Black superheroes have become part and parcel of pop culture. There’s Blade, the half-human, half-vampire creature slayer whose popularity has spawned a huge fan following after four movies; Storm, the mutant weather master, from the wildly successful X-Men comics and films; Spawn, War Machine, John Stewart (who took up the Green Lantern mantle), the list goes on and on. But before any of these black superheroes, there was Captain America’s winged partner: The Falcon.
The comic industry was a little bit different in 1969, and black superheroes weren’t as common in the comic book landscape. Marvel has previously presented Black Panther, native of the fictional Wakanda country; however, he did not have an African-American counterpart and was not very popular among comic book readers. Until Captain America #117introduced The Falcon – the first superhero who was African-American and who, curiously did not have the word “Black” included in his name. The Falcon debuted four years before Blade made an appearance and six years before Storm whirled her way into the X-Men comics.
The Falcon’s super powers are not that impressive. All he had at first was a mental connection with his bird, Redwing. His ability to fly wasn’t even a superpower; it came from wearing a jet harness with extendable wings that function as a glider. His first appearance in Captain America #117 was equally unimpressive with the cover featuring Captain America gaping at the Falcon’s green-and-orange tights.
But from then on, The Falcon soared through the 1970’s, fighting alongside Captain America, and even got equal billing when the series was named “Captain America and The Falcon” from 1971 to 1978. In the book “Super Black”, author Adilifu Nama talks about how black superheroes affected American culture, and a whole section is devoted to how The Falcon, a black man soaring through the urban skyline, compelled respect and attention, making an impact on the imaginations of young African-American readers everywhere. Even now, he continues to be an inspiration, maintaining a powerful presence in the Marvel Universe as a bad-ass martial artist with an amplified empathy link that extends to all avian creatures.
The Falcon was created by the Marvel comic maestro himself, Stan Lee, and artist Gene Colan. A near-mint Captain America #117 which featured the black superhero’s debut is now pegged at $200-$300.
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