The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Explained: The Secret History of Isaiah Bradley

Dept. of Sacrifices and Sins

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

We feel you Cap. This is pretty much how we reacted while watching the latest episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

In this second episode, “The Star Spangled Man,” upon their discovery that The Flag Smashers are made up of previously unknown super soldiers, Bucky lets Sam in on a secret that he’s kept even from Steve Rogers. It seems that America had other, secret, super soldiers that it used during the Korean War. Bucky takes Sam to meet Isaiah Bradley, the “Black” Captain America, an aging and broken soldier who was misused by the military, imprisoned for serving his country, and then promptly forgotten and left to die.


If there is one overarching theme here, it is how the question of America’s original sin continues to plague every aspect of their public and private lives. We see it in the way they’ve treated Isaiah Bradley. We see it in John Walker’s sense of entitlement over the mantle of Captain America. We see it in the brief interaction between Sam and Bucky when they are stopped by the police. There is a difference between White and Black. There is a disconnect, even if you’re a superhero.

Who Is Isaiah Bradley?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

You wouldn’t know it, but the “first” Captain America was Black and his story is a sordid one indeed. First appearing in 2003 in Robert Morales and Kyle Baker’s seven issue limited series, Truth: Red, White, and Black, Isaiah Bradley was one of 300 African Americans who were experimented on by the U.S. government during World War II in their attempt at creating super soldiers.

Bradley, who was the only survivor of those traumatic early experiments, took on the mantle of Captain America and travelled to Europe to fight Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He served his country, but because he “stole” the Captain America uniform, he was arrested, court-martialed, and imprisoned upon his return to the United States.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Although he was sentenced to life in prison, he was pardoned after 17 years by President Eisenhower, and sworn to secrecy.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Isaiah’s end in the comics is far more tragic than what’s been depicted so far in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. During his 17 years in prison he was denied the medical treatment required for the side effects of the Super Soldier serum, leaving him with the mental capacity of a child when he was eventually pardoned.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

While his legacy and sacrifices remained a secret to the world, Isaiah nevertheless became a legend and a hero to the African American community.


What Was the Comic About?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Drawing inspiration from some of America’s most unforgivable transgressions against the African American community (The Tuskegee Experiments, The Secret World War II Chemical Experiments), Truth: Red, White, and Black tells the story of three Black men – Lucas Evan, Maurice Canfield, and Isaiah Bradley – who get drafted and end up at Camp Cathcart, a military training camp made up mostly of Black soldiers. 300 of them are taken from the camp to a secret facility, where Professor Reinstein experiments on them with an early, unstable version of the Super Soldier serum.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Of the original 300, only seven survive. And following a series of failed missions, only Isaiah is finally left standing. It is through these hideous experiments that Professor Reinstein perfects the formula that eventually leads to the creation of Steve Rogers’ Captain America.

Truth: Red, White, and Black was an incredibly controversial comic. Robert Morales pulled no punches in depicting the reality of American Exceptionalism and its true cost on all those deemed unworthy.

Truth: Red, White, and Black is a bold reinterpretation of the history, and legacy, of Captain America. It paints a gruesome picture of just how little separates the Americans and the Nazis, with both sides being driven by class and control, using and abusing the “less desirable” ethnic groups for the benefit of the white and wealthy. It is a story that is brutal as it is tragic, and one that’s made worse by how true it still rings.

How Is Isaiah Different in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Isaiah Bradley as portrayed by Carl Lumbly in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

We don’t know just how much comic book lore they’re going to dive into in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but the introduction of Isaiah Bradley seems to provide some indication of just how far down the #KillmongerWasRight rabbit hole they’re willing to go.

You know what they did to me for being a hero? They put my ass in jail for 30 years. People running tests, taking my blood, coming into my cell.

From what has been revealed so far in this series, Isaiah seems to have served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. While there, he fought the Winter Soldier and took off half his metal arm. It is also very clear that despite being a lot older, Isaiah still possesses much of his physical strength.


The conversation that Isaiah has with Bucky and Sam also gets to the heart of Sam’s inner conflict with regards to becoming Captain America. How do you continue to give and give for a country that gives you nothing in return? Sure, there was once a Black Captain America, but look at how the system destroyed him. Here was a man with all of the same qualities as Steve Rogers. Honor. Loyalty. Nobility. Patriotism. The only difference being the color of his skin. In many ways, this mirror to America’s plight couldn’t come at a better time.

Was Isaiah Bradley a Super Soldier before Steve Rogers? Will Disney dare go down this dark path with regards to the history and legacy of Captain America in the MCU? Imagine if the very foundations of the Avengers were built off the back of a Black man whom America used and then discarded. Now that would really be something.

Hey, It’s Black Falcon!

While Sam and Bucky are walking to Isaiah’s house in the suburbs, they come across a Black kid who recognizes Sam and says, “Hey, it’s Black Falcon. What’s Up?” Sam corrects him by saying, “It’s just Falcon, kid.” The moment is played for laughs but is reflective of a far deeper failing.

The vocabulary of otherness has been so ingrained into our discourse that even a Black kid, from a Black neighborhood, doesn’t believe that Sam completely owns the moniker of Falcon. The idea of the superhero has been coded as White for so long, that the word “Black” as a modifier still feels like something necessary. It’s a subtle but incredibly subversive moment in the episode.

In the final issue of Truth: Red, White, and Black, Captain America looks upon Isaiah Bradley’s wall of memories.

You can find our explainer for Episode 1 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier here.

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