web stats

CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Was Sam Wilson: Captain America Ever “Snap” Wilson, Street Hustler?

1 2
Next »

In this feature we examine comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today, based on a suggestion by reader Marcus W., we take a look at a retcon that was a long time coming in my book…

Back in 2014, I wrote a piece about how I thought that Marvel really ought to just retcon Sam Wilson’s (who had just become the All-New Captain America at the time) past as the street hustler known as “Snap” Wilson. That history, of course, was ALSO a retcon introduced by Steve Englehart in Captain America #186, as we learn that the Red Skull had used the Cosmic Cube to make Snap Wilson, a crook, 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 remained in continuity…

falconpimp1

One problem is that Englehart left the book before he could address it. He wasn’t sure at the time if he was even going to keep that aspect or reveal it to be a lie by the Red Skull. Since he left the book and the book went through a couple of fill-in writers before Jack Kirby took over, no one got around to retconning it, so it just kind of stuck.

J.M. DeMatteis did a wonderful job trying to explain away the “Snap” Wilson persona, but still keeping it as a part of Sam Wilson’s history in Captain America #276-278…

snap1

snap2

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

snap3

So that was something, at least.

However, in All-New Captain America #3 by Rick Remender, Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger, we finally see “Snap” no more!

Read on to see how it was handled…

1 2
Next »

45 Comments

Damn good, and long overdue. That final page is a very perceptive last word.

Yeah, long overdue. The solution is obvious and has been even suggested here in the site, but it doesn’t detract from Remender’s merit for finally making it canon.

I like Englehart, but what the hell was he thinking? DeMatteis did the best he could to write in a way for Sam Wilson to remain sympathetic despite this baggage. But the obvious and best answer has always been what Remender eventually used.

DeMatteis made the priest be a figment of Sam’s imagination or something, if I recall #278 correctly.

I agree it’s a good thing to retcon, but I’m confused. If the Red Skull just made all that up, how hard could it be to check and confirm Sam was never Snap? And is Remender also retconning how Sam came to the island–I thought in the original story he came because the Exiles hired him as a falconer.

Adding Snap to the Falcon’s backstory was a mistake, but I think this way of forsaking it is also pretty silly. So the Red Skull had an artifact of infinite power, and all he did to Sam was make up that the guy was a petty criminal for a while? It’s like the scheme of a high school bully, not a Nazi.

Man of Stone- Frankly, the Skull’s scheme in the earlier version never made sense to begin with. I don’t see how this makes it any worse.

Oh cool! I didn’t know about this. Well done and long overdue. As an actual backstory for the character, I think the Snap stuff is contrived. But as a false memory meant to mess with Sam’s head, I think the Snap persona works well.

Fraser –

“I agree it’s a good thing to retcon, but I’m confused. If the Red Skull just made all that up, how hard could it be to check and confirm Sam was never Snap?”

Maybe the Skull did more than mess up Sam’s memory and other people’s memories. With the Cube’s powers, it’s easy to alter documents and stuff, but it’s still a lie concocted by the Skull.

That confused me too- Peggy Carter and Gabe Jones confirmed the “Snap” story with their research- Remender could have explained it more clearly. I guess it was the Cube? But then how does Sam know for sure it’s a lie?
In Cap 350, the Skull tells Zola that he used the Cube to turn a “scoundrel” into the Falcon- Remender didn’t explain that- I suppose the Skull could have been lying to Zola.

What is the difference between a high school bully and a Nazi?

Michael –

“I guess it was the Cube? But then how does Sam know for sure it’s a lie?”

Sam looking into his own soul and finding it genuine and not a Nazi fabrication was not “real” proof, but then having the Red Skull’s own daughter all but confirming that it was her father messing with Sam is more solid.

mbc1955
January 28, 2016 at 1:57 pm

Damn good, and long overdue. That final page is a very perceptive last word.

________________________________________

Quoted for the truth. The “Snap” Wilson (be it intentional or unintentional) retcon is something that should have been retconned away along time ago (like 40 years ago). Remender deserves major props for retconning that racist retcon.

I hate the “Snap” background, but I like way Geoff Johns touched on it in the Falcon-solo issue of his Avengers run: Sam was angry after the deaths of his parents and lashed out, but came around later, helped in part by meeting Cap. Englehart’s issues are a mess (and take away from Sam getting his life together after a tragedy and becoming a social worker on his own), and DeMatteis’ take isn’t much better (but considering what he was working with and that he dared to do something with it I doubt he could’ve done better).

As for any inconsistencies, the Red Skull is a racist, so he’d think of Sam as a “scoundrel” regardless (scoundrel being the comic code approved version for how he really feels about him).

