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Remember to Forget – Falcon’s Past as a Street Hustler

This is the first in a new series spotlighting never retconned comic book plot points that I think SHOULD be retconned, or at least completely forgotten.

We begin with the Falcon’s past as a street hustler.

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

The Falcon manages to break free of the Red Skull’s control, but still, the part of his past has remained in continuity ever since…

falconpimp1

As I talked about in a Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed last year, the guy who even CAME UP with the retcon, Steve Englehart, himself was never necessarily intending for this retcon to stick. The issue was that he left the title before the story was finished, leaving it to his replacement, John Warner, to resolve it however Warner wanted to. Warner, though, was only briefly on the book. Soon Jack Kirby took over the title and Kirby wasn’t about to be addressing plots from the previous writers (he also glossed over the fact that Englehart had given Captain America increased super-strength). So the Falcon street hustler plot was just sort of forgotten about. As some commenters noted, though, J.M. DeMatteis valiantly tried redeeming it a bit by saying that Sam became Snap after suffering some horrible personal tragedies…

snap1

snap2

A priest explains the concept of the trauma “creating” Snap…

snap3

But we later learn that the priest was actually a figment of Sam’s imagination, which is…well…different.

Even with this, though, we still have it established that Falcon’s past included a time as a street hustler.

That was pretty much it for Snap for years. It happened, no one wants to talk about it but it happened. That was until Christopher Priest made it a big part of his Captain America and Falcon series in 2004. Priest chose to “turn into the swerve,” as it were and actually deal with the Falcon’s troubled retconned past head on (as most writers have just glossed over it over the years)…

capfalcon

I think it was a bad idea in the first place that I don’t think helps the character at all (especially with the character now a major movie character) and I wouldn’t mind a future writer making an offhand comment that the Red Skull was lying and that he had used the Cosmic Cube to CREATE the Snap Wilson history and that it was NOT Sam’s actual past. Or, of course, the current situation of just ignoring it is fine, too.

EDITED TO ADD: Awesomely enough, Rick Remender and I are on the same exact wavelength. He talked to CBR about his upcoming series featuring Sam Wilson as Captain America and that’s the EXACT retcon he’s going with. He told CBR:

The Red Skull is a guy who tweaked reality with the Cosmic Cube to create “Snap” Wilson, to try and defame Sam, which is something that we will be digging into.

There never was a “Snap” Wilson. “Snap” Wilson was a construct of the Red Skull. He was an attempt to defame Sam. So Sam has a very personal grudge against the Red Skull.

Awesome! Thanks, Rick!

If you have any other suggestions of comic book plots that you think it’d be best to forget, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com

57 Comments

Actually I believe JM DeMatteis did a sort of half-retcon. His version IIRC was that Sam started out as the clean, upright type, then he adopted “Snap” as a persona after a tragedy, the retcon being that Snap was close to a second personality/delusion rather than “real.” But yes, the events still occurred.

The thing is, the best origins are simple and give you insight into the character. Falcon’s origin was always kind of convoluted and had no connection with how he got a hold of his wings. I thought the movie did a brilliant job of just saying he was part of an elite military group that learned to use those wings, and Cap and Black Widow just stole them for him. It was less convoluted, and, really, did the hustler past really add anything to the Falcon? I guess the only question is: Are we going to see Redwing appear in some fashion in the movies? Because, though it is a small thing and probably would not help him much, I still like Redwing.

In Priest’s Black Panther series, Ross introduces Falcon to the readers and addresses his past as Snap. He says something like “We’ll pretend that wouldn’t disqualify him from a job as a social worker.” So Priest embraced it, knowing full well it didn’t quite make sense.

Rick Remender has said straight up that he’s going to get rid of this.

It always amazes me how Marvel tried to “ruin” some of their more progressive characters from the 1970s. And apparently it was all done with no malicious intent.

One of their more prominent black superheroes is revealed to be a street hustler, one of their more prominent feminist characters is made magically pregnant and goes off to live with her rapist-son.

I’m surprised they never got around to have Shang Chi hit by some magic ray that wipes out his knowledge of English and forces him to communicate in some horrible comical Asian “accent”.

