By: Shawn Warner
Yesterday was anything but your typical New Comic Book Day, not only did a brand new Falcon series kick off, but I had the great fortune to spend some time talking to series writer Rodney Barnes. For those two people out there who have not heard of the prolific Mr. Barnes let me run down just a bit of his myriad accomplishments; as a producer and writer Rodney has worked on the television shows My Wife and Kids, Everybody Hates Chris, Til Death, Brothers, The Boondocks and Marvel’s Runaways on which he served as co-executive producer and writer. This is by no means a complete list, but as you can see it is an impressive one that includes writing The Falcon for Marvel and an up-coming mini-series for Image Comics entitled Killadelphia.
Rodney first ventured into writing comics with the short story ‘Birth of a Patriot’ in Marvel Comics Secret Empire tie-in “Brave New World” #2, however, he has loved collecting and reading comic books most of his life. The writer told me of his days trading well read issues of Avengers and other Marvel titles with Bump Moyer, who just happens to own Twilite Zone Comics, the shop in which Rodney was signing copies of The Falcon #1 on this particular NCBD. Rodney and I spoke at length on the current state of political correctness as it pertains to the entertainment industry as a whole but, more specifically as its effects can be felt on the medium of comic books. We seemed to be in agreement that there has been something of a paradigm switch when it comes to what is now viewed as the counterculture. In the 60’s the extreme left was very much the movement of the youth, with their anti-establishment stance and freedom for the individual, whether politically or socially speaking, now, it seems the so-called alt-right have come into vogue as we are seeing more and more young adults claiming increasingly conservative views as their own. Is this a backlash from what could be seen as liberal bullying? That’s one possibility But, Rodney hasn’t let any of that rhetoric keep him from writing one of the most entertaining and original stories on the racks today. His take on the Falcon is fresh while keeping it firmly rooted in continuity. I asked him if the Legacy event currently going on at Marvel had influenced his take on the character or if Marvel had placed any stipulations on him to keep Sam Wilson true to any certain iteration but, he assured me this was not the case. The version of Sam we get in Rodney’s book is strictly his own take on the character after years of reading Marvel Comics and a respect for continuity that comes with it. When the subject of Sam Wilson’s recent stint as Captain America came up Rodney expressed a particular affinity for the work of Nick Spencer specifically on the epic Secret Empire arc. Now the mantle has passed back to Steve Rogers, but not the iconic shield and Sam Wilson has returned to his old stomping grounds as The Falcon to continue his own work as a hero in his own right. Although he is not working alone, Wilson has taken on a new protegé with an old name, Patriot.
I don’t think anyone needs a recap of the status quo altering events of Secret Empire, but let me just touch on a few major points of interest as they affect the Falcon’s story going forward. First off for a while there were two Captain Americas, yes that is correct, both Rogers and Wilson carried the brand when Steve first returned from his adventures in the geriatric world. That’s actually a small thing when compared to the news that Rogers had actually been a Hydra agent for very nearly all of his adult life. The fallout from this is obviously catastrophic, but nothing the Cosmic Cube can’t fix by creating another Steve Rogers more in line with the one we have all come to know and love. This prompts Sam to return the shield to the new and improved “original” Captain America and to relinquish his claim to the red, white and blue to return to being the Falcon. Okay, now I admit that is an extremely concise version of the story and doesn’t begin to do it justice. If you haven’t read the entire Steve Rogers/ Sam Wilson saga as it pertains to the events leading up to and including Secret Empire I suggest that you do, but it is not mandatory to do so before diving into this current Falcon series. In fact, this is a perfect jumping on spot for new readers or those who may just be discovering the character.
In the debut issue, Sam Wilson has returned to the rough and tumble streets of Chicago to find that the gangs have all but taken over his hometown. The returning hero immediately undertakes the task of brokering a truce between the two most violent gangs in the city. Rayshaun Lucas aka Patriot has taken to sporting the colors of the flag in what appears to be a rather poetic bit of irony as Wilson’s sidekick. Barnes does a fantastic job here as he juxtaposes the two by splitting them up to deal with the warring gangs separately. Sam is, of course, eloquent and moving in his speech to Dray, the leader of the Kings. Although he is at first meant with violent opposition his message of hope quickly finds a receptive audience in the gang members. Lucas, on the other hand, uses his physical prowess and shield throwing abilities to impress the leader of the Rangers. The end result is the gang leaders agreeing to an uneasy peace.
The real opposition throughout the narrative has come from the city’s reluctant mayor. He and Wilson seem to be at opposing ends of the gang issue, while the mayor points out that Sam is neither a citizen of Chicago or a duly deputized law enforcement officer, Wilson takes the opportunity to assert his boundless jurisdiction and intention to fight this battle with or without his mayorial blessing. The revelation Barnes ends the issue with is a testament to the writer’s lifelong admiration of Stephen King and just a darn good piece of writing that speaks to the eternal question which is particularly relevant today, who is more to be feared the puppets or their master pulling the strings.
This is a rock solid first issue that entertains as much as it informs. Rodney Barnes does a fantastic job of building his narrative on a foundation of continuity and precision storytelling. His characterization of Sam Wilson feels inventive while staying true to those elements that make him such a great hero, to begin with, he doesn’t write the character as though he is coming off a failed attempt at being Captain America, which is not the case at all, instead Barnes brings a sense of urgency to Wilson’s choice to return to the streets that made him who he is. There is a relevance to this story that resonates so clearly in the politically charged times we live in and that is heightened by the dialog which Barnes writes with an authenticity that escapes many writers. That is not to say that his characters sound “black” because he is a black writer, but his characters sound real because he is a damn fine writer. There is a genuineness to his dialog that comes across so effectively particularly in the character of Wilson. He sounds impassioned, not patriotic like a flag-waver, but like a war vet, someone who has been in harm’s way for a cause bigger than self. Having said that, there is a youthful authenticity to Lucas that is equally effective, but perhaps even more urgent because of his youth. Barnes uncannily strikes a balance between youth and experience so that each enhances the other in these two characters, not unlike Cap and Bucky in the hands of Ed Brubaker.
Visually, Joshua Cassara fills these pages with enough explosive energy to blow the cover clean off. His kinetic linework only adds to the urgency of Barnes’ words. This is a tremendous creative team at work here. Rachelle Rosenberg’s somewhat muted palette works extremely well in rendering the gritty city landscape somehow tapping into the beauty that exists beneath the rugged façade.
This first issue of The Falcon succeeds on all fronts, engaging story, dynamic characterizations and gorgeous visuals, what more could you ask for in a comic book. The writing pulls you into and keeps you wanting more, the pace is brisk without glossing over any of the subtleties that make it so well crafted. I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse inside the process that went into making this book by speaking with Rodney Barnes at length and what I came away with is the feeling that this is a voice that has a lot to say. Barnes’ voice is viable and pertinent, he speaks from a place of passion and intelligence and as much as he has accomplished thus far, I truly believe that the best is yet to come from this consummate storyteller, particularly in comic books where he is a relative newcomer. 5/5
Writer- Rodney Barnes
Artist- Joshua Cassara
Colors- Rachelle Rosenberg