‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’: The Truth About Isaiah Bradley
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series introduced Isaiah Bradley to viewers in its second episode – and like Sam Wilson – many may be wondering about this long-hidden figure who is now officially part of the MCU canon. However, Isaiah Bradley is not just some other Black Captain America. In his own right, he was Captain America and left a legacy that spans generations of Black superheroes who have subsequently been tied to him and his shield.
Marvel comic readers were first retroactively introduced to Isaiah in 2003 when the limited series Truth: Red, White, & Black made its debut. The character is a creation from writer Robert Morales, artist Kyle Baker, ex-Marvel editor Alex Alonso, and Captain America creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
At the time, the Truth was groundbreaking for a Marvel story. The story centered around the World War II Super Soldier Program of 1942, operated by Reinstein – Dr. Wilfred Nagel, employing an alias previously used by Dr. Abraham Erskine. He used Black American test subjects to re-create the super-soldier serum that had previously been used to turn Steve Rogers from a skinny patriotic army reject into the beefcake known as Captain America. Isaiah Bradley was one of the poor unfortunate souls who ended up being the only empowered test subject left alive.
The story’s basis hit home for many Black readers because the origin of Isaiah’s powers and subsequent treatment was very of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. For those unfamiliar, the study was an unethical and unjustified study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of the study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis. Although the Black American men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the United States federal government, they were not.
The fictional Super Soldier program revealed in Truth follows along the same lines of violations committed against Black men by the medical professions and government officials. Still, it’s heightened due to the open brutality inflicted on them as well. In the story, Isaiah and 299 fellow Black soldiers are chosen at random. As they’re bussed off to be experimented on at a secret location, they’re subjected to having to listen to the remaining Black soldiers as they are gunned down.
Out of the 300 Black soldiers who took part in the Super Soldier Program, only five survive. However, they don’t get to go home like Steve Rogers or continue to exist as themselves either. Instead, they are nothing more than government property to be further abused. Their families were told they were all to be dead by the government, and some of those members don’t take the news well. One of the super-serum survivors, Maurice, parents commit homicide and suicide as a result. Isaiah Bradley’s wife Faith suspects something is wrong about the entire ordeal surrounding her husband’s death but doesn’t push it further, as she has to focus on raising their daughter. The ripple effects of trauma reverberate across families and decades after Isaiah is finally returned home.
Isaiah spent years behind enemy lines and jail after being sent on a death mission by the army. The four other Black super soldiers had all died leading up this point, so it’s just him and the Captain America hand-me-down suit they gave him. Isaiah does what he can to free women held in a gas chamber, but when he comes to after blacking out, the rest of his tragic story continues. By the time Isaiah is reunited with his wife, the super soldier serum, scientists, medical professionals, and government officials have all done a number on him, including sterilization, further experimentations, and the serum itself regressing him to a child-like state.
All the while, Steve Rogers is unaware as he was frozen in a block of ice in a state of suspended animation. The last couple of Truth issues involve Steve learning of the atrocities committed against Isaiah and other Black soldiers. Steve goes to visit Isaiah’s wife Faith, and she gives him the rundown of what really happened and allowed him to see Isaiah.
Isaiah’s legacy doesn’t stop after the Truth series concludes. Christopher Priest’s 2003 The Crew introduces a son of Isaiah. As mentioned earlier, the government sterilized Isaiah, so this child came from a surrogate using the DNA they took from him. As a result, this child did not grow up with Faith and her daughter. Instead, he was raised in a Catholic orphanage before running away. He went on to become Josiah X, has all the same abilities as Isaiah and Steve, and became a Muslim minister. Unlike Josiah, Isaiah’s grandson from his one and only child, Sarah Gil, grew up with the Bradleys. He was introduced in 2005’s Young Avengers and went by the codename, Patriot. Isaiah initially did not have any powers but ends up with them after receiving a life-saving blood transfusion from his grandfather. These two characters help to further the legacy of Isaiah Bradley.
It’s all quite the tragic origin story for the first Black Captain America. Over a decade later, since Truth’s debut, Sam Wilson, who Steve Rogers gave the shield at the of Avengers: Endgame, learned of Isaiah’s existence in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier from Bucky Barnes of all people. The two went to meet Isaiah, whose characterization in the MCU seems to differ from the comics, as Isaiah is more than capable of telling Bucky and Sam to get the hell out of his home. With four episodes remaining since his introduction, it will be interesting to see how the series handles Isaiah’s story, but for now, at least he is taking up rightful space in the MCU.