The Falcon is probably one of the best characters in the Marvel Universe right now. Not only is he the first African American superhero Marvel ever created, he’s also quickly become a fan-favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) thanks to his three appearances on the big screen, though only one — his debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier — was more than a cameo. Despite his growing popularity, the winged superhero doesn’t have the same name-recognition as, say, his buddy Captain America, and there’s still a lot people don’t know about the Falcon.
Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam Wilson/The Falcon in the MCU, deserves a lot of credit for making the superhero so charming. Through Mackie, we’ve learned that the onscreen Falcon is a veteran who has dedicated his life to helping other vets, hence his bromantic connection to Cap. Fans also got a glimpse at his backstory in The Winter Soldier, most notably that he got his wings as part of an experimental program with the United States Air Force. But the big screen iteration has only just begun to scratch the surface of the character.
If you want to learn more about your new favorite Avenger, here are 12 Things You Didn’t Know About The Falcon.
12. He Is The First African-American Superhero
Black Panther might be the first black superhero, but when The Falcon made his comic debut in September of 1969, he became the first African-American superhero to enter into the Marvel world. In fact, some say he was also the first black superhero to not have his race directly reflected in his superhero name — he has never been “The Black Falcon,” for example.
Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, the Falcon made his first appearance in Captain America #117, and has been a consistent presence in the Captain America comics ever since. Eventually, the Falcon earned top billing alongside Cap, making him more of a partner than a sidekick. And, according to Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort, he was “the first super hero of color to get his own action figure back in the 1970s.”
11. He’s An Orphan
In the tradition of superhero origin stories — Superman, Batman, Spiderman, etc. — the Falcon’s origin story begins with a young Sam Wilson being orphaned. In the comics, Sam Wilson grew up in Harlem, where his minister father was killed after attempting to break up a fight. His mother was killed in a mugging a few years later, leaving Sam alone.
Not unlike the orphaned superheroes that came before him, the loss of his parents led Sam Wilson down a bad path before he eventually became the Falcon. It’s likely this origin story will never see the light of day in the MCU, and that’s a good thing. (We should also be thankful his mother’s name isn’t Martha.)
10. He Worked For The Mob As ‘Snap’ Wilson
Part of the Falcon’s original backstory was his dark past as Sam ‘Snap’ Wilson. Following the murders of his parents, Sam Wilson became a gangster with the aforementioned nickname. Though his character clearly had ties to the mob, it’s unclear what his role was exactly. Some say that he worked as a pimp, but that point has been debated.
It’s obvious why filmmakers decided to do away with that particular aspect of Wilson’s backstory for Mackie’s Falcon. Introducing the first African American superhero/former pimp would probably not have gone over well with modern audiences, as it would have bordered on exploitation cinema. I think we can put this fun fact in the ‘better left in the past’ category.
9. He Is A Politician + A Social Worker
On the flip side of his mobster past is the fact that, after becoming the Falcon, Sam Wilson returned to Harlem where he worked as a social worker and even ran for office. Unfortunately, his past caught up to him when he ran for Congress — opposition research is a b****. Once his past as Snap Wilson was made public, Sam Wilson suffered a bit of an identity crisis, but he was able to work his way through it and return to his job as a social worker.
Sam Wilson might not have a criminal past in the MCU, but the desire to help others professionally has certainly carried over from the comics. When we first meet Sam Wilson in The Winter Soldier, he’s working as a counselor at the local V.A., and in Ant-Man, he plays a role in getting the titular hero a spot fighting alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
8. He Can Communicate With Birds
In the comics, the Falcon isn’t just a guy with mechanical wings — he also has the power to communicate telepathically with birds. Specifically, the Falcon shares a strong connection to Redwing, his pet falcon (what else?). Redwing is, more often than not, featured in the comics soaring right alongside the Falcon and Cap, helping them in their heroic endeavors. Redwing and the Falcon share a deep connection: the Falcon can see what Redwing sees, and he can also directly communicate with Redwing and other birds.
Redwing didn’t appear in The Winter Soldier, and, let’s face it, a telepathic bird doesn’t really fit into the MCU, but Captain America: Civil War will feature a new version of the Falcon’s beloved sidekick. As glimpsed in clips released for the film, instead of being an actual bird, Redwing will take the form of a fancy new drone that will aid the Avengers in their missions.
7. He Crossed Paths With Red Skull
Red Skull, aka Captain America’s big bad and the O.G. HYDRA leader, is actually the man who gave Falcon his powers in the hero’s original incarnation. Red Skull used the Cosmic Cube to erase Sam Wilson’s memories of living as Snap Wilson and giving him the power to communicate with Redwing. Red Skull planned to transform Sam Wilson into the Falcon, an ideal ally to Captain America, and then eventually trigger him to use him against Cap — think of him as a super sleeper agent.
