Forgive me in advance for being terribly self-indulgent and going wildly off track to start this post. (Things like this can happen when you’re your own boss and solely in charge of your own blog, as I am here.) It’s been a while since I dipped a toe into the superhero-television waters and, in all honesty, I wasn’t sure I would ever do so again, but I’ve been going through a lot of personal stuff lately, all of which led me here; to this.
My mother, the woman who raised me, passed away in December. Then my father had a TIA (or “ministroke”) at the end of February. This has me thinking about mortality even more than usual—and I’d already been thinking about it a lot, even before all this happened, which I guess is only natural when you pass the half century mark in age. I recently scrolled through my friends list on Facebook and was rather startled by how many relatives and friends are gone now. And this is only over the ten-year (or so) period I’ve had a Facebook account. When I add in those I lost before Facebook, the number becomes even more startling.
I’ve always been a nostalgic person, but now I’m beginning to wonder how much my nostalgia has increased as I’ve gotten older. And perhaps part of this is connected to my fear of death—not just my own death, but the deaths of family and friends, as well as the more figurative deaths of places and things from my past. Among the latter category are the comic book stories and characters I so adored from my childhood. This is a big part of why I hate the way modern comics and film seem to constantly change, rearrange, undo, and retcon these very stories and characters into oblivion.
A big part, but not the only part.
Which, in turn, brings us to the recent finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Go no further if you wish to avoid spoilers.
The finale caught me by surprise in more ways than one. Just six episodes? Not thirteen, not ten, not even nine, like WandaVision? It wasn’t until sometime mid-week that I learned that Friday’s episode would even be the finale. Now I find myself still more surprised by my own reaction to it; surprised by the fact that I’m sitting in front of my computer on a Sunday afternoon writing about it. As I said at the beginning, I gave up writing about superhero TV shows quite a while ago, with no intention of ever coming back to them, yet here I am. Why? I’m not even sure. Maybe this post is more an exercise in self therapy than anything else. You tell me after you’ve finished it.
Regardless, I found the series rather mediocre, with some good points but not a whole lot. To be fair, I’m not sure this is entirely the fault of the creators—the fact that we only got six episodes strikes me as symptomatic of something, as the whole series feels like it had to be pieced together on the fly with a lot of last-minute changes, likely due to real-world complications. Erik Voss’s theory below is probably spot on, I’d reckon:
Alan Sepinwall points out the flaws of the finale (and the series in general) better than I ever could here, and while I do believe many of these flaws are a result of the creative scrambling that Voss posits, I wouldn’t blame everything on this. In the broadest terms, the biggest problem here is still the same one it’s always been with these present-day movies and TV shows: they choose to draw from the weakest possible source material. They keep adapting more modern (and more terrible) storylines as opposed to just taking inspiration from classic Lee-Kirby-Ditko. They keep going for shock value instead of telling quality stories with consistent characterization.
A good example of this mismanaged approach (an example that could have been a most pleasant surprise for yours truly, had they only handled it right) was the appearance of the classic, Steranko-created character of Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. She was played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a performer whose work I usually admire, but she used her normal, American New Yorker accent in portraying this exotic European woman, which felt way off. Then of course, we find out that Val is a villain now. “What an awful decision,” I thought to myself. “They probably took the idea from a recent comic.”
I shouldn’t have even gotten into my Google-mobile to check, but I did. Turns out this did come from a recent comic, one that made her into—get this—the new Madame Hydra. My God, it’s like they’re producing this stuff for the specific purpose of ripping my heart out.
But it doesn’t end there; no, of course it doesn’t. From there it’s eventually revealed that the mysterious, malevolent Power Broker is none other than (are you sitting down?) Sharon Carter.
Now if you were watching along with me as they released the episodes one week at a time, you were not actually surprised by this. As Sepinwall pointed out in his review, the way they set it all up, Sharon was the only viable candidate left to be the Power Broker by the time the finale arrived. Obviously, the Sharon Carter us old timers know from the comics is no villain, but it goes even deeper than this.
Not only is this not the Sharon Carter of the original comics, it’s not even the Sharon Carter previously established in the MCU. I promise you, when movie-Sharon made her big-screen debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014, the creators behind that film had ZERO intentions of her EVER becoming a villain. When you do a complete about face and make a major change like this to a character, the cracks show. In fact, there’s no way for the audience to not see them.