I think the JM DeMatteis version fixed all the wrong done by Englehart (even I think it was a good twist). I would not allow Remender to retcon anything…he has done enough harm to the Cap character to let him ruin the Falcon too…

Falcon was sort of the perfect side-kick. His one power (flight) was also something that his partner couldn’t do. His race spoke well of the values of the protagonist at a time when that mattered. The only problem is that he didn’t have a ton of personality.

The ‘Snap’ Wilson thing reads to like a wrong-headed attempt to address that. It is really far past its sell-by date, especially in a Marvel U that already has Luke Cage filling that space.

You should just do Sin’s Past next week to get it over with.

Before this gets reconned, I wish Quentin Taranino would adapt it to film.

Scott Lovrine aka Cherokee Jack

August 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I think you mean John Warner, not Wagner

Marvel is generally uncomfortable with doing full retcons and instead prefer to just act like the stupider aspects of their continuity never happened.

I’m not so sure you can say Engelhart “ruined” the character. I think he was attempting to make the character more socially relevant. I suspect he wanted to tap into the same vein that Luke Cage did, and the Blaxploitation movies of the era. I don’t think he succeeded very well, since I think he was too influenced by movies and tv of the era, which focused a lot on street life, an attempts to lure an urban audience, rather than firsthand experience or a lot of research (and who has time for that, on a monthly deadline?)

@Lyle, if he appears again, post Avengers 2, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stark has whipped up a mechanical scout “bird” for him, since he seems to be taking on the Avengers uniforms. Maybe not quite all Bubo, but something a little more drone like.

M-Wolverine, I had the same thought. Basically a drone with cameras for reconnaissance that feed into Falcon’s mask, and also possibly offensive weapons. Give it a rudimentary AI (not Jarvis, but something more simplistic), so it can operate somewhat independently. Use the whole Ultron thing to justify not going with full artificial intelligence. I think that would be a lot easier for moviegoers to “swallow,” and would probably be easier to depict on film.

Jeff –

I don’t think Englehart was malicious or anything. Yes, it really seems like he was tapping into Blaxploitation and trying to be hip. It’s one of those things that only years later we can look at it and wonder at how bad it looks. “Let’s take a upstanding African-American character, call him SNAP and put him into a pimp suit!”

Frank Robbins is a God. I always love seeing his art. So original and distinctive.

Rick Remender has said straight up that he’s going to get rid of this.

I’m not a Remender fan but if he does this it will vindicate him fully in my eyes.

Before this gets reconned, I wish Quentin Taranino would adapt it to film.

I’m sure it would be a wet dream for him because it gives him an in-story justification to use the word “nigger” as freely as possible, which seems to bring him much joy. I’m convinced the only reason he did Django was so he could have an excuse to use it controversy free because it was a movie where it would almost be unacceptable NOT to use the word.

I’m not so sure you can say Engelhart “ruined” the character. I think he was attempting to make the character more socially relevant.

Why is a street hustler and implied pimp more socially relevant than an upstanding activist social worker?

So I just did my googles and yup it’s true:

The “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS” event will bring Sam and the Red Skull face to face. We know Cap has a history with the Red Skull, but the Falcon did, too. What’s your sense of the enmity between Sam Wilson and Johann Schmidt?

Sam’s empathic powers, his connection with Redwing and birds, is something that grew out of his adventure of trying to take down the Red Skull when he had the Cosmic Cube. The Red Skull is a guy who tweaked reality with the Cosmic Cube to create “Snap” Wilson, to try and defame Sam, which is something that we will be digging into.

?There never was a “Snap” Wilson. “Snap” Wilson was a construct of the Red Skull. He was an attempt to defame Sam. So Sam has a very personal grudge against the Red Skull.

There was so much wrong with this retcon, that it has always ticked me off. We have a character who was one of the first prominent black characters, who has been co-heading the book for over 50 issues, with the motivation of “He wants to do good”, and yet the writer of this decides to cliche the character up. I don’t care what he says to defend this decision, to not have fixed it during it’s run, is inexcusable if not borderline racist in my opinion. Engelhart deserves prop for giving the Falcon his wings(after over 50 issues of just being a powerless fighter hanging out with Cap)

It wouldn’t have been hard to simply state that the “Snap persona” was created by lingering connection the Red Skull had with the cube, and that none of it was real, and that it even went so far as to alter other peoples perceptions/memories of previous events and interactions with Sam Wilson(explains why in the Priest run he had some people remember his Snap persona) and then be done with it forever.

