Two episodes into “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” and we’ve officially met two new Captains America — and now a future Young Avenger. Once again, the MCU is cherry-picking pieces of comic lore — this time with Isaiah Bradley and his grandson, Eli.
We meet the Bradleys only briefly in “The Star-Spangled Man,” just after Bucky and Sam get thoroughly bested by the Flag Smashers. Even with the help of the new Captain America, who we now know for sure is John Walker, the freedom fighters come out on top and escape with stolen medicines.
But as it turns out, it’s not just the one Flag Smasher that Torres took on last week who’s super strong — there’s eight of them. The source of their strength? Something derived from the serum that created Bucky and Steve. And also, Isaiah Bradley. According to Bucky, Isaiah “was a hero. One of the ones HYDRA feared the most. Like Steve.”
Bucky introduces Sam to Isaiah in an effort to find any kind of lead on how the serum got out there, but Isaiah wants nothing to do with it. In a brief backstory, we learn that Isaiah and Bucky first crossed paths back in 1951 during the Korean War, when Isaiah was sent in to take on the Winter Soldier.
“We heard whispers he was on the peninsula, but everyone they sent after him, never came back,” Isaiah reveals. “So the U.S. military dropped me behind the line to go deal with him.”
According to Isaiah, he “took half that metal arm in that fight in Goyang” but he only let Bucky in to see if he had gotten the arm back, or was there to kill Isaiah. Isaiah refuses to talk anymore, whipping a metal tin into the wall and revealing his strength, before kicking Bucky and Sam out.
So, who exactly is Isaiah Bradley? Well, in Marvel comics, he is indeed like Steve — right down to the Captain America title.
Created by writer Robert Morales, artist Kyle Baker and editor Axel Alonso in 2003, Isaiah was one of 300 African-American soldiers who were used as test subjects in Project Rebirth, a 1940s attempt to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Bradley was the sole survivor, and took up the mantle of Captain America after Steve was presumed dead near the end of World War II. But, this was seen as treason by the military, and Isaiah was sentenced to life in prison, although he was released after 17 years. He remained a secret to the world at large.
Obviously, the MCU is once again picking up parts of the comic storyline. Here, Isaiah wasn’t officially Captain America and was sent to jail for 30 years (though we don’t actually learn why). In jail, he continued to be experimented on, both by the U.S. military and by HYDRA.
“The put my ass in jail for 30 years. People running tests, taking my blood, coming into my cell,” Isaiah tells Bucky. “Even your people weren’t done with me.”
In the comics, it’s established that Bradley became a known fact in African American culture as the Black Captain America, but mainstream society forgot about him. But in the MCU, he was kept a secret, even from Steve Rogers, leading to the obvious anger on Sam’s part.
So, now the question is, what part does Isaiah play going forward? He wouldn’t give up any information, leading Bucky and Sam to go to Zemo for help. But will we get any more backstory on Isaiah? Will we see him in flashbacks at all?
We don’t know of course. For now, he’s just a stop Bucky and Sam need to make before going to Zemo, who we know will be a key player in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”
We do think it’s likely however that we’ll see more of Isaiah’s grandson, Eli, who only briefly appeared in this episode. He isn’t explicitly named on-screen, but he is in the credits, and he’s played by actor Elijah Richardson. In the comics, Eli was known as Patriot, a member of the Young Avengers, created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung,
And this isn’t the first MCU connection to the Young Avengers we’ve seen. Over in “WandaVision,” Wanda gave birth to her sons Billy and Tommy in episode 3. Though they’re technically Maximoffs, it appears Marvel specifically brought them in as references to Billy Kaplan and Tommy Shepherd, also created by Allen Heinberg and Jim Cheung. All three originally debuted in the 2005/2006 “Young Avengers” comic series.
By the end of “WandaVision,” Tommy and Billy have vanished — but it seems they aren’t totally gone, as Wanda hears her sons calling out for her while on the Astral Plane. It seems more than likely that they’ll show up again.
We’ve also met Cassie Lang in “Ant-Man,” and Jonathan Majors has been cast as Kang the Conqueror in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” In the comics, a younger version of Kang the Conqueror, who had traveled through time with the goal of stopping his future self, was a key player in the Young Avengers, going by the name Iron Lad.
Then there’s Kate Bishop, who will debut in the upcoming “Hawkeye” series, plus upcoming debuts by young heroes including Ironheart, and Ms. Marvel, who could both conceivably join the Young Avengers.
Marvel is carefully setting up a lot of pieces; we’ll have to keep a close eye on how they come together.