Retro Trade Review: Avengers: Falcon By Owsley/Priest, Smith, Bright, Lee, Colan & Others For Marvel Comics

Avengers: Falcon Tpb

Contains: Falcon #1-4 (November 1983 – February 1984), Captain America #117-119 (September 1969-November 1969), Captain America #220 (April 1978), Marvel Premiere #49 (August 1979), Captain America #276-278 (December 1982-February 1983)

Written by Jim Owsley (Falcon #1-4), Stan Lee (Captain America #117-119), Scott Edelman (Captain America #220), Mark Evanier (Marvel Premiere #49), JM DeMatteis (Captain America #276-278)

Pencilled by Paul Smith (Falcon #1), Mark Bright (Falcon #2-4), Gene Colan (Captain America #117-119), Bob Budiansky (Captain America #220), Sal Buscema (Marvel Premiere #49), Mike Zeck (Captain America #276-278)

Inked by Vince Colletta (Falcon #1), Mike Gustovich (Falcon #2-4), Joe Sinnott (Captain America #117-119), Al Gordon (Captain America #220), Dave Simons (Marvel Premiere #49), John Beatty (Captain America #276, 278), Joe Rubinstein (#277)

Coloured by Christie Scheele (Falcon #1-2), Stephen Mellor (Falcon #3-4), Ben Sean (Marvel Premiere #49), Bob Sharen (Captain America #276-278)

Spoilers from thirty-four to forty-nine years ago.

I decided a while ago, as Sam Wilson became Captain America, and as I started to reread Christopher Priest’s seminal Black Panther, that I should probably have gotten my hands on the Falcon’s first miniseries from 1983, which was written by Piest under his original name of Jim Owsley.  I’d seen it around for years, and knew that Paul Smith was involved, but never actually bought it.  I started hunting for it at conventions, hoping to pick up a reasonably-priced set, but instead came across this trade paperback, which came out in 2014, and which, in addition to the miniseries, collected a few other key Falcon moments from issues of Captain America and from Marvel Premiere.  Thus, we have the first of my Retro Trade Reviews!

In addition to Falcon, let’s see who else shows up in this trade:

Villains:

  • Nemesis (Falcon #1)
  • A Sentinel (Falcon #2)
  • The Legion (Harlem street gang; Falcon #2-4)
  • Electro (Falcon #3-4)
  • Red Skull (Captain America #117-119)
  • Cadavus (Exiles; Captain America #117-118)
  • Baldini (Exiles; Captain America #117-118)
  • Chang (Exiles; Captain America #117-118)
  • Gruning (Exiles; Captain America #117-118)
  • Iron-Hand Hauptmann (Exiles; Captain America #117-118)
  • Krushki (Exiles; Captain America #117-118)
  • MODOK (Captain America #117, 119)
  • AIM (Captain America #117-119)
  • Mortimer Freebish (Captain America #220)
  • The Silencer (Marvel Premiere #49)

Guest Stars:

  • Captain America (Steve Rogers; Falcon #3-4; Captain America #117-119, Marvel Premiere #49)
  • Ronald Reagan (President; Falcon #4)
  • Rick Jones (Captain America #118)
  • Robbie Robertson (Marvel Premiere #49)
  • J. Jonah Jameson (Marvel Premiere #49)

Supporting Cast:

  • Redwing (Falcon #1-4, Captain America #117-119, 220, Marvel Premiere #49, Captain America #277-278)
  • Sgt. Tork (Falcon #1-4)
  • Rachel (random rich white woman; Falcon #2, 4)
  • Xeon (leader of The Legion; Falcon #2, 4)
  • Leila (Sam’s girlfriend; Marvel Premiere #49, Captain America #276-278)
  • Sarah Wilson (Sam’s sister; Captain America #276-278)
  • Carol Davis (Sam’s campaign manager; Captain America #276-278)

The trade opens with the four-part Falcon miniseries.  Apparently the first issue was completed as a stand-alone story, originally intended to show up in an issue of Marvel Fanfare, but then shelved for a while.  When Marvel started producing miniseries in the early 80s, Owsley petitioned that this become the first issue, and since Paul Smith was busy drawing X-Men, got Mark Bright to complete the run.

