Take Flight, Part 1 (Falcon #1 Review)

Launching into his own ongoing monthly solo series for the first time ever in almost 50 years, The Falcon has returned!  Sam Wilson doesn’t just want to fight super-villains and punch bad guys. He wants to make a difference in a new city and change people’s lives.  Yet little does he know that an old foe with monstrous powers awaits to undermine Sam’s every good deed.

Writer:  Rodney Barnes
Artist:  Joshua Cassara
Cover Artist:  Jesus Saiz
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:

After the events of SECRET EMPIRE, Sam Wilson has given up being Captain America.  Donning a new costume, he is The Falcon once more.  He takes a superhero sidekick, the new Patriot (AKA Rayshaun Lucas), under his wing and goes on a mission in Chicago.  But the violence overrunning the Windy City wildly escalates when 2 gangs declare all-out war against each other.

What You’ll Find Out:

The issue opens with Falcon patrolling the skies over Chicago as he engages in an interior monologue about humanity’s relationship to “the gods” and how humanity’s prayers don’t stop chaos from reigning.  2 members of the Southstone Rangers gang are taking pics of Falcon and Redwing flying overhead when members of a rival gang, the Spanish Kings, drive up and pull out their guns.  Falcon swoops down, smashes their car, lets bullets bounce off of his uniform and subdues them.

During the battle, he continues his inner monologue ruminating on how these young minds are filled with rage and fear so “the idea of trust or peace is inconceivable.” And that his mission requires him to return to who he truly is, The Falcon.  He concludes these gang members are born into “a prison of desperation” and destitute circumstances so “this challenge won’t be won with force. My heart must bond with theirs.”  Though well-intentioned, all of this dialogue is very cloying.

After a few panels where the Mayor of Chicago (a white man who looks nothing like Rahm Emanuel) takes a photo op with Falcon and gives a reassuring speech, Falcon flies off and radios Patriot.  We go through several panels of expository dialogue where the reader learns Falcon has chosen this mission to connect with the world “in a more personal way” and that he’s working with Jericho Drumm (AKA Doctor Voodoo).  Because of this, he has to skip training with Patriot.

In a span of literally 5 panels, Patriot asks if he can train out in the field with Falcon in Chicago.  Falcon explains it’s unpredictable and presumably dangerous so of course, Patriot shows up anyway—and Falcon relents after yet another round of exposition from Patriot about him talking to Misty Knight and his feelings about friends and family he’s lost to violence so he has to do something about it. Falcon doesn’t rationally argue; he just says yes.  Why? Because the plot needs him to.

The scene ends with Falcon sending his barely-trained partner off to negotiate a peace treaty with the Spanish Kings while Falcon meets with the Southstone Rangers to discuss the truce with them.  Sadly, that description of the plot is as preposterous as it sounds.  Witness Falcon’s first meeting with the Rangers where he tells Dray that he must be sick of all the violence, that “you are my brother” so just put your guns down and we’ll figure things out.

Falcon 1_page one of 3

The entire conflict is resolved by the leader Dray saying “No” and one gang member saying “Yes” and then faster than you can sing “Kumbaya My Lord,” every other member of the gang agrees to drop their guns and go talk peace with the other gang they’ve been trying to kill off for months.  To say the whole sequence is implausible is putting it mildly.

This is followed by the sequence where Patriot (who notes that Falcon is famous and he is not) shows up at the headquarters of the Spanish Kings and starts talking to them about how he’s there to negotiate an end to war.  This scene includes a moment where the implied leader says “No, let’s hear him out” to…no one at all.  Literally, Patriot speaks, no one objects yet writer Rodney Barnes has the leader refusing a nonexistent objection made by absolutely no one in his gang.