I think it’s a bad idea to *completely* write off “Snap” though. It adds a wrinkle to Sam’s backstory like Tony Stark being a munitions maker and Spider-Man failing to stop the burglar — he wanted, to quote Johns’ issue, “an eye for an eye” after the senseless death of his parents and went about it the wrong way, and now wants to make sure no one else has to go through what he did.

Have a good day.
G Morrow

Michael
January 28, 2016 at 6:11 pm

That confused me too- Peggy Carter and Gabe Jones confirmed the “Snap” story with their research- Remender could have explained it more clearly. I guess it was the Cube? But then how does Sam know for sure it’s a lie?
In Cap 350, the Skull tells Zola that he used the Cube to turn a “scoundrel” into the Falcon- Remender didn’t explain that- I suppose the Skull could have been lying to Zola.

__________________________

A possible (and slightly more convoluted) way to explain all that is to have be revealed that Sam created the whole “Snap” Wilson persona/identity early on during his crime fighting career as a way to go undercover and
infiltrate criminal gangs/organizations. It could be revealed that Sam used the “Snap” alias/persona to infiltrate the Exiles, but his plan was discovered by the Red Skull, who used the reality warping power of the Cube to alter the memories of Sam. It could be revealed, that with the exception of a few law enforcement friends of Sam’s, no one knew that Sam’s whole “Snap” Wilson persona was an undercover blind, which would explain why his sister thought that he was a criminal and why their were records of him being a criminal.

Glad to see that this has been fixed, in the most obvious way it was to be fixed.

nice to see the idea that sam started out as a gangster due to his parents dieing then becoming the falcon due to a plan by the red skull get at long last changed to nope sam accepted who he is and the snap character was just another plot by the red skull. in his captain america vendetta

“Weren’t green no more” is still one of my favorite lines in comics. Remender should have hammered everything else out so heavily but found a way to keep that.

I dunno, the retcon isn’t really that much better.
“Ha ha, just kidding, none of that ever happened! Also, don’t ask how you really became The Falcon, just accept that it happened.”

“As for any inconsistencies, the Red Skull is a racist, so he’d think of Sam as a “scoundrel” regardless (scoundrel being the comic code approved version for how he really feels about him).”

I could see a 1940s Nazi stereotyping Sam as a shuffling darky, or a buffoon snatching watermelon, but he wouldn’t envision a blacksploitation hustler.

Erich –

When the original retcon is that bad, I don’t think there is a good, surprising, engaging way of fixing it. The original was pretty much the Skull pulling out of his ass that Sam had been Super Fly. The Skull lying about what was the original reality and what was the Cosmic Cube alteration IS the most logical, easier way to deal with it.

Somebody like Kurt Busiek would have done a more complex story, perhaps with Black Panther or Brother Voodoo or another character building a machine or spell and discovering and proving that Sam’s original timeline was he as a decent guy. But I don’t think that added complexity would be a lot better, and it would necessitate somebody else helping Sam.

(A particularly bad way of doing it would be a white dude like Reed or Dr. Strange fixing it).

I don’t know, I kinda like the idea that the Red Skull’s bigotry is so ingrained that the only possible way he could get at Sam Wilson is to reduce him to an awful ’70s stereotype. It speaks more to the Skull’s character about how he’s so racist he has no idea of objective reality, leading to various issues when it comes to creating a fake background ala Cosmic Cube. In a sense, it’s not so much a retcon for Sam as it’s also a revelation that the Red Skull’s pointless racism is rooted in a deep misunderstanding with objective reality.

The devil is in the details in this one.

If the Red Skull took a criminal and altered him into Cap’s partner then turned him back so he would betray Cap… well, that’s a pretty good super villain plot. But if all he did was change a criminal into one of the more decent super-hero characters around and left him that way wouldn’t Cap’s response just be “uh…. thanks?”

If Sam/Snap was able to resist the cube and not become a super-villain that strikes me as a more potentially interesting heroic arc than “always has been a good guy”… so perhaps the “blaxploitation” aspects were the parts that needed to be fixed.

Although I understand that with so few African American super heroes a criminal back story is probably better undone.

I don’t know, I kinda like the idea that the Red Skull’s bigotry is so ingrained that the only possible way he could get at Sam Wilson is to reduce him to an awful ’70s stereotype. It speaks more to the Skull’s character about how he’s so racist he has no idea of objective reality, leading to various issues when it comes to creating a fake background ala Cosmic Cube. In a sense, it’s not so much a retcon for Sam as it’s also a revelation that the Red Skull’s pointless racism is rooted in a deep misunderstanding with objective reality.

This works for me!

Wait, was this actually abandoned and forsaked anywhere besides inside Sam Wilson’s own mind?

While the pages above show Sam Wilson denying the Snap origin, they don’t appear to give any evidence that the Snap origin wasn’t true. We just have Sam refusing to accept it, and then saying that he’s Captain America.