  • The issue opens in a rough neighbourhood in New York, where a trio of Latino youth, led by Miguel, have cornered a pretty girl named Lucia.  Miguel, who is very drunk, wants to have his way with her, despite her protests.  The Falcon swoops in and challenges Miguel to be better.  He collapses, complaining about the ghetto.  Nearby, Sgt. Tork gives up on waiting for the Falcon and prepares to take down a drug spot without him.  As it turns out, the drug dealers weren’t there.  Falcon takes Lucia home and asks her father to not hold this event against Miguel.  The next day, there is a long lineup of people applying for housing in a new building going up.  The developer, Mr. Kane, wants Sam Wilson to help him spread the word that his buildings won’t be slums, but Sam believes they will be.  When an argument breaks out because the women running the application process have run out of applications, Tork breaks up the scene.  Later, Sam speaks up for Miguel in court, and Lucia and her father withdraw the charges.  Sam and Miguel talk about how he needs to stop drinking.  They are interrupted because an armored villain named Nemesis is trashing Kane’s building site.  Falcon stops him but is zapped by electricity, allowing Nemesis to fly away.  Miguel gets fired from his part-time job because he got arrested.  Tork and Falcon talk.  Miguel stumbles upon Nemesis’s identity.  Falcon and Redwing hear Nemesis attacking the building again, and fight him until Falcon learns that he’s tied Miguel to the building, and strapped explosives around him.  Falcon manages to remove the explosives, and throws them at the fleeing Nemesis, hitting him just as they explode.  Falcon gives Miguel some advice again, which allows Nemesis to escape.  He flees into the subway where he tosses out a driver and takes over a car, holding the passengers hostage.  Redwing and Falcon pursue him, and Falcon figures out who Nemesis really is – Kane, looking to cash in on insurance money.  He is caught.  Later, Falcon and Tork talk about how nothing has changed in the ghetto, but Falcon looks at Miguel, who has his job back, and doesn’t agree.
  • Falcon is just flying around over New York City, enjoying a nice day, when he just misses a skyjumper.  His backwash causes her parachute to collapse, and Falcon just catches the jumper, a white woman named Rachel, and drops her off across from a “community landfill” in the middle of Harlem.  Inside the dump, someone or something is thinking about mutants.  The next morning, Tork comes to wake Sam up, because he had asked him to.  Sam goes to his office, which is full of people waiting to meet with him.  Later, in his Falcon guise, he sits with a youth gang called The Legion.  We learn that Sam got them to renounce violence and do community patrolling. Their leader, Xeon, tells Sam that they want to have a peaceful march the next day, and Sam agrees to clear it with Tork when he sees him that night.  Walking (why is Falcon walking?) past the landfill, Sam is attacked and incapacitated by a Sentinel.  Tork is upset that Falcon has stood him up, but figures he’s off doing some superhero stuff.  Later, Sam wakes up in an old base.  He manages to escape from the tube he was left in, worried that he hadn’t cleared the Legion’s march with Tork.  He flies away from the Sentinel, finds that Redwing was hanging out waiting for him, and then learns that the Sentinel can fly when it gives chase.  The Legion start their parade, and are confronted by a bunch of cops.  The head cop knocks Xeon down; he gets up and kicks the man.  A rookie cop pulls his gun, and when Tork tries to stop him, he fires, killing one of the Legion.  Falcon continues to evade the Sentinel, somewhere in upstate New York, and maneuvers him through a US military artillery field doing live fire tests.  Even after some direct hits, the Sentinel keeps coming after him.  As the cops and the Legion fight in the street, Tork sits on a window ledge watching, thinking he’ll sit out until someone gets hurt (without reflecting on the fact that one of the kids is already dead).  After Falcon has been grabbed by the Sentinel, it narrates how it was destroyed in an issue of X-Men, but that its intact head was dumped in the landfill, and was able to repair itself.  It starts to tighten its grip on Falcon, who uses his link with Redwing to get the bird to fly into its head and tear up wires until the robot collapses.  The police have escalated to using tear gas on the rioters, and in the middle of this, Rachel shows up in her limousine, getting out to look around.  One of the Legion, who don’t carry guns, pulls a gun on her just as Falcon shows up and saves her again.  Xeon yells at Falcon about how his friend Jimmy is dead, and mentions again that the Legion don’t use guns and that their truce is now over.  They all leave, Tork gives Sam a hard time, and Rachel wonders how Sam will win their trust back.
