FALCON & WINTER SOLDIER Spoiler Alert! Who is [CLASSIFIED]?
Trigger Warning: The following article discusses the comic book history of Isaiah Bradley, which includes human medical experimentation and PTSD.
Well Captain America fans, it’s Friday, and that means that there’s a brand new episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier available for streaming on Disney+… and hey! The episodes have names now! Well, ain’t that hunky-dory?
If you haven’t had a chance to see “The Star-Spangled Man,” the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, released for streaming on Disney+ on Friday, March 26th, 2021, you’ll want to put on your goggles and fly away from this page immediately!
Who Is Isaiah Bradley?
In the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) brings Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to meet a character named Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly).
According to Bradley, he faced off against a brainwashed Winter Soldier in 1951, during the Korean War. He even says that he managed to take part of Bucky’s arm during a battle in Goyang – no small feat!
However, Bradley reveals that in thanks for his service as a super soldier, he was imprisoned and tested upon for thirty of the intervening years.
As Bucky tells Sam after they leave (read: are thrown out of) Bradley’s home, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) never even knew Bradley existed. So who is this other Super Soldier, anyway? And, is the U.S. government really going to be the big bad again? We hope so!
Truth: Red, White, & Black
Isaiah Bradley made his first appearance in the panels of the Marvel Comics universe in Truth: Red, White, & Black (2003) #1 by Robert Morales, Kyle Baker, and Wes Abbott. The seven issue series (which you can read in its entirety on Marvel Unlimited right now) follows the original Captain America of the 616 – who isn’t Steve Rogers, but rather, Isaiah Bradley!
In 1942, Bradley is one of 300 Black soldiers who are involuntarily recruited to the U.S. Government’s Super Soldier Serum experiments. Many of the soldiers subjected to the experiments die, or are physically mutated by the serum. However, some of them survive, transforming into the huge, muscular soldiers that are associated with Marvel’s brand of Super Soldiers.
The surviving Black Super Soldiers are loaded onto the H.M.S. Pynchon and sent overseas, to the European theater of World War II (it’s not a coincidence that this oceanic journey takes place in the third issue, subtitled “The Passage”).
However, the battles we see the Black Super Soldiers taking part in are not the glorious, righteous operations we most often associate with the white Captain America. In fact, as the comic continues, the “secret history” of the United States frequently comes up: real-life historical atrocities that have been committed by the Federal Government but largely shunted out of the shared conversation.
As the battle in Europe continues, Bradley even reads a familiar Captain America comic book. However, the Black Super Soldiers observe that while the facts of the story are similar to their own, the execution is somewhat less… messy than their personal experiences.
Nevertheless, Bradley eventually dons the Captain America uniform and infiltrates a German concentration camp. While his mission is mostly successful, he is captured by the German government. However, he eventually escapes from their imprisonment…
Only to be sentenced to life in prison by the United States judicial system for stealing the Captain America uniform.
Eventually, he is pardoned, but he never receives due recognition for his invaluable contributions (however, Rogers does eventually uncover the truth of his story, and pays him a personal visit, although the long-term effects of the experimentation have had an affect on his mental facilities).
The story bears a resemblance to one real-life historical atrocity in particular: the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which Black men were intentionally infected with syphilis by the United States government in order to conduct tests on what occurred when the disease was untreated.
The First Captain America
While he may have been involved in the Korean War rather than World War II, it’s clear that Bradley occupies a similar space in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as he does in the Marvel Comics universe.
Will we get a chance to see a flashback to Bradley at the height of his Super Solider powers? We’ll be tuning in, True Believers – won’t you?