Kill this retcon once and for all. There is no bigger disgrace in the Marvel universe than this retcon and it should be stamped out with extreme prejudice.

@Lyle? How was Falcon’s origin that convoluted? Man raised a hunting Falcon, was hired by a group of people to hunt with a hunting expedition, finds out that the expedition is a bunch of ex-Nazis and he wants no parts of them. For a comic book origin not really that out of the ordinary. (You could even simplify it to man finds himself on an island currently ran by former nazis and decides to help overthrow them) There wasn’t much other back story except he was a social worker in Harlem. There is plenty of room to add colorful back story to that character if you wanted to flesh him out, while still maintaining the inherent positive traits that he had. (You have the whole area of explaining how a kid from Harlem came to raise a hunting falcon to begin with)

Ultimately this retcon served no purpose other than to make him a thug. He wasn’t turning on Captain America because he was a bad guy who was brainwashed, he was turning on Captain America because he was brainwashed.(That is a perfectly acceptable reason for a heel turn in comic books.)..there was no purpose of adding the thug aspect to the character, even for the storyline it happened in.

So I just did my googles and yup it’s true:

Yep, I had already edited it into the piece (Albert Ching sent me the link). Neat, huh?

Englehart really seems to be mocking the idea of Sam as an “upright cheerful Negro”–did he think that kind of character was passe? Or is that just the Skull talking?
But yeah, if he wanted to recast Sam (so to speak), there were dozens of better personalities he could have given him.

Y’know, if the “Snap” persona was a complete fabrication by the Red Skull (and that certainly is something that makes sense, that the Skull would be screwing with Sam’s head), the Skull would have had to have gotten the “story” from somewhere, so does that mean that even though he’s a vile fascist racist hate monger, the Red Skull also can’t help but be drawn to blaxpoitation films?

“Ja, Ja, I’m just talkin’ ’bout Shaft! Shut yo’ mouth, schweinehund!”

That is some quality writing from Christopher Priest there.

His Cap & Falcon book really deserved more success.

@T
No, I don’t. I think Engelhart was trying to make the character more like Luke Cage, which was about the only black character that was a hit with urban black audiences. The most popular was Conan. I think Engelhart would have been better served by creating a new character, rather than trying to revise an existing one; but, that was a mistake that many comic writers made.

I don’t think Englehart was trying to be malicious at all; the writing comes across as more symptomatic of what when you have a white writer who’s clearly grown up in a really white world (anyone who thinks black people in any time period used phrases like “weren’t green no more” has never actually seen a black person outside of Pam Grier films) trying to add layers on to something they don’t know anything about. It’s kind of like Porgy & Bess – written with the best intentions (create an opera for the African-American experience, featuring African-American music, to be performed exclusively by African-American actors) but by two Jewish guys. According to that show, black people are multi-layered people with real emotions, but they’re lives revolve around fist-fights, drug addiction, and speak in pidgin dialects. Like Englehart, they just really didn’t have anything to draw on outside of the stereotypes that they assumed were all true.

I also think the reason no one has really been able to retcon it is because this is one difficult can of worms to put back in. People could take it as an attempt to distance a trademarked character from actual people who DO have something resembling that type of background, almost like a denial of some of the circumstances that young black males have had to face for years. Falcon was okay from his inception because he was portrayed as someone lucky enough to avoid falling into that cycle, but once this got introduced, the issues out there and no one can really talk about it ’cause y’know, no one can talk about race. And all of that’s assuming that the retcon itself isn’t botched in some really offensive way. I really hope Rick Remender can pull this off. I’m apprehensive because his Cap run has been among the weakest work of his career and I believe his strengths lie in coming up with his own concepts as opposed being a fixer. And, for the record, I thought that Alex’s “M-Word” speech was actually portrayed as being naive and not Remender’s viewpoint at all, but I still don’t know if I trust the guy to get into any talk about minority identity. I’d feel better if they got whoever Marvel’s equivalent to Geoff Johns is – someone who can take all of a character’s baggage, and instead of reverting it, reweave it into something that resembles the old status quo, but now with a clearer sense of focus and depth.

