The Avengers are some of the most iconic and beloved superheroes in pop culture. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown over the past decade, the team has become increasingly diverse, with heroes from all walks of life joining forces to protect the world. This has allowed fans from all backgrounds to see themselves represented on screen in a genre that has long been dominated by white male characters.
One milestone in the franchise was introducing its first major black superhero: Black Panther. His arrival on the scene in Captain America: Civil War marked a major step forward for representation and diversity in the MCU. However, despite his cultural significance, Black Panther was not actually the first black Avenger in Marvel Comics history. That title belongs to a less well-known but still groundbreaking character: the Falcon.
Introducing the Falcon
The Falcon, also known as Sam Wilson, made his first appearance in Captain America #117 in September 1969. The comic, created by writer Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan, introduced Sam as a Harlem-based hero with a telepathic link to his bird Redwing. He quickly struck up a partnership with Captain America and became one of the star-spangled hero’s closest allies.
Only a few years after breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, the Falcon represented a pioneering step forward for black superheroes. While black characters had appeared in comics before him, Sam Wilson was the first one to play a major, starring role alongside a popular headlining hero like Captain America. And as one of the earliest superheroes of color to appear in mainstream comics, the Falcon would pave the way for many more prominent black heroes to follow.
Becoming an Avenger
Despite regularly fighting alongside Captain America in the comics, the Falcon was not initially made an official member of the Avengers when the team was created in 1963. At that time, the Avengers’ ranks consisted almost entirely of white heroes like Iron Man, Thor, and Ant-Man.
It would take until over a decade later for the Falcon to receive the honor of joining the Earth’s mightiest heroes. He became a provisional member in Avengers #183 in May 1979. The issue, written by David Michelinie and drawn by John Byrne, had Captain America personally sponsor the Falcon’s admission to the team.
After further distinguishing himself in battles against villains like the Ymir and Red Skull, Sam Wilson became a full-fledged Avenger in Avengers #184. This made him the very first black superhero to join the ranks of the Avengers in the team’s publication history. He beat out other groundbreaking black superheroes like Black Panther and Luke Cage to the milestone.
The Falcon’s Continued Importance
Becoming an Avenger cemented the Falcon’s significance as a trailblazer for Marvel Comics. During his time with the team, he formed friendships and relationships with many prominent heroes while regularly displaying his skills as a capable fighter, tactician, and leader. He notably struck up a particularly close friendship and partnership withHawkeye. Together, the two heroes strengthened the Avengers’ spirit of camaraderie and teamwork.
Sam Wilson has continued to be an important presence in the Marvel universe over the ensuing decades. He temporarily took over as Captain America after Steve Rogers was drained of the super-soldier serum, proving just how far his status had risen since his humble beginnings. The Falcon also became one of the most prominent black heroes of the modern Avengers eras.
When the MCU adapted the Avengers for the big screen, Sam was included as one of the earliest supporting characters. He was introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, once again as Steve Rogers’ close friend and ally. Their positive relationship presented a refreshing, modern dynamic between a black and white superhero on screen.
The Falcon has now inherited Captain America’s shield and role going forward in the films, as Anthony Mackie will star in the upcoming Captain America: New World Order. Sam stepping up as the new Cap is a natural evolution from his history-making comics tenure. It demonstrates how the Falcon shattered racial barriers and paved the way for black heroes like Black Panther to become symbols of equality and representation within the Avengers franchise.
Why Representation Matters
Part of what makes the Falcon’s breakthrough role so significant is how little black representation existed in the 1960s comic book industry. Marvel’s watershed introduction of a black superhero reflected the broader civil rights movement and gradual increase in diversity during that era. The Falcon provided readers of color with an exciting, positively portrayed hero that they could identify and relate to like never before.
In general, seeing greater representation and inclusion in entertainment media is important for several reasons:
It Promotes Empowerment and Self-Esteem
People of all races and genders naturally want to see themselves reflected in the stories and characters they love. Having more diverse heroes to look up to promotes greater empowerment and self-esteem, particularly for marginalized groups like people of color. The Falcon demonstrated that black characters could be just as heroic, honorable, and emotionally resonant as white ones.
It Allows More Perspectives to Be Shared
Homogenous media limits the range of perspectives represented in entertainment and culture. Introducing more diverse characters opens the door for more voices, experiences and ideas to be incorporated into storytelling. The fresh outlooks the Falcon and other heroes of color brought to the Avengers offered new dimensions and representation for readers.
It Fosters Understanding and Tolerance
Seeing diversity reflected on screen can help promote more open-mindedness, understanding, and social cohesion between different groups in real life. Psychoanalytic theory suggests that identifying with fictional characters allows us to imagine ourselves in the place of people different from ourselves. So black heroes like the Falcon can subconsciously influence white audiences to empathize and connect with perspectives outside their own experience.
It Inspires the Next Generation
Increased representation lays the groundwork for the future by inspiring underrepresented youth. Having heroes like themselves to look up to helps instill in children of color the realization that they too can dream big and achieve greatness someday. The Falcon’s pioneering role paved the way for young black comic readers to feel a sense of validation and recognition.
It Opens Up Commercial Opportunities
While certainly not the most important consideration, embracing diversity also makes business sense. Having a broader range of heroes that readers from multiple demographics can relate to helps attract a larger potential audience. The commercial success of the diverse, inclusive MCU demonstrates the wide appeal of representation.
