Carl Lumbly Is Joining FALCON & WINTER SOLDIER (And Marvel Might Be Going RED, WHITE & BLACK)
Note: Spoilers for Robert Morales' and Kyle Baker's Truth: Red, White, & Black below.
A couple days ago, Deadline broke the story that Carl Lumbly was joining The Falcon and The Winter Soldier in an undisclosed role. If you watch comic book shows, you’re probably very familiar with Lumbly’s voice thanks to his performance as the Martian Manhunter J’on J’onzz in the DCAU (Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Static Shock). In live-action, Lumbly recently portrayed J’on’s father in Supergirl.
While it hasn’t been disclosed who Lumbly will be in F&WS, plenty of people have already speculated that he will be playing Isaiah Bradley of Truth: Red, White, and Black fame. In 2003, Robert Morales retconned the Captain America mythology by introducing a story set shortly after the successful Super Soldier Serum treatment of Steve Rogers. Desperate to recreate the success they had with Steve but absent a genius like the late Dr. Erskine, the US Military began experimenting on their enlisted African-American soldiers in order to reach a Super Soldier alternative by trial and error. Isaiah Bradley was the lone survivor of these unethical, unpublicized Super Soldier trials, and Truth chronicles how he became the Forgotten Captain America.
While writing Truth, Morales took inspiration from the 1932-72 Tuskegee experiments, as well as several other real-life historical events where Black people where consigned as guinea pigs. For a popular comic, Truth is pretty unflinching in its portrayal of Jim Crow-era racism and a non-idealized WWII. This is why an adaptation always seemed like a pipedream to me. But by folding Isaiah Bradley’s story into Sam Wilson’s rise as Captain America, F&WS could potentially smuggle the thematic import of Truth into the MCU without Disney catching on and nervously shutting it down.
Falcon & Winter Soldier showrunner Malcolm Spellman has already expressed an interest in using his Captain America sequel show to investigate the racist legacies of America. As Nick Spencer highlighted during his Sam Wilson: Captain America run, there are some heavy implications that come with having a Black man take on the mantle of a patriotic American icon. F&WS will be a show that follows up on Steve passing the Captain America title to Sam in Endgame. By introducing a Black WWII veteran who fought with a red, white, and blue shield (like Steve but at a much greater cost), F&WS could provide a much-needed context for why Sam becoming Captain America is so meaningful.
We already know that US Agent John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell) will be an adversary in Falcon & Winter Soldier, possibly as Sam’s foil and a rival to inherit Cap’s Shield. In the comics, US Agent is a jingoistic reactionary in patriotic colors. He basically carries every negative trait a member of the counter-culture would associate with a guy who unironically wears the American flag. Isaiah Bradley, on the other hand, represents every shame and lie America would rather sweep under the rug. The examples set both by Walker and Bradley (assuming that Lumbly is playing Bradley in the show) are sure to affect the direction Sam Wilson takes to become Captain America.
But wait, there’s even more significance to The Falcon & The Winter Soldier having Isaiah Bradley. In the comics, Isaiah hasn’t been an active superhero since WWII, but his grandson Elijah Bradley followed in his legacy and became Patriot, a superhero and leader of the first incarnation of the Young Avengers. With WandaVision strongly hinting at appearances of Wiccan and Hulkling, Disney+’s Hawkeye show co-starring Kate Bishop, rumors of America Chavez appearing in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and this potential Bradley family introduction in F&WS, it’s hard not to notice that Marvel Studios is building a roster for young heroes.
As far as I’m concerned, though, the franchise potential of Isaiah Bradley and his progeny (which aside from Elijah, also includes Josiah X, the super-soldier who fights alongside Marvel’s pre-eminent all-Black superhero team The Crew) is the least interesting thing about bringing him into the MCU. I want this to be true just so we can see the political subtext of the Captain America series dig a little deeper. Having a solemn elder Black veteran figure to bounce off of might also flesh Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson out as a character (because let’s face it, the movies gave him dreadfully little to do).
Consider me hype that a DCAU legend is joining the MCU, and consider me sold if he’s playing Isaiah Bradley. And if the latter is the case, I hope his story isn’t sanitized to appeal to shareholders and fans who are overly precious about Steve Rogers’ origins.