Wait, was this actually abandoned and forsaked anywhere besides inside Sam Wilson’s own mind?

While the pages above show Sam Wilson denying the Snap origin, they don’t appear to give any evidence that the Snap origin wasn’t true. We just have Sam refusing to accept it, and then saying that he’s Captain America.

I agree. It seems a little ambiguous to me.

I think this is another one of those examples where it seems somewhat racist, but was the writer’s way of trying to be relevant to the times. The idea is they’re showing the hard life and difficult times living in poverty that many black people had to endure. But unfortunately, it takes one of the rare, major black comic book heroes and shows him to have been a street thug and criminal.

Maybe it could have been handled a better way, where young Sam got caught up in a gang, but fought to get out of it. Though even with that, again you have a rare black character who OF COURSE was in a street gang.

Ethan –

Absolutely, yes. I don’t think Englehart was racist. The times were different and many people saw Blaxploitation as genuinely empowering. The black anti-hero could be thuggish and stereotypical, but the selling point was that he didn’t bow to the white man’s authority (or anyone’s authority, for that matter) and that seemed refreshing at the time. But of course many blacks, even at the time, saw the genre as irresponsible.

And when we compare the blaxploitation heroes of the 1970s with the sanitized black characters from the 1980s, it’s hard to tell which is preferable. The black male hero in the seventies was depicted as the stereotypical sex machine that treated women as disposable objects, but that is true of many white action heroes of the time too. And he could have sex with women of any race, so at least that point was progressive. By contrast, a black hero from the 1980s like the characters Eddie Murphy played was “safe” for white audiences and would not go near a white woman.

“I could see a 1940s Nazi stereotyping Sam as a shuffling darky, or a buffoon snatching watermelon, but he wouldn’t envision a blacksploitation hustler.”

There were certainly Nazis who were ridiculously stupid about their racism like that, but there were plenty of Nazis who actually observed reality, and would be quite capable of seeing that not *all* black people are “shuffling darkies” or “watermelon-snatching buffoons”, but would still believe that they were inherently subhuman and/or immoral people bent on criminality.

Hell, there are racists like that all over this country right now. I wouldn’t have been surprised if one had popped up in the comments section already.

The Cosmic Cube is capable of literally changing reality. Of course the Red Skull could have used it to actually alter history itself, changing the events of Sam Wilson’s life to turn him into a criminal named “Snap” Wilson. All of the memories of his organized crime associates, all of the physical proof, evidence and documentation of his crimes, were all created when the Skull altered the time stream. It’s that simple.

@Luis Dantas – Uh, a high school bully gives wedgies and stupid nicknames, and when you graduate you never have to see his idiotic face again. Nazis killed millions of people.
Get a grip.

I get that Remender’s intent was to retcon the whole thing away via the Cosmic Cube, but it certainly doesn’t seem as if he explicitly does that from the pages presented here. It still seems pretty vague as to whether the entirety of Sam’s past as Sam Wilson (the good son, working three jobs, doing social work) was the fiction as the Skull’s daughter claims or if Snap was the fiction and she’s still just trying to mind-f him and convince him of it. The only thing explicitly clear here is that Sam, at least, believes the latter.

Still kind of unambiguous, regardless of intent, IMO.

(Err, ambiguous, not “un”.)

I laughed when I first saw this, because this is basically how I handle every bit of continuity I don’t like. If it didn’t happen in my !headcanon, then it never happened at all!

Ah, yeas. Back in the days when to be a Black hero at Marvel, you had to be either an ex-criminal or an African prince. No middle ground allowed.

In Cap 350, the Skull tells Zola that he used the Cube to turn a “scoundrel” into the Falcon- Remender didn’t explain that- I suppose the Skull could have been lying to Zola.

Having (unfortunately) been exposed to the views of unapologetic latter-day white supremacists, I’d argue that a writer could credibly have the Skull believe that any black man is little more than a criminal thug by default.

It’s still so odd to me that the Falcon’s Engelhart origin comes at the tail end of a Red Skull story that also plays up the villain’s delusional racism; the Skull practically has a fit over Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter dating, for example.

So the Red Skull had an artifact of infinite power, and all he did to Sam was make up that the guy was a petty criminal for a while?

Well, no; the Skull took a successful, heroic black man and turned him into the exact sort of reductive stereotype someone like the Skull believes in. That’s extremely creepy and awful.

There were certainly Nazis who were ridiculously stupid about their racism like that, but there were plenty of Nazis who actually observed reality, and would be quite capable of seeing that not *all* black people are “shuffling darkies” or “watermelon-snatching buffoons”, but would still believe that they were inherently subhuman and/or immoral people bent on criminality.

The “blacks as criminals” stereotype was long since established in various places. As far back as 1909, the U.S.’s Opium Commissioner — yes, this was an actual job title int he federal government, once — proclaimed at a conference that “it has been authoritatively stated that cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes of the South and other sections of the country.” The criminalization of narcotics was largely justified by resort to the racist stereotype of the violent, rather than buffoonish black man.

