Bring Back Isaiah Bradley

By | Wednesday, February 02, 2022 Leave a Comment
Truth: Red, White & Black #1
Truth: Red, White & Black, if you haven't read it, is the story about how after Captain America was created -- and the doctor who had developed the serum that gave Cap his powers was killed -- the US government tried to replicate the experiment. But without the original doctor's notes, they had to go through a lot of trial and error. Trial and error for which Black men were used as guinea pigs. Hundreds of men were essentially murdered in the process. Even of the five that survived the experiments, four were killed to keep the whole operation quiet. It was basically a Marvel-ized version of the Tuskegee experiments.

At the time the issues first came out, there was some flack about how writer Robert Morales and artist Kyle Baker were using the character to slag the original Captain America. As the story rolled on, readers learned that was not the case at all. In an 2009 interview, Baker noted, “We got a lot of grief from the Captain America fans on that series until the fifth and sixth issues came out; when it turned out that we hadn’t tinkered with the continuity. Before that, everybody was very upset... Somewhere in the middle of the series, its revealed that Cap already existed, and we hadn’t tinkered with the timeline, and suddenly, the book is okay.”

Frankly, I thought the idea was brilliant. It highlighted the whitewashing that's almost ever-present in our society, and showed how much we (and by "we" I mean mostly white people) know about what really happened. How we're taught lies and half-truths for the sake of making our government look infallible. How America can do no wrong and we should always support it, no matter what. Truth uses the fiction of Isaiah Bradley to showcase just how little the government cared (and still cares) about the actual welfare of Black men.

Admittedly, I don't especially like Baker's art on this book, though. I've read Baker's work before, and liked it elsewhere. And with his work on Nat Turner, I can see why he might've been selected for this. But I don't think he was a good fit here for some reason. It's not bad work certainly, but I don't think he's well-suited for telling this particular story.

I am bothered, though, how little this story has been brought up since it was first published in 2003. The character has made a handful of cameos, but they were so insignificant that his official biography from Marvel makes no mention of anything outside what's presented in Truth. And he hasn't made any comic appearances at all, as far as I can tell, in over a decade. He's actually been given more attention in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than in the comics.

I think this is a real missed opportunity. The character, as he stands today, is as physically fit as Captain America; he's just got a form of dementia that's left his intellect all but gone. Within the context of Truth, he was imprisoned from 1942 until 1961, though, so that still leaves decades of possible stories before we see him again in 2003. In fact, since he was released in 1961, isn't there a story there about how he could have witnessed the events from Fantastic Four #1? (Yeah, that mucks with Marvel's sliding time-scale, but whatever.) Or how about teaming up with some of the heroes shown in Marvel: The Lost Generation? That was written before Truth and couldn't have incorporated Bradley at the time, but there's no reason some new stories can't include him now. (Well, no reason other than an apparent lack of editorial interest in doing any stories that rely on continuity.)

I think there's a lot more than can (and should!) be said with Bradley's character. Morales and Baker touched on some significant issues, of course, but there's so much more that the character could be used for. Christopher Priest suggested some in The Crew and Reginald Hudlin skirts over a short idea quickly in Black Panther, but with those stories told in a post-Truth continuity, there's not much they could do with him. But like I said, there are literally decades of back stories that could be told, many of which could help enlighten more white folks about the travesties of justice that have been heaped on Black America for generations. There is so much more to be told with this character!
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