  • Falcon assists with an arson fire in a Harlem building.  The owner of the ground level store, Mr. Brown, doesn’t want to leave, but Falcon pulls him out before the store explodes.  Falcon believes that the fire was set by the Legion, the gang that is upset with him.  While he stands around thinking about this, he is observed by Mac Dillon, Electro, who has been hiding out in the neighbourhood.  Returning home, Sam finds Tork and two of the Legion in his apartment.  They were there to tag the place when Tork found them and tied them up; Sam wants them treated with respect, but when he unties them, they slug him and Tork, and escape out the window.  Falcon and Tork follow them, and when Tork wants to arrest them, the two men argue.  Falcon walks away when Tork brings up his “Snap” Wilson past.  The next morning at the police precinct, the Captain kicks Sam out when he comes, and we learn that Ronald Reagan is expected to tour the neighbourhood (although it’s not clear why).  Falcon goes to visit Mr. Brown in the hospital, and finds him ready to jump off a window ledge.  They have a good talk, and Sam convinces him to come inside.  Dillon watches all this from the street, convinced that this is part of a big sting.  When the President’s motorcade comes through Harlem, the Legion set off bombs and make off with Reagan.  Falcon comes to investigate, and is attacked by Electro.  He figures out that when he’s in the air, Electro’s zaps don’t hurt him, so he leaves him and flies to the Legion’s home base.  Tork threatens to hurt the two Legion members he has in custody.  When Falcon tries to talk with the Legion, they shoot at him.  Electro shows up and attacks Falcon again.  They fight briefly, and Electro takes the Falcon down before collapsing himself.  Tork is visited by Captain America.
  • Electro blasts his way into the Legion’s warehouse, looking for the President.  Tork takes Captain America to the garage where the two Legion guys he had in custody were supposed to send Falcon.  Tork keeps acting like he doesn’t know who Cap is, and when they bust into the garage, he acts like he needs to protect him from the various Legion guys who start shooting at him.  Falcon comes into the warehouse, and even though the Legion still treat him badly, picks up a guy that Electro had electrocuted, and flies him out of there.  Redwing joins him, which means that Falcon now knows where Electro has gone.  Electro stands on the roof of the parking garage (I’m not clear on how he got up there) and uses its power supply to recharge himself.  Cap and Tork keep fighting their way through the Legion, and get to the office where Xeon is holding a gun to the President’s head (he’s wearing a bag).  Electro melts through the roof above Cap, and knocks him out.  Falcon flies through the same hole and punches Electro, who runs off when Tork aims his shotgun at him.  Falcon goes after him and has to jettison his flying gear.  He soaks Electro with a firehose and then punches him out.  He returns to the office and strategizes with Cap while ignoring Xeon and the captive Reagan.  Tork gets bored and reads the newspaper.  Falcon points out to Xeon that he’s wasting an amazing opportunity to speak to the President.  Xeon unmasks Reagan and introduces him to two Legion members (who appeared out of nowhere).  Ree is a teen mother that Falcon helped.  Angel is an ex-addict who Falcon helped.  I guess Xeon’s not so mad at Falcon anymore.  He then talks about his own struggles.  When the police arrive, Reagan tells them to wait so he can finish talking with Xeon.  Later, we see a press conference TV where Ronnie is talking about how he hopes to improve the situation in the ghetto.  Cap, Tork, and Sam are all watching this on TV, but Cap has to leave because he has a date.  Tork keeps talking about how nice it is to not have any women around when Rachel shows up at Sam’s apartment and wants to take him out.  They take Tork with them.

