Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Marvel Comics is not always on top of their game in terms of preparing their titles for incoming movie-hyped readers. You may have experienced the disappointing sensation of bouncing out of the most recent Spider-Man movie and into a comic book store only to discover that Peter Parker isn’t even inhabiting his body within the comics. Too often, the books bear no resemblance to those characters you love on screen.
Marvel is making efforts to halt such publishing foolery. The recent miniseries Falcon and the Winter Soldier, written by Derek Landy and penciled by Federico Vicentini, was crafted with the Disney+ audience in mind. However, in this timeline, both men have already been Captain America and had their mantle reclaimed by Steve Rogers. Are they bitter? Surprisingly not.
The old friends are on an assassin’s tail, one who smells like Hydra but doesn’t quite look like Hydra. When it comes to bloodshed, The Natural is…you guessed it, a natural. He’s a young kid who worships Steve Rogers and wants to prove his metal by crushing those who once masqueraded in his uniform.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier presents a Sam and Bucky who behave much more like their MCU counterparts. This is the Midnight Run dynamic Kevin Feige hopes to emulate in the new series. The friends live to bicker and tear each other down, but when the shooting starts, there is no one else they’d rather be back-to-back with than each other.
Captain America: No Escape
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is expected to return in a big bad way. The villain has appeared in plenty of great and terrible comics throughout the decades. Finding the perfect one to pair with the Disney+ series proved difficult. Part of me wanted to point you toward his Thunderbolts era, during which Zemo thrived as the leader to Marvel’s spin on The Suicide Squad. Another part of me wanted to spotlight his classic era, where Zemo cackled as the hammiest of hams. There is a real charm in his go-big-or-go-home villainy.
However, for the best Zemo, once again, I find myself going back to the Ed Brubaker comics. Captain America: No Escape sees the baddie seeking lost glory. In the Marvel Comics universe, Zemo was the villain responsible for plunging Captain America into the ice toward the end of the war. It was a momentous victory, and when the treacherous scum sired a son, the kid thirsted to replicate his father’s achievement. With Steve Rogers dead or languishing in time or whatever, Zemo number two believes he can cement his superiority by wiping out Cap’s sidekick replacement.
U.S. Agent: American Zealot
John Walker is everything Steve Rogers ain’t. He’s Cap’s psychotic mirror-self. Created by writer Mark Gruenwald, Walker was intended to show how patriotism took to extreme results in tyranny. A concept that has only become more pertinent with every passing year.
Walker began his comic book life as the villain Super Patriot, but when Rogers became despondent and stepped away from his role as Captain America in the 1980s, Walker walked right in. His Captain America became a puppet for the Red Skull — oh, that guy — and eventually, Rogers would have to square off against the jerk and reclaim the title. With his status revoked, Walker reinvented himself as U.S. Agent.
Marvel recently launched a miniseries focusing on Walker’s deplorable character, knowing Wyatt Russell would slay as him in the Disney+ series. U.S. Agent: American Zealot is a tawdry thriller depicting Walker’s soldier as a military reject fleeing to the financial safety of private security. Writer Christopher Priest and artist Georges Jeanty relish Walker’s low morale and inject affinity in their telling without crowning Walker a hero.
Captain America #349 and #350
Piecing the multiple trailers together, it’s clear that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Flag-Smasher is not one villain but a terrorist group led by Erin Kellyman. If you’re hunting for them in the comics, you’re going to be disappointed. The Captain America foe is a goofy flip-flopper whom I’ve never taken too seriously. He started as an angry orphan who witnessed his diplomat father trampled to death by rioters protesting outside the Latverian (Doctor Doom’s homeland) embassy. Going forward, Flag-Smasher swore to dismantle all borders, unifying the world through governmental collapse.
Captain America issues #349 and #350 see Flag-Smasher seeking help against his own diabolical organization, U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind — lol, Marvel sure does adore its acronyms). When he turns to Cap for assistance, he finds John Walker instead and goes on a tear. The clash leads to Rogers reclaiming the shield and smashing Red Skull as the narrative’s secret schemer.
The comic book Flag-Smasher might be a little silly, but his core motivation pairs nicely with 2021 concerns and where our heroes are after Avengers: Endgame. Toss in John Walker, and Zemo and The Falcon and the Winter Solider face a triple threat of recognizable, empathetic antagonism.
This last comic is a swerve, sorta. Once upon a time, I asked Ed Brubaker where one should turn to in the Captain America canon if they wanted to maintain their hype after his run’s conclusion. I was eager and looking for recs that inspired his Steve Rogers. Rather than rattling off a list of classic Cap comics featuring the threads he weaved into his Super Soldier narrative, Brubaker championed his creator-owned title Velvet. The joke was on him, as I was already in the bag for the spy-fi action-adventure.
Partnering with his frequent Captain America collaborator Steve Epting, Velvet basically delivers a spin on the James Bond/Moneypenny relationship, revealing that the biggest badass in the room is the woman who retired behind the desk. When her ex-lover is named an enemy of the state, Velvet Templeton ditches the office for the field. Just as her investigation begins, she’s branded a villain and must battle her co-workers as well as the killers who staged the set-up.
Velvet is a savagely paced comic. It’s the type of read that you rip through, forgoing sleep to reach the end as quickly as possible. There’s not a single costume to be found, but it stews in the same doubt and distrust that the best Captain America comics explore and where The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is destined to plumb. What does it mean to serve your country? What line won’t you cross? Is there even a line?