As to the Nazis themselves, their propaganda about African-Americans is all over the map, but note that the “inherently violent” calumny is represented along with the “buffoonish” stereotype. It must be recalled that the genocide of the Herrero people in 1908 was broadly a prototype for the concentration/extermination camps later (as were the original “concentration camps” created by the British, who coined the term. Both were justified as a method of preventing insurrection by blacks, with a healthy dollop (int he german case, certainly) of fears of “miscegenation.”

(Depressingly, the third linked article reminds us in its endnotes that the Allies were unable to prosecute Nazis for their policy of forced sterilizations, of course, the U.S. was as guilty of the same when it came to African-Americans.)

@ Jeremy09: “I laughed when I first saw this, because this is basically how I handle every bit of continuity I don’t like. If it didn’t happen in my !headcanon, then it never happened at all!”

Congratulations, sir, you’re the single clearest thinker on any comic board I’ve ever met!

Omar –

Last year, I read Thomas Pynchon’s V. I didn’t know about Germany’s actions in Africa in the 1900s, and boy, it was horrible and difficult to read, because Pynchon really does not pull punches when describing it. But the novel helps to confirm what I always thought. Hitler’s actions were not so exceptional, but a logical (in a twisted and extreme way) extension of the way white people thought in the 19th century and early 20th century.

Pynchon hits the point even harder in Gravity’s Rainbow a World War II novel in which the Nazi atrocities are never described, but there is an extended flashback to the Herrero genocide instead.

Omar, I thought the British concentration camps were initially to hold the Boers in the Boer War?

The British interned Boers in some camps, and “natives” in others; the natives were often refugees, and officially not seen as enemies by the British…but they were still interned all the same. But by the end of the second Boer War, far more camps for natives. Mass deaths through poor hygiene and neglect were rampant in both Boer and native African camps. The Fawcett report led some very belated improvements to the Boer camps, but these were implemented far more slowly int he camps for African natives, many of them refugees.

Ben Herman –

The Cosmic Cube is capable of literally changing reality. Of course the Red Skull could have used it to actually alter history itself, changing the events of Sam Wilson’s life to turn him into a criminal named “Snap” Wilson.

The Red Skull can use the cosmic cube to change reality in the present. He can’t use it change the past.

Omar Karindu –

Well, no; the Skull took a successful, heroic black man and turned him into the exact sort of reductive stereotype someone like the Skull believes in.

Red Skull didn’t turn Sam into a stereotype. The idea behind this retcon is that Sam never was Snap; see the line about how Snap was “concocted to discredit” Sam in the above panels, or Rememder’s statement that “There never was a ‘Snap’ Wilson… He was an attempt to defame Sam” in the linked interview. The Skull just made people believe a rumor about Sam. Not a really nasty rumor, mind, just that Sam was involved in petty crime when he was younger, something not even the most Boy Scout-like heroes would shun him over.

Having the Red Skull (with cosmic power!) do something on the scale of old-school Flash Thompson, and having Sam be rattled by it, does nothing but diminish the villainy of the former and the heroism of the latter.

Man of Stone –

“The Red Skull can use the cosmic cube to change reality in the present. He can’t use it change the past”

Even if that is true, a man who has absolute control over the reality in the present has effective control over the past. Since the Skull can use the cube to affect the memories of everyone and also can change all documents and physical evidence accordingly, that is an effective way of controlling the past, like George Orwell demonstrated in 1984.

Having just reread the full scene, I get the impression that the original retcon was motivated by two purposes:

Explaining some Silver Age silliness about a bunch of war criminals supposedly hiding on a deserted island yet advertising for a falconer who arrives by scheduled freighter

Removing another stereotype – the Skull actually says “I knew exactly what kind of man would most appeal to your sinveling liberalism: An upright, cheerful Negro with a love for the same ‘brotherhood’ you cherish!”

It’s as though Englehart was backlashing against an older paternalistic stereotype but he wound up substituting one that’s much worse. And the creative situation on the title in this period was even more terrible than the write-up implies – Frank Robbins’s art doesn’t do the story justice (the Skull looks especially ridiculous) whilst Englehart left midway through this issue, there were five writers on the next six issues before Kirby came along and all but set his own stories in their own pocket universe. It’s no wonder nobody could get a grip on this mess

Tim Rpll-Pickering –

True, it was a backlash against the older stereotype. This came at the end of the blaxploitation craze, when angry, rebellious, outlaw black characters were seen by many as an improvement over well-behaved upstanding blacks.

Man, how times change! (Though it must be admitted that blaxploitation was always controversial).

So much meta-shading Remender throws are Englehart and others.

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives