Disguised as Mayor of Chicago, Mephisto’s son Blackheart gets Falcon and his sidekick Patriot arrested and thrown in jail! Will Doctor Voodoo save them? Or must a hero die in the end?
Writers: Rodney Barnes
Artist: Joshua Cassara
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Cover Artist: Daniel Acuna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Rayshaun Lucas (Patriot) tried to broker a peace treaty between rival gangs in Chicago who created an epidemic of violence and death. But Blackheart assumed human form as Mayor of Chicago and his magic has too powerful of a hold on the gangs and the police. Falcon and Patriot are forced to surrender to the cops who arrest them and throw them in jail.
What You’ll Find Out:
Writer Rodney Barnes throws us a curveball by opening on a flashback to a funeral. Falcon is remembering the death of his Uncle Rashon, a black liberation activist who was murdered by Philadelphia police. After his death, Falcon’s father insists that Sam promises him he will never end up in jail or dead “fighting for foolishness.” The flashback ends and both Sam and Rayshaun are in jail.
The funeral is actually a touching scene with a gentle analogy about life being like a cup of water that death will ultimately swallow. The lines about ass-whupping and foul language (does anyone get offended by the word “ass” which is in every movie and even on TV now?) spoil that moment of philosophical reminiscing and, even worse, just aren’t funny.
Mayor Agnew (oddly, this is the first time the Mayor has a last name) walks up to their cell and offers them “the world” and “true power” if they’ll join him. They refuse so he assumes his true form as Blackheart, opens a portal in the cell and releases a horde of demons to kill them.
Patriot makes a clunky remark about how he’s “a hero, not a Ghostbuster” which makes no sense because Ghostbusters are heroes. Doctor Voodoo teleports into the cell and helps them drive the demons back into the portal, then closes it. Falcon tells Voodoo that Blackheart wore a symbol which Voodoo explains is the Key of Abbadon; it has infinite power. The error here is that in the 2 panels Blackheart appeared in there was no symbol visible on him. Oops.
We then get 3 more leaden jokes in a row from Patriot:
- “Talking to you guys is like watching Doctor Who.”
- “If Tupac had known this was possible, he never would have signed with Suge Knight.” (To which I must ask, umm why?)
Going from Doctor Who to Tupac to Suge Knight to Blumhouse may make the dialogue topical, but it doesn’t make the jokes funny. To add to this odd mix, Voodoo says they have to stop the people fueling the riot—so he’s going after Blackheart. Wait, what now? I thought he said they have to go after the people in the riot, not the super-villain. Oh well, whatever.
Before leaving, Voodoo dissolves the bars of their cell. Falcon and Patriot proceed to walk out of the police station—and nobody tries to stop them. In fact, they walk right out to the sidewalk before they run into any cops. Was every officer working at that police station out getting doughnuts? There wasn’t even anyone at the front desk? Come on now!
We get 2 panels of Patriot warning Falcon about the dangers of stop-and-frisk by cops harassing black men. Falcon warns Patriot not to hurt the officers, presumably because they’re innocent people under a spell by Blackheart. Patriot replies “I won’t hurt them, but they’re gonna think twice about profiling a brother!” and the first 2 officers we see him hit in that panel are both African-American.
This is followed by more lame humor based on overused pop culture name-checking…
What is the point of throwing in the names of Rihanna, Beyonce and Lauryn Hill in this scene? A) It’s not funny and B) it only serves to increase the absurdity of Falcon and Patriot being able to just walk out of their jail cell and leave the police station without encountering a single cop. How can we take the stakes of apocalyptic danger to the city and the world in this story seriously if the writer does not?
On the next page, Patriot asks if the person standing next to Blackheart on the rooftop across the street is gang leader Dray. Falcon says yes to which Patriot replies “Blackheart, we coming for that ass!” Falcon apparently has no problem with teen hero Patriot saying the word “ass” in public; only when they’re alone in a jail cell.
When Falcon swoops down, Dray uses his new magical powers to throw up a force field. Falcon bounces off it and lands on the ground. Dray then tells them to go away because Blackheart is giving them a chance that the world never has. It’s a stereotypical cliché delivered with no emotional power behind it because we know nothing about Dray’s background.