Okay, seriously, what the hell?  I was enjoying this miniseries, but the last two issues (aka half the story) were pretty hamfisted.  I get that James Owsley was not yet Christopher Priest, and I appreciate that he attempted to bring social issues into a Marvel comic in 1983, but it’s pretty much impossible to imagine Ronald Reagan ever hanging out with gangbangers that kidnapped him.  As well, the issues between Falcon and Xeon are never addressed.  And who is this Rachel woman?  Why is she so interested in Sam?  It just comes out of left field.  Owsley made some strange choices in this series, but other than Tork showing up again in other comics he wrote or edited, there was nothing lasting that came of this title.  It’s pretty much forgotten.

Next in the trade are the three issues of Captain America that introduced the Falcon.  I’ve never read them before, so I’m curious.

  • By the time Captain America #117 happens, the Red Skull has used his Cosmic Cube to swap bodies with Cap, and has decided to dump him on the island where he also dumped his former associates, The Exiles.  Cap is confused as to where he is, which entertains the Skull, who is watching through the Cube.  The Exiles, a group of six weird, and sometimes racially inappropriate, villains come walking along the beach towards him, complaining about how much they hate being on the island, and how they want to get revenge on the Skull.  The Red Skull makes Cap’s presence known to them, and they attack him.  First, Baldini attacks with his lethal scarf (seriously), which he was apparently taught how to use by the Skull.  Cap, in the Skull’s body, works his way through all of these foes, although the Skull decides that he’s going to die and so stops watching (because that’s what he would do).  Just as it looks like Iron-Hand Hauptman might get the drop on our hero, a falcon flies in close, providing Cap with the chance he needs.  The Falcon helps him again, against Krushki (awesome name on that guy), and Cap runs away.  He realizes, after years of fighting against the Skull, that his red skull is just a mask.  He takes it off, but then because he doesn’t know if the Exiles have seen his face before or not, decides to use clay from the ground to form a disguise for himself.  In New York, the Skull takes Cap’s body for a stroll, weaseling a free cab ride from a cabbie (and bragging about it to himself like he’s Donald Trump), and then checks into a hotel where he lies around allowing the media to take his picture.  When they ask a question that he thinks is too personal (they ask where Rick Jones is) he gets rid of them and stares at his Cosmic Cube for a bit.  At AIM headquarters, MODOK talks about the Cube.  Sam Wilson, who is not yet given a name, is on the island where Cap is.  He talks to Redwing about how he enjoys messing with the Exiles.  Cap finishes making his disguise out of clay, and sees Sam.  He starts talking to him, and they go back to the village where Sam is staying.  We learn that Sam liked birds growing up in Harlem, and became very interested in falcons, buying Redwing and training him to the point that they can almost understand one another’s thoughts.  He answered an ad the Exiles had put in the paper for a trained hunting falcon and came to the island, where he learned that the Exiles weren’t going to pay him and instead made him a prisoner.  Cap suggests that Sam suit up as the Falcon to help lead the natives in a fight against the Exiles.  They villagers help him make his costume and become The Falcon, as the Exiles start combing the island looking for the Skull (who is Cap, remember).
  • The Exiles keep wandering their island looking for the Red Skull (who is actually Captain America, after they switched bodies).  The Skull, meanwhile, is upset that the Exiles haven’t killed Cap yet, but then realizes maybe Cap took off the Red Skull mask, a possibility he hadn’t considered before.  The Skull also thinks Cap would stand out because of his red jump-suit, which is actually green.  We see that Redwing is flying around, drawing the attention of the Exiles, as Chang fires on, and misses, the bird.  Cap and Falcon hear the shots, and are happy to see Redwing is safe.  Cap continues to train Falcon, who is a quick learner.  In New York, hordes of fans want to meet Captain America at the hotel where he’s been publicly staying.  The Skull sees this as a chance to ruin Cap’s rep, and so is rude and sneaks away from them (because he’s so dastardly).  Rick Jones is upset that Cap was mean to him to, tearing up at the idea of them becoming friends one day.  A caption box tells us that Rick’s story carries on into Captain Marvel – conveniently making space for Falcon to become Cap’s new side-kick.  At an AIM base, some scientists, whose beehive outfits aren’t yellow, manage to make a block of catholite turn into a round shape.  This is a big deal, apparently.  Cap and Falcon find the Exiles, who are again walking along a beach together, and attack them.  As they fight, Iron-Hand Hauptman puts his non-iron hand on Cap’s face, which makes him worry it will ruin his clever clay disguise.  Their fight goes well, especially with Redwing’s help in cutting up one guy’s whip.  The locals join in, throwing stones at Cadavus.  The Skull watches this through the Cosmic Cube, and yells about killing Cap.
  • The Skull is still yelling, and decides that he should use the Cosmic Cube to kill Cap and Falcon himself.  First, he restores himself into his regular body (although Cap is also still in his body for a bit, which is confusing) and then teleports himself to his old castle in Germany.  Once there, he teleports Cap and the Falcon, who experience this as a weird swirling vortex that pulls them to the castle.  Then the Skull also teleports Redwing there, but places him in a cage.  Falcon insists that Redwing be free (while also claiming ownership of him, which is weird).  The Skull creates an invisible forcefield around himself, and then restores Cap’s true body.  The Falcon is surprised to learn he’s been hanging out with Cap.  Cap tries to hit the Skull, but he’s encased himself in rock.  Then he has Falcon and Cap fight through a huge amount of water (are they still in the castle?).  As Cap emerges from the water, Falcon turns back into it to do something.  At the secret AIM base, MODOK talks about wanting to destroy the Cosmic Cube, and about how he survived his last meeting with Cap.  The AIM guys are ready to begin phase three on their Catholite Block, which will destroy the Cube in some way that doesn’t make sense.  Cap and Falcon are carried to some desert-looking place by a cyclone, and the Skull stands over them gloating.  Cap tells Falcon to distract the Skull, so Sam charges at him, which allows Cap to throw his shield and knock the Cube from the Skull’s hands.  They fight over it, and just as the Skull grabs the Cube, Redwing flies at him, which only happened because the Falcon freed him while they were in the water.  The Skull fades away, but it looks like he and the Cube are melting.  This is, apparently, MODOK’s doing.  Cap accepts that it was he and Falcon who beat him, and they walk towards the sunset (although they have no idea where they are).

