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Comic Book Legends Revealed #412

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COMIC LEGEND: Steve Englehart revealed that before he was changed by the Red Skull into being a hero, the Falcon worked as a pimp.

STATUS: False

COMIC LEGEND: Steve Englehart was going to reveal that the Red Skull’s revelations about the Falcon were a lie.

STATUS: Essentially False

This is a two-for-one!

Captain America #186 has one of the most controversial retcons in Marvel Comics history, where we learn that Captain America’s partner, the Falcon, was actually a former crook who the Red Skull had used the Cosmic Cube to make into Cap’s perfect partner, all for the purpose of eventually having the Falcon turn on his friend at a key moment…

falconpimp2

falconpimp3

First off, I often see this referred to the revelation that the Falcon was a pimp. Especially in coverage of the upcoming Captain America sequel with Anthony Mackie as the Falcon. There are a bunch of articles mentioning how Mackie’s Falcon will not have the pimp background. However, if you look at the comic, the Falcon is pretty clearly NOT a pimp. Check it out…

falconpimp1

Not only is he never referred to as a pimp, it is clear that he is just working for the mob. He dresses in clothes that might be stereotypically viewed as “pimp clothing,” but the context makes it clear that he is not, in fact, a pimp. LATER writers might have decided that he was a pimp during his time as “Snap” Wilson, but it sure did not appear from the actual text.

Anyhow, this leads to the main question, sent in by reader Jim S., who wanted to know if it was true that Englehart had planned to reveal that the Red Skull’s Falcon revelation was, itself, a ruse, but since Englehart left Captain America with the following issue (with John Warner taking over), he never got a chance to reveal it. The simple answer is no, but Englehart explained to me it was a bit more complex than that…

I came up with that as a jumping off point for John. Many people have asked “Was it true?” and the answer “We, including me, would have found out.” This was one of those things I did where I toss an idea into a story and then see where it takes me. If I’d been the writer, we might have found out that it was true, or we might have found out that it was all a mind-fuck by the Skull, or we might have discovered some third or fourth solution — but I would not know until I ran with it for a while. Since I was not the writer and didn’t run, I have no idea, and when John had trouble keeping up with his writing, the whole thing ended up going nowhere.

Fascinating stuff.

Thanks to Jim for the question and thanks to Steve for the always valuable insight!
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed related to Steve Englehart!

Did Steve Englehart once fake a fan letter to himself to help get a controversial story approved by Marvel?

Was Englehart really going to have Daredevil join the West Coast Avengers?

Did Englehart have to change the Shroud’s origins to make him less like Batman?

Did the famed Deadshot revamp by Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin come about due to a scheduling mix-up?

What was Englehart’s interesting farewell to Marvel in the original pages of Avengers #149?

What character did Englehart bring with him to MULTIPLE comic book companies after leaving Marvel?
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On the next page, was a worker really fired for posting a Dilbert comic strip at work?

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63 Comments

Priest, the writer formerly known as Jim Owsley, had Everett K. Ross claim that the Falcon had indeed been a pimp in Black Panther (1st Marvel Knights series) #17. Of course, this being Priest’s Ross, that could just as easily have been a joke.

J.M. DeMatteis spent a lot of time walking back as much of this stuff as he could without actually undoing it during his 1980s Cap run with Mike Zeck, and Priest got a dig in as well by having Ross note that Sam’s criminal past would have legally disqualified him from being a social worker. Engelhart’s retcon wasn’t just tasteless in the execution, it also didn’t work very well with other things that had been established in the character’s background.

Steve Englehart rules, but that was such a horrible retcon!!!! And the fact that the idea died on the vine makes it even worse.

Wow. I’d forgotten just how grotesque Frank Robbins’ art was.

That unused Whilce Portacio cover is hideous! I usually don’t mind Whilce, but my god, what is wrong with Jean’s face?! Terrible.

