Whatever You Do – Don’t read this pending Falcon and the Winter Soldier Rant. Don’t do it. There will be spoilers and shit. I am liable to lose my temper and say things I would regret if I thought Marvel’s lazy ass writers read my work in the first place.
Okay, before you can read what I think I am going to write, I want you to read another essay which addresses this particular topic but with a different character.
Here is “On the Death of James Rhodes” written in 2016 with more than enough time for Marvel to learn this lesson. In this story, James Rhodes, Rhodey to those who know him, was killed by Brian Michal Bendis during Civil War II. This is not a spoiler.
This was one of those events which I felt entirely frustrated with but might have tolerated if Marvel hadn’t done the same thing in Civil War I, by killing Bill Foster, the Black scientist who was also the superhero known as Giant Man.
Okay. Go read. Meanwhile I am going to gather my thoughts.
Part 1: Amibitious Storytelling
Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a problematic series. Not because it lacks ambition, but because it wants to do too much.
Where WandaVision barely talked about the Post-Snap world, Falcon and the Winter Soldier embrace everything you wanted to know about since the Avengers undid the mad Titan’s ploy for Universal population control.
Thanos Destroyed the World as We Knew It
People are under the impression Thanos’ ambitions were problematic, but the world was a better place with its population halved.
The MCU doesn’t talk about what chaos the early days of the Post-Snap world must have been.
Socially, post-traumatic stress disorder was likely to have affected everyone who remained on Earth. Even the psychologically resilient were likely to have some difficulties coping with the idea that an alien from another planet, arrived on Earth and without so much as a thought erased, from the perspective of the Humans at the time, half of everyone on EARTH.
Let that sink in. On the Marvel Earth, they had barely registered the idea of an alien invasion on Earth five years before that. Humanity was now aware of alien life, an invasion the Avengers narrowly averted. Yes, the Avengers were problematic. All superhumans were yet, in this moment the Avengers saved us from being invaded.
Humanity, likely breathed a momentary sigh of relief, even as they wrestled with the idea that we were not alone in the universe.
New industries sprung up overnight. New corporations, hoping to exploit alien technology and ideas did whatever it took to acquire alien technology. Governments around the world likely began a secret war to acquire and reverse engineer alien technology not protected by patents, like the weapon technology of Tony Stark.
The Earth as we knew it grew less stable when the idea of aliens became public knowledge. Such instability is profitable and likely caused political, social and cultural unrest all over the planet, taking years to subside.
By the time such upheavals were subsiding, new threats, Ultron – the threat of renegade artificial intelligence – reared its ugly head. The Avengers recruited the Vision but neglected to mention their involvement with Ultron until much later, resulting in the Sokovian Accords and the Avengers fracturing into factions.
The threat of metahuman ability went from hero to zero almost overnight. Humanity was put on notice and fear was everywhere.
Insurgencies rose up using alien technology. Agencies like HYDRA destroyed other agencies like SHIELD and the world struggled to determine who were the Avengers backing as the world struggled. Smaller heroes made names for themselves becoming local celebrities and this eased the stress for a time, until the arrival of Thanos.
Thanos destroyed the status quo as he took over alien civilizations, destroyed the Nova Corps, and began his acquisition of the Infinity Gems. With the death of Odin and the arrival of Hela, which ultimately led to the destruction of Asgard, the only power capable of defending the Earth effectively was gone.
Thor and the Avengers were no match for Thanos. With the recovery of two Infinity Gems, he was almost unstoppable. Once he had three, the Universe’s fate was sealed.
Humanity never knew what really happened. Planes fell from the skies, doctors, nurses, soldiers, politicians, good and bad, disappeared randomly, leaving the world struggling to hold itself together for the next five years.
Five years where humanity wondered what else was out there in space they didn’t know about? Why had the Avengers failed to protect them? Was this a prelude to another invasion?
These three questions likely paralyzed world governments for months as they wrestled with too many problems and not enough people to solve them. Random losses of people around the world meant the ability to manage the complexities of life as we knew it was gone.
World Governments were basically running on fumes. Global collapse was being held at bay through sheer force of will and agencies created to help people adjust, trouble people helping troubled people. For five years, Marvel Earth was vulnerable, but no new threats emerged because Thanos affected everyone across the Universe, so backwater Earth was all but forgotten.
Thanos won, the Avengers lost, Vision was killed, Loki was killed, Asgard was destroyed, what passed for civilization on Earth became a guttering flame, trying to stay lit with the last of the Avengers fighting for damage control, assuming they weren’t under arrest or avoiding arrest.
This was an insane world trying to right itself. Until the Avengers reset the Universe using Infinity Stones borrowed from other parts of the timeline.
There is conjecture the Avengers could have gone back in time and reversed the event as it happened rather than allowing time to pass.
