Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Falcon Comes to Harlem

Can you dig it? From Captain America and the Falcon 144, cover dated December 1971 (as recently reprinted in the Captain America and the Falcon one-shot, May 2011), here's a look at "The Falcon Fights Alone!"

Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, is having a fitful night's sleep - he's recently had a falling out with his partner, The Falcon, aka Sam Wilson, who's been getting all googly-eyed over a dumb ol' girl.

I know what you're thinking - Hah! Gay! - but that's not it at all. Let's let Cap himself explain.

See? Nothing homoerotic here. He's just torturing himself, wondering what's wrong with him and why he can't keep a man, while he spies on his ex getting busy with his new lover.

But this story isn't about Cap, it's about the Falcon. His lady friend (who's so important her name is never once mentioned in the entire story) has been giving him a hard time about teaming-up with Cap, whom she views as the "Man" and the "Establishment" and a "Honkey" and a "Jive-Ass Turkey" and a "Creepy White Guy Who Gets Off On Watching Black People Make-Out". By extension, she sees Falcon as a sell-out for partnering with him, accusing him of neglecting his own people.

"But by then, your library card might have expired, Papa...and you'll have to get that card renewed...so bring some ID, dig? Maybe my book will have gone to a second printing...but it's a best-seller, you read me? So you may have to get on the waiting list...or ask if a different branch has a copy...maybe then you can check my book out...but don't return it late or you'll get a fine, you hear?"

So Our Lady of the Magnificent Fro (her name is Leila, if anybody cares) storms out, and Cap busts in through the window, acting like he just showed up. Falcon treats this as completely normal, and since this is the Marvel Universe I guess it is.

"And I do mean anything." Cap apologizes to Falcon for something he said last issue - yeah, I don't know what it was, sorry, but it seems to have been some kind of liberal feel-good white-privilege "I feel your pain" kind of thing. This understandably pisses Falcon off, and Cap tries to apologize again.

For some reason, Cap's blanket apology on behalf of all white people doesn't help.

Aaaannnd...right about here is where Cap stops listening.

And I would say sometime between when Falcon started throwing his clothes at Cap and when Cap tried to awkwardly hide his rising flagstaff behind his shield is the point when Cap realized why he'd been dreaming of Falcon so much recently.

Unfortunately, Falcon was just changing into a new costume, not getting ready to salute Old Glory.

Cap covers admirably, don't you think? Little weird that Falcon keeps his bird in the bathroom, but whatever. Anyway, just as Cap's about to ask if he can take a cold shower, a local kid burst in, looking for the Falcon's alter-ego, social worker Sam Wilson.

This kid - who is rocking that polka-dot cravat - does not recognize the African-American man standing in Sam Wilson's office as Sam Wilson, but does recognize him as the Falcon, despite him wearing a costume the Falcon has never worn before. But then, it's 1971 - he sees a black super-hero who isn't the Black Panther, there's really only one other option.

Cap jumps right in and offers to help, but Falcon is all, "Sorry, Cap, I know a kid's life is on the line but we're still broken up." Cap, of course, apologizes.

Captain America is so astonishingly, overwhelmingly white that it wasn't until I read the next panel that I realized he was asking the Falcon to slip him some skin. I figured he was asking for bus fare or checking if it was raining or something. Falcon's cool, though, he doesn't leave him hanging.

Cap is hearing everything Falcon is saying as if he's talking about gay porn.

The Falcon and his trusty companion Redwing take to the skies to track down this innocent junkie, who is the victim of a rather generic plot from a couple of disco drug-dealers - they're going to shoot him because he snitched to the cops about them. He's also going through withdrawal, which I believe is represented fairly accurately because it looks just like when Albert got addicted to drugs on Little House on the Prairie

The Falcon arrives, and pauses to conquer his inner demons. It's hard, what with all the distracting screaming.

That is one poorly designed tenement. I thought he was on the ground-floor because of the trash can, but there's that weird window that seems to continue into the floor below. Also, Redwing seems to be soaring through a clear blue sky far in the distance, not a common view through an East Harlem window. Falcon's got a lot of problems to clean up in this hood, many of them architectural.

Hurry, Falcon, Mister Bentley from The Jeffersons is going to kill the kid!

His confidence high, Falcon bursts into the room so hard the door is reduced to pulp and the framed Polaroid of a snowstorm is knocked askew.

Let's pause here to talk about the Falcon as a super-hero. He's not just a generic tights-wearing strong-man type; he does in fact have one super-power: he can communicate with his pet falcon, Redwing. In later years, this power would expand to include controlling all birds and he'd gain the ability to fly, but at this stage in his career, Redwing was it. Maybe not the greatest power when you're fighting Doctor Doom or Loki, but against two low-level pushers? Fucking bad-ass.

About here is where I really lost track of the plot. Earlier it seemed like the kid was going through withdrawal, and the pushers were going to shoot him. Mr. Bentley said something about giving him a fix he'd never come back from, but he said it while loading his gun so I assumed he was being metaphorical. Seems like a poor business decision to give your product to someone you're planning on killing anyway. So I was wondering what the Falcon was talking about here when he said the goons would go away for life if the kid died - I mean, attempted murder, sure, but if someone dies from withdrawal I don't think they can charge you for not giving him drugs.

But then he tells the cops that they were trying to O.D. the kid, and I don't know that much about a heroin overdose but I thought it made you kind of slip away, not writhe and scream in agony. I could be wrong. I'm still wondering why they were also going to shoot him, but I guess they just really, really hate black teenagers or something. Anyway, let's talk about that kid on the street who's so impressed with the Falcon. His gee-whillikers enthusiasm at seeing a black superhero may sound a little silly now, but the Falcon was the first mainstream African-American superhero - the Black Panther came before him, but he was African-African, and also he was named "The Black Panther" and the Falcon was thankfully not named "The Black Falcon". So I may mock the homoerotic subtext and poorly drawn characters and inconsistent plotting and naive take on race relations that this story presents us with, but I'm not so cynical about the Falcon himself. He really is a pretty cool character, and good for that kid on the street for being inspired by him.

But at the end of the day, it's still a Captain America t-shirt that the kid's wearing.

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