It’s not tough to see why Marvel Studios decided to nix this story in the movies. Two characters from the ’40s who were frozen for half a century and haven’t aged is enough. And the fact that the Falcon doesn’t have superpowers makes him a more relatable character. It also makes his relationship with Cap even more endearing.
6. He Was Harlem’s Daredevil
Sam Wilson was basically Harlem’s version of Daredevil. That’s right, just as Daredevil swore to protect Hell’s Kitchen, some versions of Sam Wilson find him living in Harlem and fighting local crime. Social worker by day, vigilante by night, Sam Wilson was the hero of Harlem for quite some time. He even occasionally fought crime with New York’s own Luke Cage.
You just don’t know about it because, unlike Daredevil, Falcon has yet to wax poetic about the perils of protecting a New York neighborhood — on screen. Just in case, maybe we should start calling Sam Wilson the Falcon of Harlem.
5. He Became Captain America
People went wild when Sam Wilson was named the new Captain America in 2014. That’s right — there’s a black Captain America (and it only took half a century). After Steve Rogers [spoiler alert!] died at the conclusion of the Civil War storyline, Sam Wilson officially took up the stars and stripes in the comic books. Though previous comics had featured Sam putting on the Cap costume temporarily on multiple occasions, this time, it wasn’t just to cover for Steve.
Sam Wilson brought a refreshingly modern take on Captain America. Sam Wilson’s Cap, for example, has a noted focus on the plight of the underprivileged. An early comic featuring him as Captain America saw the hero fight against anti-immigrant groups at the border.
Whether or not we’ll see Sam Wilson take over for Cap on the big screen remains to be seen. Another version of Cap’s story has The Winter Soldier taking over following Steve Rogers’ downfall, so the MCU could do anything.
4. The Falcon Was Once Stephen Colbert
When Marvel announced that Sam Wilson would be the new Captain America, they also announced that a particular famous fake news pundit would be filling the Falcon’s shoes: Stephen Colbert. Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada appeared on The Colbert Report to announce the news of Cap’s new identity and offer the late-night host an original illustration from Kris Anka depicting Colbert as the Falcon. Colbert was an avid Marvel and Cap fan. Viewers of The Colbert Report might remember that Colbert even had Captain America’s shield in his studio.
Alas, Colbert’s run as the Falcon only lasted one issue. Joaquin Torres, a young Latino, became the official new Falcon a few issues later, thus dethroning Colbert.
3. Nick Fury Could Be His Dad
Okay, this isn’t really true. But, if Anthony Mackie had a say in the writer’s room, the MCU would be hosting a Maury-like father-son reunion soon.
During an appearance on Conan to promote Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Mackie told host Conan O’Brien all about his theory that Nick Fury is really Sam Wilson’s dad. The Winter Soldier was the first time Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson (Fury) appeared in a film together, and Mackie revealed that he couldn’t help but notice a familial resemblance on set. “I had my goatee, he had his goatee. And he just looked like my dad. So I called him Dad the entire movie,” Mackie said.
2. His Wings Were Designed By Black Panther
In the comics, when the Falcon needed some new wings following a fight with Anti-Cap (cue: round of applause for Marvel for that inspired villain name), Black Panther stepped in and gave him a massive upgrade. The wings, in addition to being gigantic — a wingspan of 50 feet — were made of, what else, vibranium. Thanks Black Panther!
Interestingly enough, in the MCU, it looks like the Falcon’s wings were made by Stark Industries. (His gear appears to be sporting a Stark Industries logo or two). The Falcon could still get new wings from Black Panther, but given the fact that Black Panther is clearly on Team Iron Man (at least, according to the trailers), we’re thinking it’s going to be a while before these two get all buddy buddy. T’Challa’s not going to be rushing to give Falcon vibranium wings anytime soon.
1. You Might Have The Falcon To Thank For The Black Panther Movie
Years before he officially became the Falcon, Anthony Mackie was begging to be a part of the MCU and campaigning for Black Panther to join the pantheon of Marvel Studios superheroes. “I had been contacting Marvel for a few years, asking about Black Panther and trying to see if there was any way I could be part of the Marvel Universe in any capacity,” Mackie said in an interview with Vulture. After about five years of lobbying, Mackie booked a meeting with Winter Soldier directors Joe and Anthony Russo and signed up to play a part he knew nothing about. The rest, as they say, is Marvel history.
Even though Mackie didn’t end up playing the Black Panther, maybe those years of harassment pushed Marvel in the right direction. With the Black Panther movie on the horizon, now all we need is the Falcon spin-off movie we so rightly deserve.
BONUS: His real name is Clarence
Did we miss any little-known facts about Sam Wilson? What are the chances of him taking over the Captain America mantle? Sound off in the comments section.