No, I don’t. I think Engelhart was trying to make the character more like Luke Cage, which was about the only black character that was a hit with urban black audiences.

You used the words “socially relevant” so I was confused. It seems you mean Englehart wanted to make Cage more popular or more in line with pop culture trends (e.g. Sidney Poitier was passe and blaxploitation was on the rise), in which case I can agree.

Englehart claims though that he didn’t plan to have it stick, which for some reason i find more infuriating. If he actually planned for it to stay, then bad as it was, I can understand him leaving without correcting it. But if on some level he knew it was a bad idea and planned it to be a fakeout, it’s especially irresponsible to introduce it without rectifying it. Even if he left Cap, it was typical of Marvel writers in the 70s to finish dangling storylines in whatever new books they were working on for Marvel.

I’m Ok with the retcon, provided that it’s established that Sam Wilson still wore that pink and purple suit and hat at some point. I mean, look at it! It’s magnificent!

Ah, there is so much fodder for this feature… to the matter at hand, though, I’m glad that Remender is officially retconning this. I remember getting some of Englehart’s run last year to peruse and most of it was pretty good, but this story just made me feel ill. Correct me if I’m wrong, but The Falcon had to be one of the first five or so black superheroes NOT named “The Black ______.” What a way to completely undo some perfectly good progress in comics’ depictions of minorities.

Another chapter of Steve Englehart’s “good intentions gone horribly awry” is Extraño from the New Guardians, who is probably comics’ first openly gay superhero, but also holds some world record as one of the most horriblt stereotypical gay characters ever created.

J. M. de Matteis did the best he could to rescue the Snap Wilson idea and give some pathos and dignity to it, but it’s still the Falcon in a purple pimp suit. They could have Alan Moore trying to save it, but it’s like a shit sandwich. You can use any spice to cover the taste and use the best bread there is, but it’s still shit.

Ehhhh, I don’t care for a re-retcon.

1. It doesn’t have a bearing on any story, so retreading is kind of a waste of time
2. Marvel had 2/2 premiere African-American characters as street thugs. Sam Wilson has had a background as a pimp for 40 years now, and I’m not going to pretend Marvel didn’t let that happen.
3. I guess I sort of understand why they did it. It’s pretty hilarious. Imagine if he had a Personality Snap, like Wolverine’s berserker rage, where he spoke in backwards jive and got stabby with a knife!

Dear Marvel,

Please stop revising Falcon’s history. It’s becoming as convoluted as Hawkman’s. It doesn’t matter what Falcon used to be. What matters is who he BECAME.

Please revise Falcon’s history. Snap was a horrible insulting mistake that has to go. Thank you Mr. Remender.

To be fair about the “Black” in the superhero name thing, that was actually a genuine trend among black people at the time, and the white writers were trying to depict that. It was part of the black pride and black power movements. There were even lots of movies like Black Dynamite, Black Caesar, Black Shampoo, Black Eye (about a black private eye), Black First, Black Belt Jones, and other examples. It’s not fair to judge it in the context of today’s norms. However the whole open bare chest thing is a whole other matter. That seemed to be a big trend that was stereotypical.

Dear Marvel,

Please stop revising Falcon’s history. It’s becoming as convoluted as Hawkman’s. It doesn’t matter what Falcon used to be. What matters is who he BECAME.

As someone point out, it’s not that convoluted at all. And it’s DEFINITELY nowhere near as convoluted as Hawkman. Nowhere even close.

And this retcon actually makes it simpler. It undoes parts of his current origin, meaning less to work with.

Englehart claims though that he didn’t plan to have it stick, which for some reason i find more infuriating. If he actually planned for it to stay, then bad as it was, I can understand him leaving without correcting it. But if on some level he knew it was a bad idea and planned it to be a fakeout, it’s especially irresponsible to introduce it without rectifying it. Even if he left Cap, it was typical of Marvel writers in the 70s to finish dangling storylines in whatever new books they were working on for Marvel.

