Worthy of the shield: Why Sam Wilson was always the right choice to be the next Captain America

Avengers: Endgame is an incredible, epic movie — but it’s also an emotionally draining one. We have to say goodbye to some of our favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe characters forever, and it very much feels like the end of an era. 

That’s why I was so excited that it ended on a hopeful note: Steve Rogers selects Falcon a.k.a. Sam Wilson to inherit the shield, offering him the chance to become the next Captain America. 

I’ve loved Falcon’s character ever since I was introduced to him in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I remember fans speculating before the release of Endgame about who would get to be the next Captain America: Sam Wilson or Steve’s best friend, Bucky Barnes, the former Winter Soldier. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Bucky as a character too. He was a great friend to Steve in Captain America: The First Avenger, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing his redemption arc as he fights to reclaim his identity after being brainwashed as the Winter Soldier. However, the MCU’s Bucky just never felt like the right fit to be the next Captain America, at least to me. He’s on a different sort of character journey, and he’s given a fulfilling arc of his own in the recently wrapped Disney+ series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. 

But Sam receiving the shield just felt right, like he was always meant to take over for Cap when Steve finally set down the shield. However, Sam has a character journey of his own to go on in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier before he decides that he’s ready. (Note: I believe he was always worthy — he just had to come to the point where he believed in himself.)

At the beginning of the series, I was only just a little worried when Sam turned the shield over to the U.S. government. I was pretty sure he’d have the shield again by the end; after all, it wouldn’t be a good story if everything wrapped up neatly in the very first episode. 

Sam is still grieving the loss of his friend Steve, and dealing with the lingering effects of Thanos’ snap and the Infinity War. That’s the kind of trauma you don’t just magically get over, even though the Avengers successfully brought everyone who’d vanished back to life.

Then, the U.S. government decides to appoint their own Captain America: a man named John Walker, whose anger and desire for revenge lead him to abuse the shield and use it as a violent weapon. 

Seeing how the shield corrupts John Walker changes Falcon’s thoughts on picking up the shield, as does a conversation with Isaiah Bradley, who took the same super serum as Steve Rogers but was misused by the government and not treated like a hero, as he should have been. 

One of the most thought-provoking questions this series poses comes in the form of a question Isaiah asks Sam: why would a Black man want to be Captain America, after this nation’s ugly history of racism, slavery, and inequality? 

This conversation made me think about the symbolism of “Captain America” and the shield in a deeper way than I ever had before. It’s a little uncomfortable to realize that as much as we love Steve Rogers, the history of the country he served is filled with serious flaws and shortcomings. 

However, sometimes it’s good for us to be a little uncomfortable, because it inspires us to ask important questions and ponder ways that we could be better. America has done some great things and some terrible things throughout its history, and the Captain America we need now must reflect this nuance. 

That’s why I was so excited to see Falcon claim the title and make it his own in the final episode of this series. He doesn’t just reuse Steve’s costume — he’s got his own now, and I also loved that he incorporated the mechanical wings from his past identity into his new look. 

Sam decides he wants to take on the role and the shield in order to keep fighting for freedom and justice, and also to raise awareness about lingering barriers to that freedom and justice. He’s a modern superhero for the times we live in, and I can’t wait to see what stories they’ll tell with the new Captain America. 

America is a nation of many people from different backgrounds, and we want to see our superheroes reflect that diversity. Making Sam Wilson the new Captain America — while also recognizing the nuance woven into that story choice — is a great step.

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