And naturally, the other big thing to come out of this is the Falcon becoming the new Captain America, which was also a development drawn from the more recent comics. Once again, it’s a modern development that I passionately disagree with, but before I get into the reasons for my disagreement, allow me to get something out of the way.
One of the most stomach-turning aspects of this situation is that it may appear to put me on the side of racist, Nazi-Trumper slime who hate the idea of an African-American man being Captain America. Let’s be clear: I’m not with them.
As long as we’re on this subject, along similar lines, back around the New Year, I lauded the finale of The Mandalorian because it gave this aging Gen Xer a gift he never dreamed possible: the return of Luke Skywalker. I was so thrilled by this that I started watching reaction videos just to relive my own joy over this moment. Then YouTube started suggesting I watch other Star Wars videos, ones made by neocons, racists, and other similar vermin. My love of the Mandalorian finale appeared to mark me as being of a similar mind to these monsters, at least according to YouTube’s algorithms. Again: I’m not with them. They hate the new Star Wars for being sensitive and inclusive; I hate it because it was just badly done (prior to The Mandolorian, that is).
Since it’s timely, let me also add that I’m not some nut who’d put up a billboard to get Marvel/Disney to do things the way I want them done. I may disagree (passionately) with their creative choices, but I’m not insane and do possess some sense of decorum, after all.
I’ll concede that much of why I dislike superheroes swapping identities and changing their names is likely a by-product of my aforementioned nostalgia—a completely irrational attachment that can’t really be explained or justified, I know. I just want these characters to be the same characters I grew up with and love, which means Steve Rogers should be Captain America and Sam Wilson should be the Falcon. But there are also more rational reasons I can offer against such changes, which I’ll get to eventually. Before that, however, I’d like to talk about why any of this is even happening.
So why do they keep following the lead of modern comics when said comics are clearly awful? This question remains a head scratcher and I don’t know that we’ll ever get a clear answer. But more specifically, why make the Falcon into the new Captain America now, at this particular moment in time? I might offer a guess, at least, in answer to this one.
Putting racial sensitivity and inclusivity aside for the moment, Captain America simply has better name recognition than the Falcon and is thus likely more valuable to Disney as a commercial property—this, coupled with the fact that Chris Evans has left the role as Steve Rogers, is probably the biggest reason behind the change. The corporate overlords want a Captain America in their franchise in whatever form the character might take. Which leads us to the question: Why does Steve Rogers have to go just because Chris Evans left? Why not simply recast? Along these same lines, why does Tony Stark have to go just because Robert Downey Jr. is out? Which leads us to a still more delicate question: What about T’Challa? What do they do with him in the wake of the death of Chadwick Boseman?
For me (and at least a few others out there), the answer is clear: you recast.
As I mentioned at the time of Boseman’s death, I feel you have to recast T’Challa. I don’t even want Shuri, nor anyone else, to take up the Black Panther mantle; the Panther needs to be T’CHALLA. Regardless of who plays the part, T’Challa, specifically, is just too culturally important to be swept aside. He was the first superhero of color—not the Black Panther, but T’Challa, specifically, as the Black Panther. You have to recast, guys; I feel like I can’t possibly stress this enough. The actors aren’t the characters; the characters are the characters. Actors come and go, but these characters are forever.
Eventually we will see other actors playing Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and T’Challa. It’s inevitable. So why are they not just recasting now? I guess they feel the audience isn’t ready to accept other actors in these roles at present, and maybe they’re right. But it’s got to happen at some point, because what’s the alternative? They’re going to retire these properties forever? We all know that this is not happening.
Speaking of the significance of T’Challa, this would seem an opportune moment to note that the character of the Falcon is actually a bigger deal than most people give him credit for.
Falc Is A Big Deal
Captain America is a big, important character. But in strictly social terms, the Falcon is actually more important than Cap. How so? I’m glad you asked.
