Sam Wilson is now officially Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the now concluded The Falcon and the Winter Soldier leading to the announcement of a fourth Captain America movie with Sam taking the lead.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier left some big hanging threads that could be picked up in the new Captain America film, from Sharon Carter's mysterious future as a CIA double agent and the Power Broker, to Zemo's next moves in the Raft, and of course the story building around Contessa Valentina de Allegra and the newly-christened US Agent John Walker.
Though we can't predict what Marvel Studios will do next (and if we could, Marvel Studios would almost certainly find a way to swerve us again), Sam Wilson's first comic book adventure as Captain America may provide some clues as to what's coming down the pike.
Pulling in Hydra, Zemo, Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, and more characters and concepts who are no strangers to the MCU, Sam's first Captain America adventure may provide the perfect basis for a new movie to pick up some of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's plot threads - and could offer some clues as to where the MCU could go on the road there.
All-New Captain America
We'll kick things off with just a bit of backstory on Sam's comic book history as Cap.
Sam took over the mantle of Captain America when Steve Rogers was drained of the strength and vigor of the Super Soldier Serum, reducing him to a normal, elderly man. This followed Steve's time in Dimension Z, a strange pocket dimension created by the villainous Arnim Zola where time moves differently (told in the story 'Castaway in Dimension Z').
Stuck in Dimension Z for years (though only a few hours in the real world), Steve raised a young clone of Zola named Ian as his own son, training him to survive in Dimension Z. When Steve escaped, Ian and Steve's romantic partner Sharon Carter (yeah, that Sharon Carter - she's very different in comics) were trapped in Dimension Z themselves.
Sharon and Ian eventually escaped, with Sharon now much closer to Steve's post-Super Soldier age, and Ian a full adult.
When Sam became Captain America, Ian became his partner, taking the name Nomad.
And that's got us up to speed.
Sam's first outing as Cap - told in the title All-New Captain America #1-6, from writer Rick Remender and artist Stuart Immonen - starts out simple enough, with the infiltration of a Hydra base which Steve, acting as Sam's handler from a fishing cabin on a lake, insists go down with "no frills."
Unfortunately, the base is much more than a simple Hydra installation - it's actually one of the hubs of a complex Hydra plan to conquer the world. Meeting up with Ian who is inside the base disguised as a Hydra agent, Sam discovers the base being guarded by Batroc (who had his own role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), along with a teen boy named Lucas who is apparently being experimented on by Hydra.
Ian kicks Batroc into an explosion, leaving him for dead, and Sam and Ian escape with the boy, but not all is as it seems.
Rather than a victim of Hydra, Lucas is a willing participant in their scheme. Worse, he is an Inhuman (a secret race of super powered beings hidden in the Marvel Universe - Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel is also an Inhuman) whose blood can sterilize anyone who comes in contact with it, making them unable to reproduce.
Encountering an entire Hydra sect comprised of apparent leader Baron Zemo, Red Skull's daughter Sin, Viper, Crossbones, Taskmaster, Nazi vampire Baron Blood, Cobra of the Serpent Society, mutated villain Armadillo, and more, Sam and Ian discover Hydra's plan to use weapons derived from the Inhuman's blood to sterilize basically everyone on Earth who isn't Hydra approved, with the evil group creating their own antidote which they administer among themselves.
Ian makes time for Sam to escape with the Inhuman boy, but is captured by Zemo. Meanwhile, for Sam, things go from bad to worse as the boy shoots him and escapes.
And somehow worse still, Sam encounters Misty Knight - who viewers will remember was played by Simone Missick in Netflix's now-defunct Marvel/Netflix shows - who informs him that along with the scheme at hand, Hydra has infiltrated every single superhero team and government agency, down to the Avengers and SHIELD, and not even Nick Fury or Steve Rogers can be trusted.
From there, things continue to escalate. Zemo apparently kills Ian by slitting his throat after explaining his plot control the world's breeding - which includes using weapons spread around the world to expose as many people as possible to the Inhuman blood.
Using a bizarre, teleporting elevator built into the Hydra base network, Sam and Misty Knight travel around the world - and even through time, to a World War II battle where Hydra is attempting to change the past - trying to track down and defuse all the weapons.
Sin and Sam fight, with Sin apparently killing Sam by forcing him to give up his wings and shield and jump off a cliff. However, Sam is saved by his falcon Redwing (who in comics is a trained falcon and not a drone), and Sin is defeated. Zemo decides to ramp up his plan, moving forward with his attacks.
Luckily, some of Hydra's enforcers aren't exactly up to the task, as Viper is easily dispatched by Misty Knight, and Armadillo turns on Cobra, helping Sam escape and vowing to defuse the weapon he's guarding. And, driven by profit as always, Taskmaster simply refuses to follow Zemo's plan when Misty offers him more money.
It all comes down to Sam trying to stop the Inhuman kid himself from dropping hundreds of thousands of fleas who have ingested his blood over a massively populated area. When the fleas are dropped, it seems like Sam is out of luck - until he uses his comic book superpower of communicating with birds to enlist hundreds of avians from the surrounding area to ingest every single flea in a wild feeding frenzy.
(Artist Stuart Immonen recently highlighted the art from this sequence on his Twitter, showing off the numerous types of birds he rendered for the scene - pretty cool, and proof of why it's worth seeking out more of Immonen's work!).
With the fleas defeated, Zemo unleashes his final backup plan. Baron Blood, a Nazi vampire who fought Captain America in World War II and who was made a vampire by Marvel's version of Dracula himself - has gorged on the Inhuman blood and plans to explode himself high in the Earth's atmosphere, raining the blood down across the planet.
