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We’re one week away from the premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios’ second Disney+ series. Set after Avengers: Endgame, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, created by Malcolm Spellman and directed by Kari Skogland, finds Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) trying to uphold the legacy of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) after he passed the shield onto Sam. That legacy is threatened by the re-emergence of Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), an anti-patriotism organization, the Flag-Smashers, led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), and a new, government-sanctioned Captain America, John F. Walker (Wyatt Russell). Sam and Bucky’s mission reunites them with Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) as the future of the mantle of Captain America becomes a global effort.
The six-episode series isn’t based on any one particular comic book storyline, but in true Marvel fashion, will draw from a variety of comics, both single issues and ongoing arcs. WandaVision saw a major boom in sales of titles related to the show, with prices skyrocketing and several trade collections going out of print. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see The Falcon and the Winter Soldier create the same phenomenon. Those looking to brush up their Marvel history and add to their collection can get ahead of the game with this compilation of essential Marvel Comics storylines that look to have the most impact on the limited series, and the MCU beyond.
Falcon & Winter Soldier (2020), Derek Landy, Federico Vicentini
Those looking to get a sense of the buddy cop dynamics that will serve The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should definitely check out the recent five-issue miniseries that sees Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes on a global mission to uncover the new head of HYDRA. Fast-paced and action-heavy, Falcon & Winter Soldier gives a strong sense of both characters, who, despite their ties to Steve Rogers, and both having worn the mantle of Captain America, have very different methods when it comes to saving America and the world.
All-New Captain America: HYDRA Ascendant (2015), Rick Remender, Stuart Immonen
Sam Wilson’s tenure as Captain America begins here, and starts in style. While his later adventures as Cap would become deeper, leaning more heavily on the complex issues facing modern America, HYDRA Ascendant is a blockbuster opening that positions Sam as one of the coolest super-spies in the Marvel Universe as he faces off against the growing threat of a new HYDRA (you’ll notice a theme here), comprising some of Steve Rogers’ greatest enemies and led by Baron Zemo. For those who were on the fence about Sam Wilson taking over the mantle from Steve Rogers at the time, Remender’s run cemented Sam as more than a sidekick.
Captain America: Sam Wilson No. 1-24 (2015), Nick Spencer
Nick Spencer took the reins of Captain America after Rick Remender, and with two concurrently running books, Captain America: Sam Wilson and Captain America: Steve Rogers, reshaped Captain America during one of America’s most politically divisive time periods. In Captain America: Sam Wilson, Spencer traced Sam’s efforts to live up to a tremendous legacy despite the fact that half of the country and conservative news media wants nothing to do with a Black Captain America. Not only does Spencer weave Sam’s story through Marvel’s major events — Standoff, Civil War II and Secret Empire — he tackles issues such as weaponized social media, police brutality, and racism. The greatest surprise isn’t that Spencer addresses such issues but that he manages to bring back familiar characters to Captain America comics like AmeriCop, Flag-Smasher and U.S. Agent and reframe them within the context of modern America. From the previews of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it seems the series will lean quite a bit into Spencer’s run: the concept of two Americas, and the question of which one Captain America stands for.
Falcon (2017), Rodney Barnes, Joshua Cassara
In the aftermath of Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire, Sam Wilson gave the role of Captain America back to Steve Rogers and returned to his roots as the Falcon. But just because he’s no longer wearing the red, white and blue doesn’t mean Sam Wilson’s voice is any less necessary in the Marvel Universe. Rodney Barnes ensures that Wilson remains an essential voice of Black heroism, not only dealing with a gang war in Chicago with his partner Patriot, but also facing off against Mephisto’s son Blackheart (slow your roll on those Falcon and the Winter Soldier fan theories). Barnes, who is currently impressing with the urban vampire saga Killadelphia at Image Comics, strays from the traditional spy-fi of Sam Wilson’s modern books and injects some much-appreciated horror that makes the series a must-read. Oh, and everyone’s favorite Daywalker, Blade, plays a supporting role too!
Winter Soldier No. 1-14 (2012), Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice, Michael Lark
Most comic-reading fans of the Winter Soldier have probably read Ed Brubaker’s iconic Captain America run which re-introduced Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier, and later saw him don the mantle of Captain America after the “death” of Steve Rogers. And if you haven’t, get on it! Seriously, you can’t go wrong with Brubaker. It seems, however, that not enough people have read Brubaker’s Winter Soldier, a 14-issue run of glorious spy action that follows Bucky Barnes after his tenure as Captain America, partnered with Black Widow to hunt down sleeper agents he trained during his days as a brainwashed assassin. Romance, intrigue, brutal action, and a giant gorilla with a Minigun, Winter Soldier highlights why Bucky Barnes is one of the best characters in the Marvel Universe. And for those looking to get ahead of the game, Winter Soldier is also essential reading for Marvel Studios’ upcoming Black Widow.
Thunderbolts Presents: Zemo – Born Better (2007), Fabian Nicieza, Tom Grummett
Baron Zemo has gotten plenty of time to shine in Captain America titles over the years, but for those looking to dig a little deeper into the character’s psyche and family history, you can’t do better than Zemo – Born Better. The four-issue miniseries sees Zemo traveling to the past, uncovering his family history and coming to terms with his legacy, one allegedly built on superiority but consistently met with failure. While the Zemo introduced in Captain America: Civil War (2016) is quite a bit different than his comic book counterpart, The Falcon and Winter Soldier finds the character moving closer to his more familiar visage, and the adoption of the title Baron suggests that his family history will also come into play. If we had to guess, Zemo’s story is only just beginning in the MCU and Born Better may give viewers a better idea of where he’s headed, and what his name truly means.
Captain America (1985-1995), Mark Gruenwald
For a decade, the late Mark Gruenwald defined Captain America, creating characters like Crossbones, U.S. Agent, AmeriCop and Flag-Smasher, developing Captain America’s formidable rogues’ gallery while also forcing Steve Rogers to confront the politics of America. Gruenwald’s Captain America wasn’t just a symbol, but an activist who understood that patriotism doesn’t mean blind loyalty but questioning what the country stands for and fighting for it to be better. Gruenwald’s ideologies had a major impact on Spencer’s handling of Sam Wilson, and when it comes to comic writers, Gruenwald stands alongside Brubaker as one of the best to ever handle the character. Of course, only the most ambitious will even consider reading 10 years of comics, but if you read anything from Captain America No. 307-443, you’re in great hands.
There’s sure to be a few other surprises coming in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and there are certainly comics to recommend for those too. But for the sake of secrecy, we’ll hold those for now. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is shaping up to be an action-packed blast that will hopefully dig into the systemic and historical issues of America in a meaningful way. And by the end of it, we’ll have a new Captain America, and new stories to be told, both in comics and onscreen.
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