His claim isn’t that he didn’t intend for it to stick, but rather that when he introduced the retcon, he hadn’t decided which way to go – have it be for real or have it be a fake out. Then he decided to just leave and allow Warner to do whatever he wanted. However, he thought Warner was going to be taking over for him permanently, and as it turned out, it was just for the rest of the story. So we don’t even know for sure if WARNER was planning on keeping it (I imagine he was confused and presumed he was “stuck” with what Englehart had introduced).

As long as they don’t change the fact that Falcon is a mutant….

Sadly Marvel didn’t learn from this fiasco. They more recently retconned Bishop, the only black male on the main X-Men teams, to make him into a villain caricature.

A. That’s not a retcon. That’s just a new story idea (although I agree, it was a bad one)
B. They more recently sort of kind of redeemed him, bringing him back to the present and having him work with Storm and Psylocke’s Uncanny X-Force team.

It was a retcon because it involved major changes to Bishop’s backstory in order to try to explain why he was suddenly villainous.

I always believe that the best thing to do in these cases is to do a “soft reboot” of a universe, by stating that every ten years or so, the Marvel Universe we’re reading at that moment is a different universe. So, if the Marvel Universe (as written in the 1960s) was Earth 616, then the Marvel Universe of the 1970s is Earth 617 and so forth. But the differences would only be slightly different, but would allow future writers to either embrace past elements or ignore them. Just make a notation of sorts to indicate differences.

Why was Steve’s hair black in his civil attire? A disguise, I presume?

I’d like to see more this column. I know DC has a lot of fuel for this.

Triniking –

At the time, Steve’s mind was trapped inside the Red Skull’s body.

As for the whole issue of retconning…

The problem is that Marvel and DC try to make every retcon into an “event”. But when the retcon’s entire reason for existence is to fix something offensive like this and SINS PAST, they shouldn’t turn it into a story.

It would suffice for them to say “Snap Wilson is not canon, nothing Marvel publishes from now on will ever reference it, the Falcon has always been a social worker. And Gwen never had kids with Norman Osborn, what, are you on drugs?”

And that is it.

Because when you make it into a story, you end up dredging it all up again for a new generation. J. M. de Matteis meant well, for instance, but he ended up being my introduction to the “Snap” concept.

I am a huge fan of Steve Englehart’s run on Cap. That said, I felt that the “Snap” Wilson retcon was a major misstep. I reallize, as Englehart himself has noted subsequently, that the Red Skull, as a sadistic racist Nazi war criminal, is hardly the most credible of individuals, so there is a really serious question over the legitimacy of his claim’s about the Falcon’s early years. I just wish that Englehart had not departed the series so abruptly, leaving it up in the air as an controversial, unanswered question for so many years.

As Brian notes, J.M. DeMatteis did a very good job of addressing this whole topic in his “Snapping” story in an attempt to clear up the mess and give the character a fresh start. But, yeah, as with Hank Pym having a nervous breakdown and hitting the Wasp, subsequent writers such as Priest just kept digging it up again. I’m glad to hear Remender is going to be addressing this, and hopefully he’ll be able to finally shut the door on it. Of course, that doesn’t mean someone else writing the character a decade from now won’t try to make it an issue once again.

@ Rene — I’ve been an advocate of that methodology for years now. It works just fine. Nobody remembers that Ben Grimm and Reed Richards served in WWII and are now in their 80s in “real” continuity (or else we’re in the 1950s). Just ignore it, and it goes away.

Frankly, the obsession with “fixing” continuity has led to much more bad stories than good ones. By a wide margin. And that’s the measure by which they should be judged.

Unfortunately if that’s used as a retcon excuse (as opposed to explaining away lack of aging) you end up with the equivalent of DC’s “Well we’ve rebooted some stuff and not others, don’t blame us if you’re confused.”
If it doesn’t work, the simplest explanation, as people say, is to just ignore it, unless there’s a good story to get out of it (sometimes there is, often there isn’t). There’s no need to shift parallel worlds.

