Marvel Really Needs to Treat Sam Wilson as the Important Character and Hero He Is
Stop pretending like he's not important!
In the newest trailer for Avengers: Endgame, which you can watch below, we get some black and white (with hints of red) clips of those who we lost in Infinity War. T’Challa, the Guardians, Doctor Strange, Hope van Dyne, Bucky … but weirdly enough, no Peter Parker or Sam Wilson.
Given that we know Peter still has a large role to play in the future of the MCU, his omission might be Marvel trying to pretend that we don’t know he’s coming back. But Sam’s omission? Come on.
Today we have a chance to take it all back. Whatever it takes.
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) March 21, 2019
Sam Wilson is an Avenger, a hero, and my choice of Steve OTP partner. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he displayed extreme compassion, as well as extreme badassery. In Civil War, he literally got himself arrested when he went back to check on Rhodey to make sure he was alive after Rhodey took a near-fatal blow meant for Sam.
He helped Steve track down Bucky even though Bucky also tried to kill him on a couple occasions. He’s the freaking Falcon, and also the best battle snarker out there. The other Avengers’ mid-battle humor isn’t nearly as excellent as Sam’s.
So why does Marvel like to pretend that Sam does not currently matter to anyone in the MCU? Sam died alone, with no one to witness his dusting after Thanos’s snap. Literally every other character got someone reacting to their death. Even Gamora, who died alone, had Peter Quill’s grieving, fateful reaction to her loss later on in the film.
Sam? No one reacted to Sam’s death. Rhodey just called out for him a couple times, and then it cut to Groot’s demise and Rocket’s reaction.
Not to sound like an angry shipper, but Sam is one of the characters who represented a life beyond Captain America and the shield’s legacy for Steve. Sam didn’t meet him as Cap; he met him as Steve Rogers. He reached out to Steve as a fellow veteran rather than a superhero.
If Bucky is Steve’s past, then wouldn’t it stand to be argued that Steve’s friendship with Sam represented a future? So why not emphasize Steve losing more than just one of his friends?
Beyond my shipping, Sam also has always wound up with the short end of the stick when it comes to character development. In The Winter Soldier, we get a glimpse of Sam’s life. He’s a veteran who lost his best friend in combat. He runs a support group for soldiers with PTSD, which is one of the reasons he’s able to connect with Steve; not to go full Steve stan here, but if you think Tony’s the only one with PTSD, think again.
He’s a capable, strong character in his own right, but once he becomes Steve’s friend, that becomes his defining trait.
In an excellent essay titled White Hero, Sidekick of Color, writer Clara Mae talks about how this is a problem in the wider MCU. Tony and Rhodey, Doctor Strange and Wong, Carol and Maria, even Thor and Valkyrie … there’s a tradition of the MCU putting their characters of color in support roles to the white protagonist.
“And that’s not to say these are not wonderful characters who are hinted at as having rich interior lives … The characters would probably balk at the classification of ‘sidekick.’ Yet they’re designated by the films as such, by virtue of their stories ultimately working to support the main character’s arc. All of them exist to help the lead work through some issue or trauma and provide logistical backup. We’re given glimpses at who they are as people, but rarely is that developed outside their relationship to the protagonist.”
Mae is right. Sam is defined by his relationship to Steve, with many in fandom writing him off as the trope of the best friend rather than giving him his own journey. There was even a popular theory that he was a Hydra agent that popped up on Tumblr following Winter Soldier, because he was too nice, apparently. I myself have even been guilty of just saying he’s Steve’s boyfriend and not considering what his character might be as an Avenger and hero beyond his relationship to Steve.
And now, Marvel can’t even put his death in a teaser in which nearly every other dead character appears, and in which Steve talks about losing friends and family.
There’s hope in the long run. Sam will supposedly be the costar of his own TV series with Bucky, though details of what that series will entail are being kept under tight wraps. I hope that the series doesn’t just make him play buddy cop with Bucky and instead lets him grow as his own character. In the comics, Sam donned the mantle of Captain America. Maybe the series will build towards Sam taking up the shield.
But even if that doesn’t happen, I want Sam to get to grow on his own. I want him to disagree with people, to be angry, to possibly get a love interest. I want him to get the same treatment afforded Steve and Tony, because that’s what the character deserves. The MCU cannot bill itself as being inclusive and then have characters of color consistently be only the sidekicks.
Let Sam, who’s been in the MCU for about five years now, get his own story in which he is the main hero. That’s not too much to ask.
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