Falcon 1_page 2 of 3

The story goes onto Falcon having yet another meeting with the unnamed Mayor of Chicago dismissing Falcon because he’s not a citizen of Chicago and bizarrely implying that Falcon is only pretending to be a hero like Steve Rogers was. Falcon doesn’t even try to rebut this astounding accusation and walks out while ordering the Mayor to make sure there’s adequate police presence (with his back to the Mayor as he marches out the door) so there’s no fireworks.  We end with the Mayor rubbing his hands together and making ominous statements about how there will be fireworks like the world has never seen.  I was surprised Barnes didn’t have a word balloon with the Mayor whispering “MWUH-HA-HA!!”

So, why are impulsive teenagers, high school dropouts and hardened gangbangers in their twenties or thirties so quick to agree to a truce in broad daylight surrounded by police? Why is the villain behaving like a reject from a rerun of Miami Vice and hitting his every mark in the most rote manner possible?  Because that is what the plot dictates.  The pacing of points in this script from A to B to C is regrettably an all too predictable formula. The reveal of the Mayor’s true identity is enjoyable and rewarding.  However, there are no shocks or surprises in how we get to this reveal.  Though Barnes is a very successful writer with years of experience in animation and sitcoms, his script for Falcon #1 is standard comic book fare that doesn’t break the mold and sticks rigidly to common comic book tropes. Each twist and turn is easily telegraphed throughout the whole book. There’s no suspense that keeps the reader on edge about what’s going to happen next after each page.

The artwork in this issue by Joshua Cassara is gritty and dramatic. Cassara’s pencils and inks aren’t as detailed and polished here as his art in Titan Comics’ The Troop, but he has a natural gift for storytelling.  Panel to panel, everything flows. Backgrounds are clear and specific as the plot needs it to be while Cassara still knows how to leave backgrounds sparse or blank when a dramatic scene (such Falcon and Redwing racing across the sky) or an action sequence needs to focus the reader’s attention on the characters in the foreground. He also has a talent for capturing emotion in faces even right down to those in the background.  Rachelle Rosenberg’s sharp and dynamic coloring also gives added punch to the visuals.

Falcon #1 is a book I very much wanted to love and will continue to read in the hopes that Barnes has a few tricks up his sleeve that we haven’t seen yet.  But hopefully he will find a way to write Sam, Rayshaun, the Mayor and the gang members with more depth than we see in this issue.  Yes, it is admirable and noble that Falcon wants to negotiate peace between warring gangs in a real world city that is suffering through historically high gun violence and hundreds of deaths. However, every word from Sam Wilson about his motives and goals sounds preachy and naïve. The gang members don’t behave in any way like real people with complex characterization or deeper motivations.  Barnes’ plot requires them to say yes to Falcon and Patriot’s truce with no healthy argument and no reasonable objections.  For example, not one of the gang members who agree to the truce ever ask, “Hold up, wait-a-minute! How do we know this isn’t a set-up to get the cops to arrest us?”

Lastly, there have been many vociferous online rants from disenchanted comics fans who regularly complain that Marvel’s editorial vision is nothing but trite SJW screeds and politically correct plots and characterization.  I don’t believe that’s what’s really going on with the books coming out of Marvel Legacy.  But the simplistic platitudes Barnes has Falcon recite sound stiff, maudlin and unconvincing. It also doesn’t help when Falcon’s actions are clearly plot-driven instead of coming across as judicious choices based on objective facts and deductive reasoning.  Everything happening in the story is so contrived and obvious that we can see the ending of this issue coming from a mile away.

Rating:  6 / 10

Final Thought: Falcon #1 is a less-than-stellar debut.  The characterization is cliché and mediocre, providing no fresh or interesting insights into the lead and supporting characters. However, the action sequences are well-staged and the artwork is effective and exciting.  Plus, the story ends on a high note by revealing a powerful villain who isn’t overused and could drive the story to greater heights. Though I can’t enthusiastically recommend this book, it’s only the 1st inning. I’m willing to buy the next issue to see if the writer can get the bases loaded or even hit a home run.

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