The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered on Disney Plus, and the MCU streaming show has introduced several concepts from comic books right off the bat.
Interestingly, the show included the debut of a semi-surprise comic book hero, though this particular character hasn't taken on a superheroic identity in the MCU - yet.
Spoilers ahead for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode one
The premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduces Joaquin Torres (played by Danny Ramirez), Sam Wilson's Air Force liaison who guides him through his mission with Batroc in the opening scene, and who infiltrates the Flag-Smashers toward the episode's end.
Torres is a character pulled straight from Sam's comic book adventures as Captain America, and his comic book history, while remarkably different from his apparent MCU origins, may shed some light on what The Falcon and the Winter Soldier holds in store not just for the mantle of Captain America, but that of the Falcon.
Read on to find out how.
Who is Joaquin Torres?
First appearing in 2015's Captain America: Sam Wilson #1, Joaquin Torres is a Mexican immigrant who came to Arizona at the age of six with his family. As a teenager, he began caring for undocumented migrants crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona – a humanitarian effort that put him in the crosshairs of the white supremacist militia group the Sons of the Serpent, who regularly kidnapped migrant people attempting to cross the border.
When Joaquin was kidnapped alongside some people he was aiding, he discovered the horrible truth of the fates of those taken by the Sons of the Serpent – who delivered their captives to the mad scientist Karl Malus for use in his genetic experiments.
Malus, a former enemy of Spider-Woman, Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man), and others, was obsessed with creating superhumans and imbuing people with superpowers. In the case of the inhumane experiments he was performing on Mexican migrant workers, Malus was working on a way to splice human and animal DNA.
This wasn't Malus's first experiment with this concept either – he previously helped genetically engineer and mutate the villains Daddy Long Legs and Armadillo.
Malus took a special interest in Torres, splicing him with DNA from Sam Wilson's falcon, Redwing (in comic books, Redwing is not a drone but a live, trained falcon with whom Sam shares a psychic connection). Torres grew wings and talons along with developing bird-like senses, gaining great agility along with the flight granted by his wings.
He also gained a regenerative healing factor due to the infusion of Redwing's DNA (Redwing, the bird, was also a vampire at the time ... it's complicated), which is strong enough to heal him from seemingly mortal wounds.
Sam Wilson, as Captain America, invaded Malus's facility and rescued all his experiment subjects, including Joaquin Torres. Though most of the animal-human-mutates reverted to their human forms once free of Malus's captivity, through a complicated series of events owing largely to Redwing's altered DNA, Torres stayed mutated – wings, talons, and all.
How does Joaquin Torres fit into the Marvel Universe?
Along with his physical mutations, Joaquin Torres shares a special psychic connection to Redwing – and by extension, Sam Wilson. As a result, Wilson took on Torres as his new partner, bestowing him with the mantle of the Falcon and using their psychic connection to train him as a hero.
Torres became a regular character in Captain America: Sam Wilson, adventuring alongside Sam even after the return of Steve Rogers, who had given Sam his shield and mantle when he lost the youth and vigor of the Super Soldier Serum.
When Steve was repowered and de-aged in the story 'Secret Empire' thanks to the machinations of the Red Skull who also turned him into a world-conquering Hydra agent, Torres joined the other young heroes of the Champions (Marvel's current top teen team) as part of the underground resistance to Hydra.
Evil Steve (or 'Stevil' as we used to call him) was eventually defeated, once again reverting to his heroic identity and becoming the one and only Captain America, while Sam Wilson once again took up the mantle of the Falcon. Torres has remained with the Champions and continues to use the name Falcon with Sam's blessing.
Oddly enough, Marvel Comics has recently introduced a totally different concept of Falcon as a sidekick – though as part of an alt-universe story.
Marvel Comics' upcoming summer event Heroes Reborn (which borrows its name to celebrate the 25th anniversary of 1996's original, unrelated Heroes Reborn) presents a world where the Avengers never formed (and most of them never became heroes), with Marvel's cult classic DC pastiche characters the Squadron Supreme of America taking the place of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
In this Avengers-less world, Sam Wilson was not the partner of Captain America, but of Nighthawk, a Batman-esque vigilante. In the continuity of Heroes Reborn 2021, Wilson died in the '70s, killed by the Green Goblin, with Nighthawk taking a new partner – none other than Miles Morales, who takes up the mantle of the Falcon since Spider-Man doesn't exist in this timeline.
Joaquin Torres in the MCU
It's pretty unlikely Marvel Studios would go to the well of copying Heroes Reborn 2021 – for one thing, it's not a canon story but a fun twist on expected concepts (with a DC-centric flavor, for probably good reason), more of a comic book oddity for longtime fans. And for another, it's not even published yet. So we'll just table that as a fun aside – something fans of the Falcon can dig into.
On the other hand, Joaquin Torres' comic book history, brief as it is, could point directly to one of the likely outcomes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
With episode one establishing that Sam is still the Falcon with Torres as his liaison, and John Walker as the new Captain America as the bearer of Steve's shield, the journey that seems to be at hand will assumedly take Sam Wilson fully into the mantle of Captain America, while we can probably guess that Walker will follow his comic book path of giving up the mantle and title of Captain America and operating as U.S. Agent with his own costume and shield.
That leaves the Falcon wings unworn (maybe, technically – in comic books Sam Wilson's Cap uniform had wings too) – with plenty of space for Joaquin Torres to slip on the harness as Sam's protégé, just like in comic books, bringing the MCU legacy of Captain America and the Falcon to its next logical step.
Of course, it's also unlikely the MCU version of Joaquin Torres will become a kind of genetic falcon-human-hybrid. But thanks to the nature of the Falcon in the MCU, he won't need to either - all he needs is the guidance of the man Sam Wilson himself, the training, and the tech to do the job.
Sam Wilson's comic book history is different from his MCU origins too – and it all comes back to a classic '70s Captain America story.