If Englehart wanted to get away from the “model minority” aspect of the Falcon (which the Red Skull mocks in that excerpt above), there were so many better “real” personalities he could have given him than a stock blacksploitation type.
Since nobody ever pegged Sam as “Snap” Wilson I suppose the Skull must have set him up with a false identity–but since he doesn’t say so, I’m guessing that as you say, that was a screw-up (SHIELD obviously never found anything suspicious about him).

From the second I read that story back in the 70s it’s been my dream to retcon it,.

One tiny correction — Portacio’s storyline involving Apocalypse and the Dark Riders in X-Factor ended up running in #65-68, not #66-68.

So it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but it’s not a duck? You know you’re on thin ice when that’s your only defense against creating one of the most horribly racist moments in modern comics. A terrible blot on an otherwise great career… Kudos to the work DeMatties did to amend it by framing it in the tragedy of Sam watching his father murdered, though it did result in Sam Wilson now having mental issues and Snap is actually another persona the way The Hulk is a persona that erupted from Bruce Banner. Hmmm, I can’t believe no one ever thought to “Hulk” The Falcon to see it unleashed.

So it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but it’s not a duck?

But it doesn’t quack like a duck. If this was a matter of them just not using the term but clearly implying it, then fair enough, but the story makes it clear that he is not a pimp. And the “looks like a duck” part is more a statement about how ALL black gangsters were drawn at the time.

Feel free to knock the retcon. I don’t like it either. But he is not a pimp in the story.

I have to say, the last panel shown pretty strongly implies that he was a pimp. Not so much in the text, but it’s not just the outfit. It’s him lounging against his ride keeping an eye on the implied hooker who seems to know him. If he’s not a pimp, he’s doing a remarkably good impersonation. As Badthingus notes, it’s not just looking like a duck–it’s also quacking like one.

He doesn’t really look or quack like a duck when you consider that modern pimp stereotypes were generic black stereotypes in the 70′s. So yes the story is guilty of stereotyping, but calling that stereotype a pimp is an example of how society stereotyped a stereotype.

He doesn’t really look or quack like a duck when you consider that modern pimp stereotypes were generic black stereotypes in the 70?s. So yes the story is guilty of stereotyping, but calling that stereotype a pimp is an example of how society stereotyped a stereotype.

Yeah, exactly. We look at him hanging out checking out a scantily clad lady and we see it as a pimp bit, but that’s not how it was written there. There it is just a stereotypical black hood who would, naturally, be flirting with women like that. You re-do that scene with a stereotypical Italian gangster checking out a girl walking by and it would not strike us as a pimp thing at ALL. It is only the outfit that makes it seem like he is a pimp and the outfit was just a stereotypical depiction of a black guy period at the time.

Yeah, I have referred to it in the past as the ‘making the Falcon a pimp’ retcon, and I don’t apologize for that, because it is a minor bit of nuance, but I think Brian is making a noteworthy observation, in that making Sam literally a pimp was not Engelhart’s intention.

As someone who read the story when it first came out, it clearly screamed “black ghetto criminal” not “pimp.” Or, what Dylan said.

This whole discussion brings to mind my favorite line from the immortal cinematic treasure Pootie Tang:

“Just ’cause a girl like to dress fancy and stand on the street corner near some whores, you automatically think she’s hookin’?”

The Original Jimmy

March 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Frank Robbins art is pure brilliance.

Jimmy, different strokes for different folks and all, and Robbins certainly had a distinctive style, but it seems to me it was ill-suited to superhero comics.

I enjoyed Robbins’ writing on Batman, but I did not go for his art. Though it didn’t hurt as much here as when he subbed for Mike Kaluta on the Shadow.

I did recall seeing that Portacio wedding cover before. I think it was used in an article in MARVEL AGE that announced him as the series’, then, new artist. I always wondered what happened, there.

Regarding the story that actually did run (4 issues, by the way, not 3. It started in issue #65), what was Marvel’s actual motive? At this point, Cable had only come into existence just over a year earlier in the pages of NEW MUTANTS. Did Marvel know, at this time, that little Nathan was going to be Cable, or where they looking for a way to write the character out in preparation for the upcoming reboot?

