As I discussed last week, the Black Panther debuted as the first black superhero in July 1966. However, it would be three years until the introduction of the first African-American superhero in comics: Samuel Wilson, the Falcon. Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Wilson first appeared in Captain America #117 in September 1969.
When a group of men on an unnamed tropical island put out an ad for a falconer, Wilson, a social worker from Harlem, responds with his falcon, Redwing. Upon learning that the men are secretly Nazis working with the Red Skull, Wilson escapes and organizes the island’s inhabitants into a resistance movement. It is on this island that Captain America first encounters Wilson and convinces him to adopt a costumed identity and become a superhero.
Lee was especially careful to be respectful when writing Wilson. For example, the Falcon is not presented as Captain America’s sidekick but rather as his equal. It’s also noteworthy that Stan rejected the conventional black superhero naming convention of the time by not including “black” as part of the hero’s code name. I’m very happy to be writing about the “Falcon” rather than the “Black Falcon.”
Unfortunately, years after the Falcon’s first appearance, writer Steve Englehart would retcon the character’s backstory. Instead of being a respectable social worker turned superhero, Englehart decided to make Wilson a former gangster, drug dealer, and pimp known as”Snap” Wilson.
Sadly, this is still Wilson’s official backstory in Marvel cannon.
I can only hope that when Anthony Mackie portrays the Falcon in the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier, film makers will reject Englehart’s racist backstory. The first African-American superhero deserves better.