Part II: But They Didn’t Go Back in Time
Even with all of the brainpower at their command, they were simply uncertain what would happen if they tried.
Thus, when they undid the Snapture, people returned to a Universe after five years of suffering, food shortages and likely the near collapse of economic and social cohesion as we knew it.
This is the world of the Flagsmashers, a revolutionary group who watched the world falling into ruin and decided the borders, the failed governments, the economic upheaval left the world all but ruined and to them, the best thing humanity could do as a whole was to abolish borders and create a single world government.
“One world, one people.”
Sounds good on paper, but there was no way they could know the Avengers would be successful. They managed to steal Super Serum version 3.0 and created their own group of super-powered mercenaries repatriating food and medical supplies to anyone they thought of as being in need.
Their actions were the results of desperate people in desperate times. People whose actions were cut short with the spontaneous return of half of the Human race which had been missing for five years. A Human race which had not aged a day, had no memory of what happened to them and returned to a world barely capable of supporting itself, let alone another four billion people…
The Avengers Were Successful
They returned people to their lives and were being hailed as heroes. Yet, Thor disappeared. Vision was found, reverse-engineered, and requisitioned by SWORD, a new government agency poised to watch the stars for signs of alien invasion and of a mind to rebuild the Vision as a government operative under their control.
Wakanda, no longer hiding as an impoverished nation in Africa, likely involved itself minimally during the Five Years of Sheer F—ing Terror and helped governments through the use of their proprietary technology.
The United States and all of the world’s previous superpowers began to reassert themselves as superpowers, but with varying degrees of success. There is nothing like anarchy to make government seem less necessary. People were slow to trust the new government trying to reassert itself, and with the loss of Steve Rogers, the second Captain America (after Isiah Bradley, another state secret) the leadership of the US decided they would appoint another man, a well-honored soldier to the role of Captain America, a beloved icon, even if the soldier beneath the costume was changed.
Part III: Where Everything Went Horribly Wrong
With the setup in the first two posts, you are now able to recognize the world of Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Steve Rogers comes back to the present after retreating in time to live out his life in the past. He gives the shield to Sam Wilson, the Falcon, believing Sam would do the legacy proud but Sam understands something about America that Steve doesn’t. America would never accept Sam as Captain America. Not this America – an America polarized by instability and fear. A racist America whose history was just like our history as demonstrated on the show during Sam’s attempt to get a bank loan.
Sam returns the shield to the government which immediately sets out to give the shield to a triple Medal of Honor winning soldier believing the role of Captain America to be a martial one, not a moral one.
The Super Soldier Serum is a Failed Program
The nature of the super soldier serum is both a physical and mental transformation. The physical transformation is much easier for soldiers to adjust to. The problem lies in the psychological adaptation to the serum. Professor Erskine, the original creator, knew what no one else seems willing to recognize. Not everyone is suited to the serum. Steve Rogers is a moral individual and a such, his psychological integration of the serum only increased his moral center.
The Super Soldier serum enhances the psychology of the person using it. It reveals the true nature of the user, what drives them, what they fear, what they hold dear, what they believe they should do with power. In this, Zemo is correct. People who use the serum cannot be trusted with it, particularly if they are psychologically unstable.
As we are able to see, modern users of the serum, particularly the revolutionaries, become in their own way, more extreme, more emotionally unstable, becoming more militant. Karli Morgenthau is a revolutionary willing to become as extreme as the people she is fighting against. The serum increases her desire to help those people she believes deserve it and killing anyone who stands between her and her objective.
With all of this said, I can now talk about the Death of Lemar Hoskins, codenamed Battlestar, the partner to the current Captain America, John Walker.
Lemar Hoskins is a trope, a trope so prevalent, modern superhero movies and television series have taken to without recognizing the inherent difficulty involved with supporting it.
Part IV: Modern Superheroes are Almost Exclusively White
Why is this? Because superheroes created before the 1960s were almost exclusively white and male. Our current crop of heroes in movies and on television have been recreated from a period which was inherently racist and did not cast Black characters as superheroes for white audiences.
As a result, media has had the unfortunate tendency to recreate those heroes with an eye toward character fidelity, implying if a hero was white in print, he would remain white in the movies and television ensuring an entire generation of viewers would repeat the cycle of hidden supremacy of a previously toxic and racist society.
Recent articles about the ubiquity of white heroes and the prevalence of Black sidekicks point out this problem (see the article on The Guardian entitled “White Heroes and Black Sidekicks”).
Part V: This is Why Lemar Hoskins Has to Die
If you are a Black viewer, you knew Lemar Hoskins was doomed. Why? Because there are already two Black or non-white protagonists in this series.
