‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’: Who Became Captain America First in the Comics?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the next big Marvel Studios property headed to Disney+, putting the spotlight on two longtime supporting characters. Given their connection to the iconic hero, it’s no surprise that Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Sam Wilson’s (Anthony Mackie) adventure will delve heavily into the legacy of Captain America.

The ending of Avengers: Endgame seemed to definitively establish who the next Cap would be moving forward. However, Mackie made it clear in an interview with Rich Eisen that the inheritance of the mantle isn’t a done deal and will be explored over the course of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. With the next Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe an open question, it might be worth looking at who took on the mantle first in the pages of Marvel Comics.

Who became Captain America first, Sam or Bucky?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan
Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in Marvel’s ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.’ | Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

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As comics fans are certainly aware, both of titular leads in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have, at one point or another, taken on the mantle of Captain America in the comics. The first one to do so? It was Bucky, following the events of a major crossover event that also inspired the MCU.

Bucky began his career in comics as Cap’s teenage sidekick in the 1940s, when the characters carried out missions in the then-contemporaneous fronts of WWII. Later, when Cap was brought back to join The Avengers in the 1960s, writers decided to reveal that both he and Bucky had gone missing near the end of the war and that Bucky was presumed dead.

As so often happens with deaths in comic books, it didn’t stick. In 2005, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting revealed that the Winter Soldier, a mysterious Russian assassin, was in fact Bucky with his memories erased. This reveal and backstory were kept largely intact when the story was adapted in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Later, following Cap’s assassination by a brainwashed Sharon Carter in the event storyline, “Civil War,” Tony Stark chose Bucky, now with his memories back, to succeed his old friend. Bucky kept the title from 2008 through 2011. In 2009, a story began that would undo Steve Rogers’ death through time travel shenanigans, though the character wouldn’t become the Captain again until 2011, following the events of the storyline, “Fear Itself.”

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Of course, many expect The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to eventually see Sam Wilson take on the mantle of Captain America. In an interview with TVLine, showrunner Malcolm Spellman said that his pitch for the show was one with race and the celebration of black superheroes at its center.

Wilson’s time as Captain America is a more recent development in the comics, coming in late 2014 as part of the fourth wave of Marvel’s relaunch effort, “Marvel NOW!” Following events that saw Rogers aged up to an elderly man, Wilson inherited the shield and the mantle

The change stuck until 2016, when cosmic meddling restored Rogers’ youth and allowed him to retake the Captain America name. This was followed soon after by the controversial “Secret Empire” storyline, which threw the character’s history into question for a brief time.