Whoa Dylan, that is simply not factual: “modern pimp stereotypes were generic black stereotypes in the 70?s”

Are you sure the future Askani clan would be introduced in the original story since Claremont stated on the Comixfan forums that it was never intended that Askani be Mother Rachel, or that she come from a Sisterhood?

thwsnappysneezer

March 29, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Whilce’s art is rubbish as ever. I never got Dilbert but that story made the strip some what funny in context.

I want to thank you, Brian. Your blog is amazing, one of the highlights of my weekend.

Brian from Canada

March 29, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Cerebro:

As far as I can tell, Marvel’s thinking was that they had to get rid of the baby somehow. The following issue is the “Muir Island Saga” to tie-in with Uncanny and set up the original five’s interest in returning to Xavier. That wouldn’t have happened very well — and Lee couldn’t play with Cyclops on his team well — if the baby were still around.

Making the baby Cable seems to come as an afterthought, but one that turned out well executed — until they decided in the Quesada era to bring Rachel back to the present. Rachel’s story was that she was supposed to be lost in the time stream until she found herself rooted to the future, which tied her in with her brother more; now, however, it will have to take another writer to put her there in the future, or else she won’t become Mother Askani in the first place!

Brian from Canada

March 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Nathan: I’m pretty sure (but don’t have the exact reference handy) that it isn’t supposed to be Rachel that collects the baby in the past, it’s one of her acolytes. Scott and Jean don’t discover the Rachel connection until the mini-series where, on honeymoon, they find themselves brought to the future to raise their son. And then Rachel quickly dies in that mini as well.

Hey Brian, Yep realise not Rachel, but Claremont was more suggesting that there was no Askani clan, etc.

So any thoughts on what his plans might have been for Askani? Interesting that she had the psychic knife like Psylocke;)

The Original Jimmy

March 30, 2013 at 12:13 am

Cool Arrow, Robbins’ art was and still is divisive regarding his superhero books ( I still remember the Shadow backlash) but he was always a drawcard for me and I still believe his Captain America is brilliant, as well as his Invaders, Human Fly, and short runs on Morbius, Ghost Rider, and even Batman. A unique artist and master draftsman.

Even Jack Kirby himself was criticised as being unsuitable for superheroes by many readers upon his return to Marvel in the late seventies.

Sorry, Brian, I didn’t make it clear that no matter what, the story was going to end with Cyclops’ sun taken by Askani into the future. So yeah, they were already getting ready to clear the decks before the big X-Men/Uncanny X-Men merger, it was just a matter of whether the marriage would take place before then.

@Brian From Canada- making the baby Cable was always the original plan. In New Warriors Annual 1, (published around the same time as X-Factor 68) Chord refers to Cable as “Nathan Winters” and in X-Factor 68, a picture of Cable is on the last page. The thinking was that, as you say, they needed to get rid of the baby but Sinister’s plot implied that the baby would become someone important.

Everybody seems to forget that changing the various creative teams from the X-Titles wasn’t planned in advance, Claremont abruptly left Uncanny in the middle of The Muir Island Saga, due to creative differences with Editor Bob Harras and some extent Jim Lee. I think it’s very clear in reading Uncanny #279 on up that there was no particular storyline followed with the various creators on that book for the next year or so. Ask yourself why Marvel would remove a creative team (Claremont & Lee) from it’s number one selling book. A creative team that just won an Eagle Award for their work. From the time that Claremont left Uncanny to the time shortly after all the artists left to start Image, Marvel was in “Oh Sh!t, we need to do some damage control!” mode. What did Marvel do? Created a bunch of new characters, released a bunch of new series, and went ape-sh!t with crossovers and special events. Every 3rd issue was a collector’s issue for some reason or another. To go back and say it was all planned sounds a lot better than saying we didn’t know what the f@ck we were doing.

of course, since Scott and Jean were already blandly joined at the hip by that point, this wouldn’t have been a big deal and the wedding issue itself wasn’t a big deal.