@Brian- “So we don’t even know for sure if WARNER was planning on keeping it (I imagine he was confused and presumed he was “stuck” with what Englehart had introduced).”
Tony Isabella does a good job of explaining what happened here:
http://blog.talesofwonder.com/tonys-tips-016/
Basically, Warner was told to tread water for two issues. Then Tony Isabella took over. Isabella decided on keeping it, thinking that he would be on the book at least through 200 and would have time to deal with it. Unfortunately, Isabella didn’t realize he was just a fill-in writer until Kirby took over.
@Ben Herman- “I reallize, as Englehart himself has noted subsequently, that the Red Skull, as a sadistic racist Nazi war criminal, is hardly the most credible of individuals, so there is a really serious question over the legitimacy of his claim’s about the Falcon’s early years. I just wish that Englehart had not departed the series so abruptly, leaving it up in the air as an controversial, unanswered question for so many years.”
Unfortunately, Isabella had the Falcon on trial for the crimes Snap committed and had gangsters that worked with Snap trying to kill Sam so that pretty much confirmed the story was real. The moral here is always tell a fill-in writer that he’s a fill-in writer.

Rene-“Another chapter of Steve Englehart’s “good intentions gone horribly awry” is Extraño from the New Guardians, who is probably comics’ first openly gay superhero, but also holds some world record as one of the most horriblt stereotypical gay characters ever created”
If you think that’s bad then you should see Steve Gerber’s Poison, who was Gerber’s attempt to show that all refugees on the Mariel Boatlift were criminals and lunatics, but wound up a Hispanic maid that dressed like a hooker.
People complain about why there’s not more minority heroes, but the reason is that most writers are straight white males that don’t understand other cultures well and don’t have time to research it on deadline. We’re probably better off with fewer minority characters if the alternative will be stereotypes- the real solution is to recruit more minority writers.

Reading the Isabella story, I see he didn’t like “Snap” but figured since it was done, it would be more interesting to show the good programmed personality triumph over Snap. Except as noted, he got yanked off so we could endure Kirby’s Madbomb story.

Michael –

Agreed. The ideal solution is to diversify the creative side.

However, as incredibly stereotyped as Extraño was, perhaps it was better than nothing? I’m not sure. There is an argument to be made that characters like him at least prepare the field for the introduction of more well-rounded characters. It’s a slow evolution.

Steve Englehart himself did it a bit better the second time around. He introduced another gay superhero (Spectral) in his Ultraverse title, The Strangers. Spectral was more of a human being and less of a comedy sketch cartoon, but Steve still couldn’t help himself on one aspect: Spectral’s powers were rainbow-colored flames.

Seriously, what the HELL was Englehart smoking? Taking one of the strongest black characters of the time and turning him into a cliché street hustler? Just terrible and a shame they have to keep going back to it when Sam is such a cooler character than this.

@MWeyer
We must have experienced the 70s differently. I don’t remember Falcon being “one of the strongest black characters of the time.” Black Panther? Yes. Luke Cage? Yes. Falcon? Not quite. he was seen as a sidekick, not a strong lead, like Panther or Power Man. In retrospect, yes, he turned out to be a very strong character, though still secondary, in stature, to Black Panther. You can probably argue about him vs Cage for days.

Jeff, I’m reading the Captain America and the Falcon series right now for the first time and I’m up to the Englehart issues and so far I have to say I agree with MWeyer. He wasn’t the lead of his own book but that doesn’t mean e wasn’t a strong character. And he wasn’t a sidekick he was a partner. They make this explicitly clear constantly.

Concerning Brian and Remender’s proposed story change, there’s so much worse a depraved Nazi with carte blanche to rewrite another person’s personality and perceived past could have done. Rather than Falcon holding a grudge over being turned into a hustler, I’d think he’d just be glad Red Skull didn’t do something like making him an infamous cannibal who’s sexually attracted to toilet bowls.

While I don’t dispute the problems with Extrano, I still have to give Englehart and his co-creators credit for making the New Guardians a team that was half female and almost completely nonwhite (he planned to have Terra on the team, but discovered the whole evil-and-dead thing as he was writing it). Execution may have been flawed but still.

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