When you break it down, there is nothing intrinsically special about Captain America. He’s not the first superhero; he’s not even the first superhero of his type. The first patriotic superhero, the first to incorporate the United States flag in his costume, was not Captain America but a guy called the Shield, published by MLJ (later Archie) comics. In fact, Cap was considered a rip-off of the Shield in some quarters—certainly by MLJ, who did some legal sabre rattling over the issue when Cap first appeared. It didn’t help Marvel’s case that Cap wielded an actual shield as part of his gimmick. MLJ even got Marvel to redesign the shield to quell their legal threats, as Cap’s original shield was triangle shaped. Cap’s new, disc-shaped shield turned out to be an improvement, of course, the irony of which was probably lost on MLJ, at least at the time.
What makes Captain America great is that he’s persisted so long and has been a big part of Marvel Comics, publisher of some of the greatest comics ever, many of which included Captain America. But none of this marks Cap as all that unique.
The Falcon, however, is unique. Black Panther was the first superhero of color, an African character, but the Falcon was the first African-American superhero, which lends him tremendous historical weight of his own. This makes him a character to be treasured and respected. The social importance of this makes it hard (at least for me) to justify casting his name and identity aside for any reason.
Name and Identity
In addition to all that I’ve outlined above, I’ve just got this thing about names. The fact that my own family name and biological identity were legally kept from me for my first twenty years on this earth is a big part of why this is the case, no doubt. I attach a sense of identity to names more than most normal, more mentally-healthy folks do. My name is my name; it’s who I am, and I don’t like the idea of my name being taken from me (as it was when I was a newborn), nor of someone else telling me what my name should be.
Yes, I know, “a rose by any other name” and all that; a person’s name shouldn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but when your name is taken away from you without consent, stolen from you and kept from you, your name takes on a far different (and much greater) value. Under such circumstances, your name becomes who you are. It connects you to your family, your history, even the human species itself, because when it’s taken away like this, you suddenly feel less than human and more like property.
What’s in a name? Ask Kunta Kinte.
So when we get into characters swapping names and identities, allow me to reiterate what I said in another post a couple years back: when a female character takes the name of a male character (as Ms. Marvel did when she became Captain Marvel, as broached in that original post), isn’t there some implication that she’s taking the new name because it’s somehow superior to the old name? Why would she want to change her name, otherwise? And why would it be superior? Because it was the name of a man, and men are naturally superior to women? Isn’t this the implication?
Now frame the same question in racial terms: When a black character takes the name of a white character (as Falc does when he becomes Cap), isn’t there some implication that he’s taking the new name because it’s somehow superior to his old one? And why would it be superior? Because it’s the name of a white guy, and white is better than black? Again: Isn’t this the implication?
Last time I got into this topic, I didn’t take the next logical step in the discussion, probably because I figured this level of social discourse didn’t belong on a silly comics blog like mine, but what the hell, let’s go there now: When a woman takes a man’s full name and identity (as Ms. Marvel did), might it express some wish, conscious or unconscious, to be a man? And when a black person assumes a white person’s full name and identity, might it express some wish, conscious or unconscious, to be white? (I think I know where Langston Hughes would stand on this issue.)
Such implications are disturbing to me, but again, I am probably too sensitive when it comes to a person’s name and how it relates to their identity. I have a particular prejudice about the subject due to my own unique life experience. Most people probably don’t even view superhero names as real names (as I clearly do); they probably view them more as job titles, or something else along these lines, in which case the whole discussion here is rather pointless.
But then a lot of things are feeling more and more pointless to me these days.
Something happened to me as I watched the finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier unfold. I saw the end coming and rather than get upset about it, I became resigned. Resigned to the fact that these modern movies (and comics) aren’t going to change course; they’re just going to continue with this same approach, an approach I hate, and there’s nothing to be done about it.
And maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. Maybe their way is the way to do it. I can’t deny that, the state of our country being what it is, an African-American Cap might be necessary right now; maybe it could do some good.
In any case, I’m old now and I’ll be dead soon enough. And when I’m dead I’ll have even less power than I do now (which is already absolutely none) over what is done with the characters and stories from my childhood that I so love. My name and my memories are all I have and when I go they’ll go with me. And once we go, we’ll be gone forever before very long. Within just a few human generations—a relative blip in the history of time—there will be no one left to remember we ever existed at all. So why sweat anything in life? None of it is going to matter anyway.