You know, for someone who has spent his entire life reading comics, I have read very few that are actually written (or at least scripted) by Stan Lee, and these three issues remind of why that is.  I’m sure that these stories were created “Marvel style”, and it’s cool to see some earlier Gene Colan work, but this story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Leaving aside the Cosmic Cube, which still manages to make a mess of Marvel continuity and clear storytelling today, I’m left wondering who the Exiles are supposed to be, what ended up happening on their island with the villagers in rebellion, and just what purpose the Falcon would have to continue being a hero.

His debut is not all that auspicious, and I’m sure that a lot of it got retconned into having the Skull more involved in his creation, as opposed to it being an act of happenstance.

From here, this trade moves to Sam’s first solo back-up story in Captain America #220, followed by his first solo adventure in Marvel Premiere #49.

  • In the five page backup, Redwing has gone missing.  Falcon receives a note on an arrow fired at a pigeon, telling him to meet at Washington Square Park.  When he gets there, an arrow-themed villain, Mortimer Freebish, who hasn’t picked a codename yet, tries to kill Falcon and fails.  It’s kind of a dumb story.
  • In Marvel Premiere #49, Falcon has been invited to a reception at the Bodavian Embassy for Sigjid Roskoff, a Bodavian intellectual who has been writing about how Captain America does not exemplify the Bill of Rights, or some such nonsense.  A costumed villain called the Silencer, who has a gun that can paralyze vocal chords or some such nonsense kidnaps Rostoff after punching the Falcon.  Sam pursues, but finds Rostoff’s body, after the Silencer forced him to sign a confession note renouncing his anti-American views.  Sam realizes that he’s underlined certain letters – O, T, T, F, F, S, S, E, N, and spends a lot of time trying to figure out what this code could mean.  The Count of Bodavia is angry.  J. Jonah Jameson wants to find out what the code could mean, and decides to run a contest in the Daily Bugle, which makes no sense.  Sam is angry.  Sam is dismissive of his girlfriend Leila, who has cooked him an Hungarian dish she found on a mustard wrapper.  Sam goes looking for Captain America, and they go jogging together (and hurdling) in full costume.  Later, as Sam walks around Harlem in full costume (he does a lot of walking for someone who can fly), a little kid comes to tell him that the Silencer is interrupting a communist rally.  Falcon comes to stop him, but has to choose between saving the crowd from a grenade and catching the murderer.  Sam also has his vocal chords frozen for no real story reason (I guess other than the fact that the villain is called the Silencer and needs to silence something).  Jameson is mad that he ran the contest because he has too many response, although this is in no way something that has advanced the plot.  The Count is giving a talk at the university, and Falcon goes to watch it.  The Silencer shows up and the Count shoots him dead before Sam can get to him.  Later, Falcon learns that the Silencer is nobody special.  He goes home, angry at how things played out, ignores Leila some more, and figures out the clues.  He goes to confront the Count, who is in fact the Silencer.  The letters refer to the first letter of each number – in other words, they are Count-ing.   The Count paid someone else to impersonate the Silencer, and then killed him.  Sam punches him out, but never explains what the Counts motives were.