Brian, you’ve had a tendency in the past to be naive, but you’ve outdone yourself this time. Obviously they would not explicitly say that a prominent superhero in a children’s comic book was in the practice of selling women’s bodies for money, but the pimp thing is being strongly implied here. That panel is much closer to hitting you over the head with the implication he was a pimp than stating definitively that he was not one.

Man, Portacio could have created a real Filipino-superhero then, if those people in Marvel allowed him in the first place. (Bishop). When will Marvel give that opportunity when almost every ethnicity/nationality are allowed shown. Marvel….

Brian, sir, your information above was mentioned in Jim Lee and Chris Claremont (and Whilce Portacio) Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2.

@ Jubliee. The reason you think Sam is implied as a pimp is because that is that you want to see. You see Sam in a “pimp’s” outfit talking to a “hooker”. Why is that? I grew up in the 70′s. I had a family member that would dress up like that when he went out on the weekends. His wife would dress somewhat like the girl in the artwork. They had 9 to 5 jobs just like many other people. They did not dress like that in their normal routine. If I showed you a picture of them from one of the times they went out to the club, would you call my family members “a pimp and his ho”? If so, you have a problem with stereotypes. Everything is not what it seems to be.

Re: Falcon: For me the answer lies in the company he keeps. Captain America has forgiven many a reformed criminal BUT someone who used women to make money from sex? The day Cap got wind of something like that is the day Cap would refuse to work with him ever again unless it was a dire emergency.

I’ve got to say, I’m not a pimp and I’d still have been checking out that woman.

Brian, sir, your information above was mentioned in Jim Lee and Chris Claremont (and Whilce Portacio) Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2.

Oh yeah? Anything else interesting mentioned in it?

Everybody seems to forget that changing the various creative teams from the X-Titles wasn’t planned in advance, Claremont abruptly left Uncanny in the middle of The Muir Island Saga, due to creative differences with Editor Bob Harras and some extent Jim Lee. I think it’s very clear in reading Uncanny #279 on up that there was no particular storyline followed with the various creators on that book for the next year or so. Ask yourself why Marvel would remove a creative team (Claremont & Lee) from it’s number one selling book.

To give them a brand-new title that would sell even more. Lee was always going to get a second X-Men title, the only difference was that Claremont was originally going to co-plot and script it. In that scenario, it was likely that Portacio was going to take over Uncanny X-Men as co-plotter/penciler. Things changed when Claremont left the titles (so obviously changes were then made to the plots of the two series).

I’ve got to say, I’m not a pimp and I’d still have been checking out that woman.

Exactly. He’s a hot shit mob member flirting with a hot chick.

@ Jubliee. The reason you think Sam is implied as a pimp is because that is that you want to see. You see Sam in a “pimp’s” outfit talking to a “hooker”. Why is that? I grew up in the 70?s. I had a family member that would dress up like that when he went out on the weekends. His wife would dress somewhat like the girl in the artwork. They had 9 to 5 jobs just like many other people. They did not dress like that in their normal routine. If I showed you a picture of them from one of the times they went out to the club, would you call my family members “a pimp and his ho”? If so, you have a problem with stereotypes. Everything is not what it seems to be.

Exact-a-mundo. Going even further, the guy is a rising member in the mob sent on an international mission (likely drugs, but whatever it was, it resulted in them bringing back a fortune to the U.S.) but right before he’s sent on an international drug mission he’s working as a pimp? It doesn’t make any sense.

I am a huge fan of Steve Englehart and I loved his work on Captain America… but I have never liked what he did with the Falcon. It was an unfortunate way to end what was an amazing run of stories.

