My Friday morning routines since the new year have consisted of me waking up before my soon-to-be threenager, sitting up in bed, and watching the latest episode of WandaVision. Marvel delivered literal magic with that show, but attention has now rightfully shifted to what comes next as we barrel through Phase 4. We have the time-hopping adventure starring the 2012 version of the God of Mischief, a Secret Invasion subtly set up by the end of the aforementioned trip through Westview, a Black Widow movie still on the way, and an animated What If…? series that may give us even more information about the MCU’s multiverse all headed our way through the summer.
However, as WandaVision dealt with a very self-contained story within Wanda’s reality post-Blip The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is the first time we are really on the ground on this Earth that has now had a few months to adjust to 5 billion people returning and is seemingly back up and running enough to where a Captain America memorial has been unveiled and groups trying to restore the world to a Pre-Blip status quo have been able to mobilize pretty effectively. There are a lot of questions that came out of the first episode, especially when it pertains to an easter egg of Shawn Bradley-like size and whether a non-Accords supporting Sam has his own rogue army personnel working with him considering WandaVision told us the Accords were still in place, but there’s also our main characters dealing with the trauma that accompanies not just them being snapped away and then coming back: no, they’re each also dealing with the subsequent loss of their best friend and the consequences of what it meant to leave behind a past that didn’t suit you anymore.
With Bucky, that trauma has manifested itself in the form of a list he keeps to make amends. As a therapist, I can tell you this is not a bad tool to use: I’ve recommended it for kids who feel they have let down their parents, but it eventually morphs into a lesson about how no matter how much we try to make amends the person we really have to make amends with is ourselves. We’ll talk more about that as the series goes on.
With Sam, he was handed a symbol that was created by Howard Stark, the father of dearly-departed Tony Stark, and was carried by Steve Rogers. In a lot of ways, Sam Wilson is the amalgamation of Stark and Rogers in the MCU in that he represents their combined strengths (Tony’s ingenuity as evidenced when he is working on Redwing plus Steve’s desire to do what he feels is right even if it’s unpopular as evidenced by his willingness to give up the shield) and none of their weaknesses. Sam emerging from the Blip and not being able to save his family’s business is evident of Stark emerging from the cave and losing his father’s company to Stane in Iron Man, and the way he doesn’t understand how things work financially in this new world mirrors Rogers’s awakening in Times Square in The First Avenger. However, there is one distinguishing characteristic that is very evident in episode one.
Sam is a Black man in the MCU in the same way Anthony Mackie is a Black man in the Marvel universe in the aftermath of the death of Chadwick Boseman. Sam was denied a bank loan: as his sister painfully mentions, things have a way of tightening up when it comes to loans for Black folks. The banker tries to shush that away and highlights Sam’s heroics, but those heroics don’t allow for the loan to go through. The gentleman from the Smithsonian, upon receiving the shield from Sam, tells Sam he is doing the right thing: in The First Avenger, the Army cannot wait to push Steve’s face and the shield to sell bonds to pay for a world war despite Steve not being allowed on the battlefield. Think about that: Steve never fired a bullet until he found out Bucky was behind enemy lines and was still able to earn a living, but Sam just helped save the entire universe during an alien invasion yet somehow he isn’t qualified to be Captain America!? Rhodey seems to understand what’s happening, as a Black man also set to follow the legacy of a white man battling demons in bottles, and tries to counsel Sam out of giving up the shield but Sam’s decision seems made up.
After Chadwick Boseman’s death, Anthony Mackie now has the highest-profile role in the MCU for a Black man. Chadwick was the King of Wakanda and was positioned to assume the mantle of leader of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, at least one of them, and now that will inevitably fall to the MCU’s new Captain America. For a guy who has taken so many twists and turns in his career, Mackie’s time in the spotlight syncs up eerily with the timing of Marvel needing a new face of their most successful franchises: as it stands the Avengers and Captain America films, respectively, are Marvel’s most lucrative and critically-acclaimed respectively, and they’re both set to be led by Falcon. Sam’s inability to get a bank loan is something many Black folks are familiar with as much as we are familiar with us grinding and finally getting the opportunity to lead. We’ve also heard folks brought in to lead us talked about in terms like the Smithsonian dude described the man with the most punchable face: the new Captain America.
Real American values, he said.
Somebody real white, we heard.
Nick Spencer, take a bow.
Sam Wilson? This IS America.