Sam Wilson tries to find his place in the Marvel Universe.
Marvel is stuck in a difficult position where Sam Wilson is concerned. The character is coming off a multi-year stint as Captain America and now reverting to his traditional role as The Falcon. It’s important that Sam’s new ongoing series immediately establish a strong status quo for the character, one that shows a hero changed by his experiences as Cap and not merely settling into his old job again. This first issue does build on the events of Secret Empire in a logical way, but it fails to carry over the momentum from Sam Wilson: Captain America.
In some ways, this new series isn’t even that different from Sam’s previous book. New writer Rodney Barnes continues to emphasize racial strife and political turmoil over costumed villains. The series also looks to focus a great deal of attention on Sam’s efforts to coach his new sidekick Rayshaun, in the ways of patriotic superheroing. At the same time, Barnes also focuses on Sam’s lingering disillusionment in the wake of Secret Empire. Sam is a man with tremendous faith in the innate goodness of America. If his best friend and the country’s greatest hero can turn out to be a duplicitous Hydra agent, what does that say about America itself?
This issue is most successful when it focuses on that latter element. A major reason Secret Empire’s conclusion was so disappointing is the fact that it felt quick, easy and unearned. Secret Empire didn’t do the profound damage to Steve Rogers’ reputation it needed to. With The Falcon, at least, Marvel seems intent on walking back a bit and trying to establish a significant rift between Cap and the people he betrayed. Sam fits nicely into the middle of that rift, as someone struggling to do right even as the world seems to trust him less than ever.
It’s a shame, then, that this issue makes for such a bland reading experience despite the precariousness of Sam’s new position. As much as this series may follow the example of Captain America: Sam Wilson, the execution isn’t there. Barnes often seems to struggle with writing believable characters and dialogue. The more grounded, intimate conversations between Sam and Shaun are handled well enough, but Sam becomes entirely too stiff and formal whenever he switches to superhero mode. We’re meant to believe that he’s a person who can inspire rival gangs to lay down their guns and make peace, but his grandiloquent speeches instead give him a patronizing tone. The painfully self-serious narration is even worse. Never does this issue convince me that these gang members would respond to Sam and Shaun the way they do.
The series also struggles to merge real-world and Marvel elements effectively. It eventually becomes apparent that there’s more to Sam’s peace negotiations than meets the eye, but the abrupt reveal of an evil mastermind pulling the strings just comes across as silly and pointless. It further cheapens an already flawed storyline.
The art doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to blending the ordinary with the superheroic. Joshua Cassara’s style is very dark, textured and restrained. That’s great in terms of setting the mood and establishing a clear take on inner city Chicago, but less so when it comes to conveying Falcon’s aerial antics or integrating the colorful elements into the larger picture. There’s a disappointing lack of energy to Sam’s scenes as Falcon. And the underwhelming depiction of the main villain plays a part in why their debut proves so underwhelming.