How the Falcon Broke Barriers
As the first African-American superhero to reach the upper echelons of Marvel Comics, the Falcon shattered a number of racial barriers during his groundbreaking history:
– He was the first black Marvel hero to be added to the roster of the flagship Avengers team. As one of the most prestigious groups in comics, the Avengers represent an elite status symbol. So for the Falcon to reach those heights demonstrated shifting attitudes about racial inclusion in superhero mythology.
– He was the first black hero to be paired with an iconic white headliner as their primary sidekick/partner. By having a steady presence alongside the popular Captain America, the Falcon proved that black characters could move beyond stereotypical peripheral or background roles and fight at the forefront.
– He helped pave the way for black representation both in comics and in the lucrative superhero movie genre. Modern barriers shattered by the MCU, like Black Panther headlining a megahit film, arguably would not have been possible without the Falcon’s pioneering influence years earlier.
– He presented an everyday hero that readers could relate to, regardless of race. The Falcon did not have wealth like Black Panther or super strength like Luke Cage. His grounded personality and human weaknesses made him a universally appealing, inspirational hero.
By rising to prominence as an aspirational Avenger, the Falcon established that black characters could be defined by their heroism, values, and abilities instead of racial stereotypes. His legacy continues to resonate, as characters of color now make up an increasingly substantial and important part of the superhero landscape.
Top Moments from the Falcon’s Career
Throughout his 50+ year publication history, the Falcon has enjoyed a number of iconic storylines and moments that have defined his legacy as Marvel’s pioneering black Avenger. Here are some of his career highlights:
Joining the Avengers
Avengers #183 marked the official transition from the Falcon being Captain America’s partner to becoming a full member of the Avengers roster in his own right. It was a seminal moment that shattered the color barrier for Marvel’s premier super team.
Receiving the Captain America Mantle
In the 2014 miniseries All-New Captain America, Sam stepped up to become the Sentinel of Liberty after Steve Rogers lost his powers. This cemented the Falcon as one of the most important black heroes in Marvel history.
Defeating the Secret Empire
A 1977 issue saw the Falcon single-handedly take down the Secret Empire, a racist group of villains opposed to his Avengers membership. The socially relevant story confronted prejudice head-on.
Reuniting with Redwing
The Falcon’s bond with Redwing has been one of his most iconic traits. Avengers #217 in 1982 marked an emotionally charged reunion with his bird after a long separation, reinforcing their unique friendship.
Anthony Mackie’s debut as the Falcon in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier marked a pivotal milestone for the character breaking into the mainstream consciousness.
Becoming Captain America
In Avengers: Endgame, an elderly Steve Rogers passes the mantle of Captain America and his shield to Sam. This passing of the torch mirrored the comics and showcased the Falcon inheriting the role of a symbol of national identity.
The Falcon’s Abilities and Backstory
As Marvel’s first headline black superhero, how did the Falcon differentiate himself with his unique powers, skills, and history? Here are some of the key details:
The Falcon’s signature ability is to fly, thanks to a special winged flight harness he wears. The harness’ lightweight titanium wings allow the Falcon to soar through the skies and maneuver with great precision and control.
The Falcon shares a telepathic link with his pet falcon, Redwing. He can see through Redwing’s eyes and communicate with him mentally, which allows Redwing to act as his aerial scout.
Sam Wilson is an extremely skilled athlete and hand-to-hand combatant thanks to his military training. He excels at aerial combat and is also a highly capable marksman.
In addition to his physical abilities, the Falcon demonstrates strong leadership qualities. He is an excellent strategist and has led teams like the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Unlike many heroes, Sam Wilson did not come from wealth or privilege. He grew up in a tough Harlem neighborhood, giving him a grounded streetwise sensibility.
Sam met and quickly befriended Captain America shortly after gaining the power of flight from the villain Snapper. This launched their iconic partnership.
In addition to Captain America and the Avengers, the Falcon has teamed up with heroes like Black Panther, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Spider-Man.
The Falcon’s Costumes and Gear
The Falcon’s signature look has complemented his groundbreaking role…
|Classic red and white||The Falcon’s most iconic costume, featuring a red and white winged flight harness and cowl mask.|
|EXO-7 Falcon||Sleeker modern design with jetpack-style wings and green accents.|
|All-white||A bold, all-white armored variant worn when briefly assuming the Captain America identity.|
|MCU||Tactical military-inspired costume with robotic “wingpack” worn in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.|
In addition to his wings, signature gear for the Falcon has included:
– Redwing – His loyal pet falcon and telepathic partner.
– Energy shield – A photonic energy shield used for defense, based on Captain America’s vibranium shield.
-EXO-7 flight suit – A high-tech suit that enhances mobility and integrates “hardlight” hologram wings.
– Avengers ID card – Providing access to the Avengers Mansion and other team resources.
– Twin pistols – Small firearms used by the Falcon for ranged attacks.
As the first African-American member of the Avengers, the Falcon represents a pioneering achievement in making superhero fiction more diverse and inclusive. His journey from humble Harlem beginnings to the soaring heights of an Avenger is an inspirational embodiment of Marvel values like heroism, duty, and equality.
While initially introduced as Captain America’s partner, the Falcon quickly rose to prominence in his own right. He demonstrated that black heroes could be every bit as confident, capable, and inspiring as white stars of the era. By breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes, the Falcon paved the way for Marvel’s rich tradition of black heroes that continues today.
The Falcon’s legacy remains relevant, as increasing diversity in superhero fiction and films continues to be an important topic. His milestone status as the first black Avenger was a crucial step in providing exciting representation for readers of color. By humanizing and empowering a marginalized group, the Falcon’s heroism extends beyond just fantasy storytelling into making real social progress.