These were two terrible comics stories.  I can understand why Sam never got an ongoing series when this was the stuff people were writing about him.  Neither story needed to be about a man who can fly, or who has a falcon for a sidekick.  Redwing never did anything in the Marvel Premiere story.

The last part of this trade is made up of three back-up stories that appeared in Captain America #276-278, and which I wrote about in my Captain America retro reviews.  These came at the time when Sam was running for Congress.

  • Sam, at his campaign office with his sister and his campaign manager, is upset that a reporter from the Daily Bugle has written about his days as “Snap” Wilson, a petty criminal and thug.  He storms off, ignoring his girlfriend Leila.  His sister Sarah recaps for everyone how Sam became the Falcon, and how later, the Red Skull used the Cosmic Cube to make Sam into Cap’s enemy, creating for him the guise of Snap.  These personalities became integrated later.  Sam wanders around, being angry, and worrying that he’s going to lose his mind.
  • Sarah ends up telling the other two women the truth, that after their father was killed, Sam worked hard to live up to his good name.  When their mother was killed later, Sam went dark, and became Snap Wilson.  It was actually the Skull that returned him to his original persona when he first met Cap.  Sam sits on a rooftop, admitting to Redwing that he’s always known the truth about his Snap days.  His father’s old friend, Father Garcia comes to see him, and Sam hits him, and insists that he call him Snap.
  • Father Garcia talks Sam through this weird mental moment, and Sam embraces his true self, and then the Father.  Later, Sam is sitting with his sister and friends, and we learn that he held a press conference and came clean about his past.  He thanks Sarah for sending Father Garcia to him, and we learn that Father Garcia is out of town.  Sam realizes his mind conjured his image.

I didn’t like this serial when I read it recently within the context of Cap’s series, and it comes off kind of worse here, just because it’s kind of histrionic and doesn’t really do much to strengthen Sam’s character.

I know that Sam was in a decade’s worth of Cap’s books, but haven’t read most of them.  From what I remember, he was largely an extra in Avengers, and so really, Owsley’s miniseries was the first opportunity to let Sam be his own character, and I feel like it didn’t go anywhere near far enough.  At the same time, maybe that’s not fair, as I’m writing from such a removed perspective.  It does seem that Owsley did his best to start the rehabilitation of the character, combining Sam’s heroism with his love for his community, and thankfully Owsley didn’t dive back into the Snap nonsense.  I don’t like that Falcon, like Luke Cage, got saddled with criminal pasts.  When that happens to white characters, like Hawkeye and Black Widow, their story becomes one of redemption.  When it is at the foundation of black characters, it seems to be something that is trotted back out every few years to remind them that they are fortunate to be seen as heroes now.

Anyway, I’ve really liked the amount of spotlight Sam has received in the last few years, and wish he was still Captain America, and that Nick Spencer was still writing his adventures.  I’m less impressed with the new Rodney Barnes-written book, but have hopes it will improve, especially as Sam hits his fifty-year anniversary next year.  I’m glad I finally read the miniseries that this book features, but also feel like most of the material that padded the book could have been jettisoned.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read this trade, it’s pretty cheap right now:

Avengers: Falcon

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