Has anyone ever considered that it might have been Frank Robbins’ decision to draw Sam Wilson in a stereotypical pimp outfit? If you look at a selection of Robbins’ work at Marvel in the 1970s, you will see that he frequently drew a variety of characters in very unusual, bizarre outfits. Especially the women! I really wonder if Englehart’s plot that he gave to Robbins specified what Sam Wilso was supposed to be wearing in those scenes, or if he just said something along the lines of “draw him in a suit & tie,” and Robbins decided to go for an outrageous Seventies blaxploitation look?

Whether Sam Wilson was a racketeer gangster,a pimp,or a drug dealer, I think that we can all agree that the whole “Snap” Wilson retcon was a stupid,unnecessary,and (be it intentional or unintentional) racist retcon that needs to be permanently retconned out of continuity and never referred to again.

Whether Sam Wilson was a racketeer gangster,a pimp,or a drug dealer, I think that we can all agree that the whole “Snap” Wilson retcon was a stupid,unnecessary,and (be it intentional or unintentional) racist retcon that needs to be permanently retconned out of continuity and never referred to again.

Oh, I definitely agree that it was a bad idea for a permanent change.

Could the Snap Wilson thing be a candidate for Abandoned and Forsaken? Has that backstory for Sam Wilson ever been specifically retconned away?

Andy, Cap forgave Sentry, even though the Void has been stated or implied to have killed children. That’s arguably worse than anything a pimp does. He also forgave Rogue, even though what she did to Carol was arguably the equivalent of rape.

Michael, I see your point to a degree but there are a few differences: What Rogue did was an accident, and the Sentry wasn’t in his right mind, and I’m not sure how much Cap knew of the Void’s more extreme actions (I admit I try to block out most of Sentry’s appearances so you might know Sentry’s timeline relative to Cap knowing what all he did as Void better than me; I know at least some of his nastier actions were after they were no longer working together)..

Perhaps a more important difference though is neither Rogue nor Sentry are among his “inner circle ” of close friends (i.e. Bucky, Sharon, etc.) Cap is far more likely to contact Sam for help than he is a lot of his more powerful Avengers teammates. I don’t think that Sam would have earned that extra level of trust had be been a pimp.

Could the Snap Wilson thing be a candidate for Abandoned and Forsaken? Has that backstory for Sam Wilson ever been specifically retconned away?

Oddly enough, not only has it never been retconned, it’s specifically been REITERATED during Priest’s Captain America and Falcon series. That said, the ORIGINAL Falcon origin would be a candidate for Abandoned an’ Forsaked.

Is it possible (not that any writer ever gave any hint of anything like it happening) that the Red Skull literally changed history to turn the Falcon into Snap Wilson? It would fit the Skull’s personality to screw with Sam’s life as much as possible, and a racist like the Skull might think it fitting to turn Sam into a criminal. Of course, it brings all sorts of weird philosophical implications, but the cube has been used to say, turn America into a Nazi stronghold after the Germans won WWII, that seems to be more difficult.

Oh yeah, that’s completely possible. Honestly, I’m surprised no one DID that reveal over the years.

Ben, I was similarly disconcerted by the end of Englehart’s excellent (though brief) run on Defenders. The story with the Black Knight going back to the Crusades has him happily staying there for a life of exciting adventures fighting “Muhammedans” who are clearly the bad guys.
Phred when I mentioned the Skull setting Sam up with a false identity, that’s rot of what I was thinking only in reverse–he could retcon reality so that as far as the world was concerned Sam was the clean-cut social worker with a thing for birds. But yes, it is surprising nobody’s played around with this more given it’s so unpopular and with the Cosmic Cube so easy to abandon and forsake.

