Marvel is making big changes this year. In a special segment of the Colbert Report this evening, the comics giant announced that Steve Rogers will pass his star-spangled shield on to Sam Wilson in the fall, making Wilson (otherwise known as the Falcon) the first black man to take on the official role of Captain America. This shift comes only a day after Marvel revealed plans to give the role of yet another founding Avenger, Thor, to a woman this fall, and follows with Marvel's overall push for more diversity in its biggest titles.
That Colbert got to announce the change is altogether fitting; Cap's shield has been on display on his show since early 2007, when Marvel "bequeathed" the shield to the host following Steve Rogers' assumed death in the aftermath of the Civil War event series. Wilson will take up the mantle as a result of more recent events in Captain America continuity, however. In Captain America #21, Rogers fights his greatest foe yet in the Iron Nail, only to have the villain drain him of the super-soldier serum keeping him young and super strong. As a result, Cap is not only de-powered, but ages into an old man.
"He’s a modern-day man in touch with the problems of the 21st Century."
Falcon, one of Cap's oldest allies, has been rumored for weeks as the most likely candidate to carry on Steve's legacy. After all, Wilson was there to save the former super soldier's life before the end of issue 21. Created in 1969, he was Marvel's first African American superhero. (The honor of first black Marvel superhero goes to Black Panther.) He's far from the first character to replace Rogers as the iconic American hero — James "Bucky" Barnes, also known as the Winter Soldier, is just one hero to take up the mantle for a time — but he's the first person of color to hold the moniker officially. In an interview with Marvel, series editor Tom Brevoort says, "While Sam shares many of Steve’s beliefs in a general sense, he’s also a very different person with a very different background. He didn’t grow up in the 1930s, he’s a modern-day man in touch with the problems of the 21st Century."
However, Marvel has explored the idea of black super soldiers in the past. In the 2003 limited series Truth: Red, White, and Black, World War II scientists attempt to recreate the original super-soldier serum and test their formula on enlisted black soldiers, mirroring the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Only Isaiah Bradley survives the tests and gains superhuman strength, speed, and endurance. Bradley would go on to become a legend in the African American community and was even regarded as the Black Captain America, but his identity and historical significance aren't commonly known.
Of course, this move jibes very much with what Marvel has done in the last few years. Pakistani-American student Kamala Khan recently became the first Muslim Ms. Marvel, and Miles Morales has become a fan favorite in his tenure as Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man.