Sam Wilson gets pulled in a lot of different directions. He’s a community organizer, a Captain America, a black man in the 21st century and everything in between. There’s a lot of context laden on all those roles, so it’s usually difficult to figure out who Sam the man — the individual — really is.
That dilemma is a major plot point in Rodney Barnes’ (yes, the writer of The Boondocks) eight issue Falcon series, which immediately followed the emotionally charged Secret Empire. It’s addressed as a soul-stolen Sam is tortured in Mephisto’s hell dimension.
If that seems a little off, you don’t know the half of it yet. Falcon takes to the streets of Chicago to address the gang violence epidemic, and uses some linguistic magic to do something that should be as impossible as Middle East peace — getting rival crews to squash their beef. In public, no less!
Maybe it was a ploy, though, as a disguised Blackheart ruins the whole thing and uses it to create even more uproar and rioting in the city. It’s part of a plan to sit at the same table as his father and … tell stories? Ruling the Earth through hate and fear is just a means to an end.
So, couple issues here. Firstly, and you’d think Barnes would be especially sensitive to this, you don’t need a supernatural explanation for people hating and wanting to kill each other. We’re really good at that, all on our own. To even hint otherwise diminishes our own agency (and responsibility) and puts the blame on someone else. You can’t begin to fix your own problems if you think they’re due to outside forces.
Less seriously, when the hell did Blackheart become the chump that heroes take out in the first arc of a new series? First Miles, now Falcon? Are the Wrecking Crew out on workman’s comp? Blackheart is pretty menacing here, to be fair — sucking someone’s soul out and sending them to Hell is about as bad-ass a villainous tactic as you can get.
He sure does look weird, though. I’m a ’90s guy, so frill-of-head-spikes and pointy tail is my Blackheart. Artist Joshua Cassara opts instead for … dreadlocks and jacked up teeth? The art in general is appropriately gritty, but the facial expressions aren’t great and nothing really “moves” — a tough break for a protagonist who flies. The colors by the normally outstanding Rachelle Rosenberg are maybe a little too subdued here, and the overuse of orange in the riot scenes is a little much.
Sebastian Cabrol does fill-in art in issue #6 (though you’ll hardly notice the difference), and he’s not the only guest star in this second arc of Falcon — make way for Blade! Along with Misty Knight (uh-oh), and the new Patriot continues in his sidekick role.
In the beginning of this series, it’s pretty evident that Barnes is new to writing comics. He struggles bouncing the characters off each other, falls into some cliché dialogue traps, and has trouble maintaining a singular voice for each character — especially Doctor Voodoo.
But the pieces all start to fall into place in the second tale, and Barnes is able to accomplish in reality what in-story Sam strives for — Falcon feels like his own, individual character, with a varied supporting cast that buttresses his adventures and complements his personality. So it’s a shame that the sales couldn’t continue to support this book, just as Barnes found his feet.
Oh, did I mention the second arc is about vampires?! You probably could have guessed. You have to think the continued focus on stuff outside of Sam’s wheelhouse, while nice in a small dose as a change of pace, hurt the interest of people who enjoyed the high-flyer’s more down-to-Earth struggles in Captain America. The end of issue #8 definitively puts an end to that chapter, but alas, we’ll never see what could have happened after.
Reading Falcon: Take Flight is watching a talented writer grow into understanding a novel medium and harnessing it to tell important stories. Maybe. If he’d had the chance. Which isn’t to blame readers for not buying the book. Their patience was stretched more than a little thin, and eight issues to get to a good place is too much to expect people to stick around.
Still, by the time this volume concludes, you feel like everything is clicking and you want more. Here’s hoping we see Barnes play in the Marvel Universe again, sooner rather than later, now that he’s found his mojo.