Dragon Con’s American Sci-Fi Classics Track has continued to do weekly Quarantine Panels, hosted by track directors Joe Crowe & Gary Mitchel, to talk about various subjects, and I was on two recent ones.
2021 marks the 30th anniversary of The Addams Family movie starring Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, and Christina Ricci, and that panel featured Terrific ToniAnn Marini, Sassy Stormy O’Dell, Superlative Shaun Rosado, and me, Joe, and Gary talking about the Mamushka, crashing trains, why Gomez and Morticia are the best couple ever, and how awesome Christina Ricci is.
In addition, Joe & Gary have been playing “what if…?” games — what if the Marvel Cinematic Universe got its start in 1988 instead of 2008? Who would have played the iconic roles? Tom Selleck as Tony Stark? Sean Connery as Ego? Wesley Snipes as T’Challa? Kirk Douglas as Henry Pym? Brian Blessed as Volstagg? It’s crazy-ass speculation galore, with me, Joe, Gary, and Mighty Michael Bailey set Marvel heroes back 30 years — literally!
The omnibus Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours is now out in eBook form! This big-ass book reprints three Spidey novels from the mid-2000s: the eponymous novel by Jim Butcher, Down These Mean Streets by self, and Drowned in Thunder by Christopher L. Bennett. Yes, all our titles start with the letter D. No, I don’t know why.
Right now, today, it’s incredibly important to the people watching the show that Captain America be a black man. In fact, that this episode that establishes Sam as Cap aired the same week as the verdict in the George Floyd trial is a rather bittersweet bit of serendipity. For every step forward, there’s a step back. We elect a person of color president and then we elect a candidate supported by white supremacists as his successor.
Sam Wilson wears this dichotomy on his sleeve (or wings, I guess?). He comes out and says that he knows that his wearing the suit and carrying the shield will piss off a lot of people. But—as he says to Isaiah Bradley in one of the episode’s many denouements—African-Americans built this country, bled for it, and he’s not going to stop fighting for it.
Back in July of 2019, when Marvel Studios announced their Phase 4 plans, I wrote the following on this very web site: “Why is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier still being called that when Sam Wilson is Captain America now? Seriously, calling it that when you first announced it is necessary due to not wanting to spoil Endgame, but now we know that the Falcon is the new Cap. So why isn’t this being called Captain America and the Winter Soldier? Particularly now, it’s important to acknowledge that the symbol of the U.S. is currently an African American.”
My opinion in the last sentence of that quote hasn’t changed—in fact, I feel even more strongly about it given the appalling number of incidents involving African-American citizens being targeted and killed by law-enforcement that keep fucking happening (not to mention increased vitriol directed at Asian Americans)—but I also get what they’re doing here. The history of people who aren’t white in this country is awful, and while things are better now than they were in the past, they’re still not by any stretch of the imagination good. The question for Sam is whether or not he will embody the ideals of America, which are often at odds with the reality of America—or will he be seen as capitulating to that reality in defiance of those ideals?
I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not John Walker is a dick in this space, and this episode makes it clear that it’s not that simple in either direction—indeed, that happens a lot in this episode. In a very revealing conversation between Walker and Lemar Hoskins, we find out that the three medals of honor Walker received were due to a horrible mission in Afghanistan that Walker describes as the worst day of his life. We don’t get specifics, but we don’t need them: the point is that something that we assumed was a badge of heroism (the medals) is in fact an attempt to prettify something very very ugly.
The flip side of that is Karli Morgenthau. She’s trying to help people who have been screwed by the restoration of half of humanity and the attempt to return to normal, but she’s going about it in a way that is also ugly. We pointedly hear a news story that mentions that one of the victims of the destruction of the GRC building last week had only just started working for the GRC and left behind a family. As Sam says to Karli, when you’re killing people, you’re not making the world a better place, just different. If your noble goal can only be fulfilled by leaving children without a parent, then your goal may not be so noble. Then again, even Karli’s fellow Flag-Smashers were caught off-guard and not entirely happy with her blowing up that building…
This entire episode is about consequences, and I adore it for that reason. It starts with a hearts-and-flowers ad for the Global Repatriation Council that is trying to reintegrate the half of humanity who got dusted by Thanos and were returned five years later by the Hulk. It’s immediately followed by a GRC strike force led by John Walker that is trying and failing to locate the Flag Smashers. The GRC doesn’t come across very well here, not only having SWAT teams and such, but also the Flag Smashers target a GRC storehouse that has a ton of food and medical supplies just sitting there not being given to the refugees in their care. For that matter, we learn one of the reasons for Karli Morgenthau’s founding of the Flag Smashers: her mother Donya contracted tuberculosis in one of the GRC’s refugee centers.
Wyatt Russell also does great work, playing the humble aw-shucks-I’m-just-doin’-my-job soldier who’s trying to do the right thing. He’s doing this because he was ordered to, and he considers it a great honor. Russell strikes a very good balance here, as he’s not really a bad guy, but it’s also hard to warm to him, at least in part because his persona as Captain America is so obviously manufactured. He’s trying to fill Rogers’ shoes, but he hasn’t really done anything to earn the accolades he’s been getting. The people in the football stadium are cheering the uniform and the shield, not the person wearing it. Heck, Rogers himself didn’t get taken seriously as a soldier until he rescued a bunch of prisoners from Hydra’s clutches.
Both Barnes and Wilson are trying to figure out how to live their lives in the titular new world order. When Raynor tells Barnes that he’s free now, he plaintively and frustratedly asks, “To do what?” And Wilson’s attempts to reconnect with his family is nowhere near as successful as he’d like, especially since Sarah has to constantly remind him that he’s the one who went off and joined the military, leaving her to run the family business alone after their parents died, and it’s a bit late in the game for him to be trying to be the responsible brother.
After several delays, the audio of my 2005 Spider-Man novel Down These Mean Streets, narrated by the redoubtable Tara Sands, is now available! The book itself is long out of print and hard to find, and there was never an eBook, sadly, but now you can listen to it with the greatest of ease!
While the front stories of the Falcon and the Winter Soldier in the MCU track pretty well with the comics, the backstories have been significantly changed. Sam Wilson is a social worker in the comics, not an ex-soldier, and his wings came from Wakanda rather than the U.S. Army. And the Bucky Barnes of the comics didn’t meet Steve Rogers until after he became Captain America. His MCU role as his childhood friend basically tacked the role of Arnold Roth, introduced in Captain America Vol. 1 #286 by [J.M.] DeMatteis & [Mike] Zeck (1982) as the guy who defended scrawny Steve Rogers from bullies, onto Bucky.