all the friends he had lost — including his romantic interest, a woman named Peggy Carter. Retroactively inserted into Cap’s wartime history, she operated with the French resistance. (He liked to call her “mademoiselle,” even though she was clearly American.)

Peggy’s fate was unknown in the 1960s, but wouldn’t you know it, Cap spots a girl in New York in 1966 who looks just like her! It turns out that this girl is Sharon Carter, Peggy’s niece, who is the extremely competent Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D. That made the two a natural couple, which they have been — off and on — ever since. The only concession the comics have made to the passage of time is that Sharon is now Peggy’s grand-niece. Or maybe great-grand-niece. It’s hard to keep track.

I really hope Sharon Carter isn’t the Power Broker, because I really like Emily VanCamp. Besides, Sharon’s gotten a pretty raw deal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and deserves better.  (Courtesy Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.)

 

MADRIPOOR

No, it’s not a real place. But it is a famous place in Marvel Comics. The comics version is just like the TV version, a small island nation in Southeast Asia that is almost lawless, with severe social and financial inequality.

Madripoor appears mostly in X-Men comics, with Wolverine operating there from time to time disguised as a criminal named Patch. (Cleverly, he wears an eyepatch as a disguise.) This has X-fans greatly agitated, but I think it’s more of an Easter egg than a back-door introduction of the X-Men.

 

ISAIAH BRADLEY

In 2003, it was revealed that the U.S. government had tried to re-create the Super-Soldier Serum after the death of Prof. Erskine. Shockingly, 300 black men were forcibly made subjects, with most dying in horrible ways. (If this sounds like an echo of the Tuskegee syphilis study, that’s not by accident.)

Only five survived, and currently Bradley is the last one still living. He had stolen a Captain America uniform to fight in Europe in 1943, but was caught and imprisoned for 17 years. He was pardoned in the early 1960s, but by then side effects of the faulty serum had begun to cause brain damage.

He has a grandson named Eli, seen briefly in Falcon and Winter Soldier. In the comics, Eli becomes the Captain America avatar in the Young Avengers, code-named Patriot. I expect that will happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sooner rather than later, as other Young Avengers are being established, such as Stature (Ant-Man’s daughter), Wiccan and Speed (Scarlet Witch’s children) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton’s protégé in the upcoming series).

Interestingly, the wartime scientist in charge of re-creating the Super-Soldier Serum was named Wilfred Nagel. That name was used for the modern-day scientist re-creating the Super-Soldier Serum in “Falcon and Winter Soldier.” Because when you’ve got 80 years of existing character names to choose from, why make up a new one?

 

KARLI MORGENTHAU

In the comics, the first Flag-Smasher was a man, Karl Morgenthau. He was an ardent globalist who wanted to erase the concepts of countries and nationalism, which he saw as the source of all conflict. He tried to achieve this by blowing things up and speechifying on TV.

They’ve gender-swapped Morgenthau on TV, obviously, and given her Power Broker’s Super-Soldier Serum. And Karli’s goals are a little different than Karl’s, wanting to bring down the corrupt Global Repatriation Council.

Morgenthau is long dead in the comics, with Marvel currently on its third Flag-Smasher.

Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) plays a much more sympathetic and plausible terrorist on TV than her male comics counterpart, whose goals weren’t realistic. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.)

POWER BROKER

Initially, Power Broker was an organization headed by Curtiss Jackson, who employed a scientist named Karl Malus to re-invent the Super-Soldier Serum. Malus came up with a flawed version with a couple of side effects, but it was good enough for Jackson to create a number of wrestlers with super-strength for his Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation. Because, yeah, that’s the best use of a strength-augmented army.

Jackson is dead in the comics, and there’s a new Power Broker in town. Whether the comics and TV will dovetail on this new identity is something we’ll have to wait and see.

Lordie, I hope it’s not Sharon.

 

JOHN WALKER, LEMAR HOSKINS

Both Walker and Hoskins were recipients of the Power Broker treatment in comics, so it’s probably no coincidence that they’re in search of Power Broker on TV. Walker initially debuted as the Super-Patriot, a sort of Captain Zealot. Later he served as Captain America proper, and then later returned as U.S. Agent. He is not generally liked in the superhero community, as he is a jerk.

Hoskins debuted as a member of the Bold Urban Commandos, a strength-enhanced vigilante crew who went by BUCs — with Hoskins taking the nom du combat “Bucky.” When informed that “buck” is considered a racial slur for black men, writer Mark Gruenwald changed the name to Battlestar.

Thank God.

If you don’t like John Walker (right), that means Wyatt Russell is doing a good job channeling the character’s smug arrogance. And just like in the comics, Lemar “Battlestar” Hoskins (Clé Bennett, left) is clearly the smarter of the two. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.)

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).

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In the comics, Sharon Carter was Peggy's sister, as revealed in Captain America & the Falcon issue 162 which I purchased when it was new on the racks in 1973.  Of course, back then it was stretching things too much for a character who was perhaps about 30 years old to have a sister in who was about 20 years older (one of my stepsisters has two children -- one born when she was 16, the second when she was 40; her 1st child is now 30 years old but only about 3 foot tall and mentally disabled).  But as the decades went on and Marvel wanted to keep Sharon still relatively young, claiming that she was the younger sister of a World War II veteran became a much harder sell, and as it would have been rather icky to have Peggy have been Sharon's mother or grandmother (great-grandmother now?), she became a more distant relative.  There there were Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, & Nick Fury, among others, all World War II veterans when they were introduced.  Nick gets miraculous fantasy medication to keep him young.  I think by now, Reed & Ben are veterans of more recent wars, but I haven't been keeping track.

I forgot about Sharon being Peggy's sister, Fred -- I knew Sharon's relationship to Peggy had changed over time, but I bollixed the particulars. Thanks for correcting the record.

Sharon first appeared in Tales of Suspense #75 in 1966, so it was entirely plausible for her to be Peggy's sister. I have a brother -- technically a half-brother -- who is 20 years younger than me. As you note, it was entirely plausible in the early 1960s for World War II vets (like my father) to be in their prime.

Today, I think specific wars aren't mentioned any more, to preserve the sliding time scale. I can remember seeing laughable references like "he served in the last war" or "in the most recent war" and such, which isn't how people talk. Unless they're referencing "the recent unpleasantness."

Sharon's first appearance! But that's Pepper on the cover, not Sharon. Sharon made the cover on the following issue.

Since she was drawn by John Romita Sr., you can forgive Steve for being immediately smitten. What's surprising is that Batroc didn't try to pick her up! He is French, after all.

Oh, one more war-related thing I just thought of. For several episodes of the current season of Riverdale, references to Archie's military service never specified what war he was in. But in the last one I saw they said he served in Kazakhstan, which to my knowledge is not a place we've ever fought in! Could Riverdale take place on a parallel Earth? Or in the future, predicting a war we're not engaged in yet? Jeepers!

Looking at the cover of TOS #76, you'd never expect the girl-next-door on the cover to kill Batroc in cold blood.

Kazakhstan seems like a former Soviet country that has escaped negative influences, and has actually helped the U.S. and NATO:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazakhstan#Military

Many of the "stans" are mysteries to most Americans, but most of them hated being part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and really hate Russians. They're largely Muslim and aren't considered white by the Russians (they're Turks, Arabs, etc.), and despise the yoke they used to live under. If we were smart, we'd be open to them, and to diversity in general.

But then again, we're us, so that won't happen.

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