@fraser-unfortunately in Cap 350, the Skull flashes back to how he used the Cube to turn a “scoundrel named Snap Wilson” into the Falcon. That’s difficult to explain away.
Yeah, a lot of people had problems with the Black Knight’s fighting in the Crusades, so Roger Stern explained it away as the curse on the Black Knight’s sword returning and influencing him. It makes Hawkeye an idiot for not considering it, since he was aware of the curse, but Clint has his less-than-brilliant moments.
Englehart’s work has a lot of other unfortunate moments- there’s Fasaud, who was so anti-Arab that he was never brought back. And a lot of his treatment of women is problematic- Tigra and Crystal turning into sluts, Clea sleeping with Ben Franklin, Sharon reacting to being raped by refusing to touch Johnny to save his life, Bobbi reacting to being raped by freeing Yetrigar (which has also never been mentioned again because everyone felt Bobbi endangering Clint like that was completely out of character), Hal Jordan’s relationship with Carol ending because she went evil so Hal can hook up with a teenager,etc.

Crystal having an affair hardly constitutes “sluthood” (admittedly “slut’ is a vague term that can mean almost anything. And I had no trouble finding it plausible.
On the plus side, Englehart’s Valkryie was great, and he made Wanda more formidable than she’d been in ages.

Is it possible (not that any writer ever gave any hint of anything like it happening) that the Red Skull literally changed history to turn the Falcon into Snap Wilson? It would fit the Skull’s personality to screw with Sam’s life as much as possible, and a racist like the Skull might think it fitting to turn Sam into a criminal. Of course, it brings all sorts of weird philosophical implications, but the cube has been used to say, turn America into a Nazi stronghold after the Germans won WWII, that seems to be more difficult.

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That’s a great idea/perfect way to retcon that terrible story. I think that we should start an internet petition to get Marvel to use your idea (and give you story credit) as a story in CAPTAIN AMERICA that will fix/retcon away that Snap Wilson crap.

Hey, thanks Blade X. Of course, I should shut up, since maybe it would make a writer less likely to use the story if they have to give someone else credit. : )

I’d be happy just to see the story get retconned one way or another.

“@fraser-unfortunately in Cap 350, the Skull flashes back to how he used the Cube to turn a “scoundrel named Snap Wilson” into the Falcon. That’s difficult to explain away.’ – Michael

Nah, that wasn’t the Red Skull, it was a Space Phantom who was so thoroughly programmed his own thoughts were misleading! : ). Nah, I kid. But it’s not that hard. For one thing, it’s a backup feature in an Annual, which is to ret conning stories what guys in red shirts are to Star Trek episodes, they get ignored frequently and are often casualties to the greater cause. But if you want, well, the Cosmic Cube has been implied to have a bit of a monkey’s paw thing going on, in that it often makes changes the wielder isn’t aware of. It could be that the cube changed even the Skull’s recollection of history. Hey, fraser was right, the cube is too easy to use in retcons.

And now I’ve obviously been thinking about this too much.

Fraser, the problem wasn’t just Crystal having an affair- she was willing to die rather than live with the scandal without caring how that would affect Luna or Medusa. She told Sue that she didn’t regret the affair, even though 15 Avengers, including Tigra, were almost killed as a result and then told Sue “I don’t go after men by nature, I’m not Tigra”. She then tried to break up Johnny’s marriage with “Alicia” and neglected Luna while doing so. The net result was the impression of a woman who doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as she gets laid.

I can’t speak as to her involvement with Johnny but if by “15 Avengers including Tigra were almost killed” that was because of Pietro going off the deep end. Which is not her fault (if you’re thinking of something other than Pietro going crazy, I apologize, that’s all that came to mind).

@fraser- My point was that her response to Sue should have been, “I’m sorry that my husband almost killed your friends. Even though my husband made his own choices, maybe I should have handled things differently.”, not “I don’t regret the affair, and BTW, one of your friends is a slut.”

“I don’t regret the affair, and BTW, one of your friends is a slut.”

lol.

I’ve always found Robbins’ art appealing.

Brian from Canada:

The way I read that story where Rachel was rescued from the timestream was that Cable had effectively done the job he returned to the present to do, thereby erasing his future and making him a remnant of a vanished timeline (not unlike Rachel from hers) so Rachel could no longer travel to that future and, hence, was free to return to the present and the Mother Askani bit only exists in Cable’s memory.

It’s worrying how uptight you guys seems to be about sex in general.

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