Sam fights Blood to a brutal climax in Earth's upper atmosphere, during which Redwing is bitten and vampirized by Baron Blood, and the vampire also spits some of the Inhuman blood in Sam's mouth, theoretically infecting him and preventing him from having future children, something he seems to desire.
However, Sam manages to release the bomb from Blood's harness, sending it to detonate harmlessly in space while Blood himself, totally immortal outside of the usual vampire-killing methods, is left floating frozen in space to be retrieved by SHIELD.
Trust no one
In the story's climax, Sam fights Zemo with Ian's help - the latter having survived thanks to the cloning tech his 'father' Arnim Zola used to create him - but Ian and Zemo both apparently perish in an explosion that destroys Zemo's base. Steve, Sharon, and Sam believe Ian will return, and Zemo is shown to have survived.
Misty Knight and Sam Wilson escape, while Sam laments that he was infected by the Inhuman blood, meaning he believes he's now sterile. However, Misty surprises Sam with a vial of Hydra's cure that she took from Viper, which Sam uses gratefully. They share a kiss and part ways, with Misty taking custody of Lucas, the Inhuman.
In the fallout, Sam tells Nick Fury he can't trust anyone, as Misty Knight told him SHIELD and other groups had been infiltrated by Hydra - to which Fury offers the stunning revelation that Misty Knight, who had professed to be in SHIELD's employ, isn't working for them at all, implying she could be a Hydra agent herself (or perhaps that Fury is).
Either way, Misty and Lucas, the Inhuman with poison blood, have absconded and aren't seen again before the storyline was changed due to creative shifts on the Captain America title.
All-New Captain America #1-6 were followed by Marvel's nearly year-long Secret Wars event which remade the Marvel Universe and switched around the publisher's entire line in its wake, with writer Rick Remender moving on from Marvel entirely rather than continuing the story he began.
Writer Nick Spencer then took up the adventures of Sam Wilson, leading to the story in which Joaquin Torres becomes the second Falcon and Steve Rogers is eventually revealed as a Hydra sleeper agent in the controversial Secret Empire story, which in turn led to Steve becoming a good guy again and once again reclaiming the mantle of Captain America full time, with Sam once again becoming the Falcon.
What could this mean for the MCU?
Some elements of Sam Wilson's first Captain America adventure have made into the MCU already in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Throughout All-New Captain America, Sam's exploits as Cap are shown against the backdrop of his family, especially his sister and nephews.
While the comic book uses this device to show the weight of Sam's loss when he believes he'll never have children and to offer personal stakes in Hydra's plan for eugenic terrorism, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier showcased Sam's relationship with his sister and nephews as a catalyst for his journey to becoming Captain America, showing Sam the people and places he'll be fighting for as Cap.
Likewise, Sam's banter-filled, somewhat competitive relationship with Ian Rogers/Nomad in the comic book reflects his relationship with Bucky Barnes throughout the show and how his partnership with another of Steve's closest allies informs his path to taking up the shield.
And of course there's the addition of Zemo who, in the comic book, is much more of a direct, even dastardly villain bent on world domination even if it means committing genocide - a far cry from the nebulous but not nearly as horrifying motives of Daniel Bruhl's fan-favorite bad guy.
But there's also a lot in All-New Captain America that could inform the direction the MCU takes Captain America and his supporting cast. For one thing, there's the potential return of Hydra in the MCU, possibly indicated by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's introduction of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who once took up the mantle of Madame Hydra (also previously used by Viper who was part of the Hydra inner-circle in Sam's first comic adventure).
The Contessa seems to be building her own Avengers-esque team starting with US Agent, which has naturally drawn comparisons to Marvel's Thunderbolts, a team of heroes who started out as villains in disguise led by none other than Baron Zemo.
And there's the matter of apparent double agent Sharon Carter, who was recently reinstated as a CIA agent in the MCU while also scheming to use that position to bolster her criminal empire as the Power Broker with an unknown ally.
Consider Misty Knight's mysterious role in All-New Captain America as the harbinger of a Hydra infiltration and Nick Fury's assertion that she's keeping some big secrets of her own in the story. Some aspects of that could find their way into Sharon Carter's narrative as she helps Sam and Bucky while also working directly against them, as seen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Some viewers have already begun speculating that Sharon's story will tie into the upcoming Disney Plus streaming show Secret Invasion, which takes its name from a Marvel Comics story in which Skrulls secretly invaded Earth, even replacing some of the Avengers and other heroes using their shapeshifting powers.
Could the MCU Secret Invasion play off the idea of Hydra, through the Contessa, is back and infiltrating heroic organizations, perhaps with Sharon Carter in tow as she's already doing such a plan herself? There's room to speculate that Sharon Carter, the Contessa, or hell, damn near anyone else could be a Skrull in disguise.
Though Skrulls in the MCU are seen as allies of the heroes and refugees from the Kree empire, adding Hydra to that mix could provide some motivation for a faction of Skrulls to infiltrate and invade Earth.
Remember, in the finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Contessa Valentina told US Agent that things were going to get "weird."
Just how weird remains to be seen, but considering the story that launched Sam Wilson's comic book career as Captain America eventually led to Steve Rogers having his history rewritten by the Red Skull using a reality-altering artifact known as the Cosmic Cube, with Steve going on to conquer America and threaten the whole world before being fully restored as a hero, "weird" could mean pretty much anything.
Sam Wilson is one of the greatest heroes who have wielded Captain America's shield.