Was he abused as a child and/or bullied by racists? Did cops kill members of his family or his closest friends? Without any context, that statement by Dray about the world never giving him or others a chance has no firepower behind it. If you’re going to ask readers to buy the motivations of your antagonist, you need a minimum of backstory to sell it.
After Dray tells them to leave, Barnes has Falcon give the following witty retort: “Hope you all had a good lunch.” Yeah, you tell ‘em, Falcon! They better have eaten a good meal! Or, or…well, I have no idea what the hell that means. Is it supposed to be funny? Because it’s not.
However, this does allow rising star artist Joshua Cassara a chance to show off his chops…
Falcon fights through the possessed cops (and trust me, he hurts them big time) for the next 3 pages. Cassara’s gift for drawing action sequences is essential to holding the reader’s attention throughout.
Doctor Voodoo appears on the rooftop, yelling at Falcon and Patriot that Blackheart is here. But Barnes had Falcon and Patriot both already note that Blackheart and Dray were standing on the rooftop together. Also, Cassara drew 2 figures standing on the roof on that same page. It is Writing 101 to know where your characters are, what they’re doing and not having them repeat information multiple times that the reader already knows.
When Falcon dives down to hit Blackheart, he rips Falcon’s soul from his body and sends it straight to Hell. Falcon awakens there, admits regret that he couldn’t change the world and apologizes to his father as demons surround him.
What Just Happened?
Believe it or not, this was a slightly better issue of Falcon than usual.
In terms of the plot, Rodney Barnes upped the ante on the danger and the action. The fight sequences were pretty tight. Far more important, though, were the opening and closing scenes.
I didn’t think Barnes had it in him, but he proved me wrong. Sam Wilson reflecting on his uncle’s death, his father’s demand that Sam avoid jail or risking his life and then ending with Sam in Hell regretting his failure to change the world while apologizing to his father were all quietly powerful moments. I bought those scenes and the interior monologues Barnes wrote for Sam had some real feeling to them.
But the one-liners and pop culture references derailed any weight the story had. The jokes weren’t funny. The pop culture references were used over half-a-dozen times, sometimes literally 3 in a row on the same page. Assuming any of them were funny at all (they weren’t), cramming them together in a verbal traffic jam robs them of any impact at all. A funny joke like a bit of intense drama needs space to grab a reader’s attention, hold it and let the feelings sink in for a few seconds.
Also, Barnes is a prime example of an adult writer who has a tin ear for plausible characterization and dialogue for teenagers. Rayshaun Lucas AKA Patriot has been very two-dimensional so far. Barnes’ attempts to make him the comedic relief aren’t working. And trying to turn Falcon into his sitcom dad admonishing Patriot for using profanity is awkward and unpersuasive.
Barnes adding a MacGuffin by saying Falcon saw Blackheart had a symbol or key is undermined by his failure to have his artist draw it here. An argument may be made that in previous issues Barnes did give instructions in the script to Cassara to depict that key. But no reader should have to pull out the back issues to look for something that should have been clearly illustrated and visible in the issue they have in their very hands.
Then there is the matter of Barnes finally giving Blackheart’s secret identity as Mayor a real name. That should have happened in Falcon #1.
Failure to catch such simple mistakes during rewriting or editing is sloppy. It takes you out of the story when you as a reader can catch the errors writers make and editors miss—and these are simple errors, not complicated ones.
The one person who is making a positive impression and showing steady growth in his craft on this book is Joshua Cassara. Cassara is a capable visual storyteller who draws action and fight scenes very well. The art in this series is slowly but surely improving with each issue. Cassara has got the goods and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him land a higher profile assignment like Daredevil or Captain America in the years ahead. He’s damn talented.
Rating: 6.2 / 10
This issue of Falcon was stronger in terms of plot and action. Joshua Cassara continues to shine with his sharp artwork. The narrative moved fast and didn’t linger on dramatic moments at the open and close so they had more emotional impact. But the dialogue remains simplistic and the one-liners are stiff and tone-deaf. Characterization is paper thin. Rodney Barnes could be a better writer, but he has got to explore more of his cast’s motivations and history in order to produce more compelling scripts. Fewer jokes and more characterization are needed ASAP.
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