'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' Episode 2 Explained: Who is Isaiah Bradley?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2 is streaming now on Disney+, and introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) a character called Isaiah Bradley (played by Carl Lumbly). Though this is the first time Marvel fans are meeting the character, the episode hinted he has been a part of the story for decades.

In the episode, titled "The Star Spangled Man," Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Sam (Anthony Mackie) go to visit the character, who is an old man disillusioned with the world. At this meeting, we learn that like Bucky and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Isaiah was part of the super-soldier program run by the U.S. government in the 1940s and 1950s.

While Bucky and Steve continued using their powers for good, Isaiah long ago gave up using his powers. He tells the pair that he sees the process of being turned into a super-soldier as basically government-sanctioned imprisonment and torture.

Bucky says of the character that he, "was a hero. One of the ones HYDRA feared the most. Like Steve." The pair had previously crossed paths in the Korean War on different sides. "We heard whispers he was on the peninsula," says Isaiah about Bucky, "but everyone they sent after him, never came back. So the U.S. military dropped me behind the line to go deal with him."

Isaiah Bradley falcon winter soldier
Isaiah Bradley (played by Carl Lumbly) in 'The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.' Disney+

Marvel Comics, of course, give us a wider history of Isaiah, who was also known as Captain America. Created in 2003, the character was one of 300 African-American military men who took part in Project Rebirth, a project that tried to recreate the serum that turned Steve Rogers into a superhero. Of these hundreds of men, only Bradley remained.

Former Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso has said that this study was created to parallel the Tuskagee Syphilis Study, a real-life study that saw the United States Public Health Service deliberately mislead a group of African Americans with fake or misleading treatments among other deeply unethical medical practices.

Isaiah's story in the comics has a neat parallel with that of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Just as the Disney+ show sees John Walker (Wyatt Russell) become the new Captain America following Steve's decision to stay in the past after Avengers: Endgame, Isaiah took on the Captain America name in the comics after Steve was presumed dead. While the white Walker is being celebrated by the military, the African-American Isaiah was sent to prison for 17 years.

In the show, we get a reference to a prison sentence for the character, though his time in jail is 30 years. "They 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 show, Sam is shocked to learn that there was previously a Black super-soldier, suggesting that the information has been repressed within the MCU. This is part of the show's commitment to exploring the topic of racism and racial justice, as was then seen in a scene where Sam had a fraught run-in with the police before they realised he is an Avenger.

The show has what The Wrap calls a "mostly Black" writers room, allowing the show to address thornier issues of race. Head writer Malcolm Spellman said of this to the publication, "When you get people of color, particularly Black folk who are masters of pop culture, in a room together, they understand society in a very specific way. So I felt like we were connected to the times right off the bat... Marvel always wanted to be of the day. And this show is of 2020.

"Sam Wilson is a Black man, and those stars and stripes are something that you can't just forgive on his face. And that's just allowed to exist, for better or for worse, as it goes. We didn't show up with an agenda. You still want it to be fun and muscular, but you're not going to be dishonest either."

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier airs Fridays on Disney+.