With Karli Morganthau taking the role of Flag-Smasher, a character in the comics obsessed with getting rid of national borders, named Karl Morganthau, Karli is a young mixed race woman on the show, and thus having Sam Wilson, the Falcon, Karli Morganthau, and Lemar Hoskins, not to mention the Dora Milaje also appearing on the scene, there were simply too many minorities, (Black people) for at least some of them to take the big Dirt Nap.
Of the group, Lemar Hoskins was the most expendable. He is completely Human, no metahuman abilities. Smart, talented, multi-lingual, moral and able to discern right from wrong, Hoskins acts as a conscience to Walker, who is headstrong and impulsive to a fault.
Lemar Hoskins was the moral element in their partnership and he was used as a convenient tool to amplify the emotional state of his more significant partner, John Walker, the current Captain America. Hoskin’s death is the same kind of death Black characters have always experienced: A death where they catalyze the actions of a white hero with their untimely (but not unexpected) death.
It Didn’t Have to Be This Way
Lemar Hoskins did not need to die. He died because writers are lazy and use themes like the “sacrificial Negro” trope to create pathos for their white characters. Rather than treating Hoskins as a legitimate character with agency, he is nothing more than an event to drive Walker into further action.
In the same fashion, James Rhodes and Bill Foster were used during Civil War I and Civil War II in the canon Marvel Comics as an impetus to make the Avengers rally and to make different decisions than they were making before their deaths.
Part VI: What’s to Be Done?
What makes the death of Lemar Hoskins more galling is the character’s treatment during the story. He has proven his value as an ethical agent, a calming influence, and an unwavering supporter of John Walker’s Captain America.
In the last episode, he is captured (off camera) tied up (on capture) and in the entire episode, he is beaten three times and in all three instances, fails to give a good accounting of himself despite his training as one of the premiere soldiers on the planet.
The Flagsmasher’s troops should have had no real fighting training and should have been at least a bit inconvenienced by the superior training of Hoskins and Walker, despite their super soldier enhanced physiologies. Yet we never see this. Hoskins and Walker get their asses handed to them in every confrontation with the Flagsmasher’s troops.
In the final confrontation, Hoskins is killed by being punched, killed by his impact into a stone column, driven there by the Flagsmasher’s punch.
I don’t have any issue with how he died. Captain America, (Steve Rogers) could have fought just as hard as the Flagsmashers but rarely felt the need to use more strength than he needed to solve a problem. Thus it was assumed he was weaker than he appeared to be. It was more a case of morality and not punching his opponents into walls unnecessarily causing their deaths.
Lemar’s death drives the psychologically unstable Walker, who has used the Super Soldier serum version 3.0 and revealed the unbalanced nature of his experience with the serum. He is more of what he already was. Psychologically unbalanced, more than a bit murderous, and now revealed as both a super soldier and a sociopath, his is a transformation from the ideal of Captain America, a moral soldier fighting to establish a more humane and civilized culture, to the creation of US Agent, a morally-compromised individual who believes might makes right.
Using Lemar Hoskins in this fashion damages the genre of superheroes and undermines Black agency in such stories due to an inability to create lasting heroes who offer minority viewers heroic representation.
Part VII: Did Lemar Have to Die?
In a word, no. I could have salvaged this entire story with one different action.
Since we don’t know much more about the super soldier serum than Dr. Nagel told us, Walkers capture of a single vial, which should have been returned to the government instead was taken by an unsuitable candidate instead. But if we wanted to really deal with Lemar as a viable character, we could have had Walker and Hoskins share a vial equally, during Lemar’s death scene, he would instead enter a death-like coma and a few days later wake with superpowers similar to every other super-soldier with a difference. His and Walker’s powers could be temporary until they could get another dose from the Power Broker.
Using this parameter, Walker and Hoskins could be a viable threat, both to Sam and Bucky as well as a serious threat to the Flagsmashers and potentially more annoying to the Dora Milaje whose superior fighting skills would still offset the serum’s advantages.
Killing Black characters to spur white characters to action is a scandalous trope which should never be used in modern media which highlight the inequality of minorities in media and society in a negative fashion.
Conclusion: Was There a Way for Hoskins to Die and Be Viable to the Story?
Yes. There is one way. Allow Hoskins to go out fighting, successfully thwarting the enemy and earning their enmity by preventing them from achieving a real and viable goal. His death could have served a real purpose besides making Walker lose his shit while being filmed by hundreds.
The Rule of Cool could have made Hoskins death significant rather than the expected failure he had been shown to be the entire time he was in S1:E4, being beaten, tied down, and subsequently killed in a fight which didn’t have to have happened in the first place, caused by Walker who couldn’t let Sam have the ten minutes he needed to talk Morganthau down in the first place.
I hate the fact the entire story is predicated upon lousy tropes, lazy writing and refusing to allow Sam the opportunity to create something different. Hoskins death doesn’t just undermine his own agency, it makes Walker responsible for every failure which will take place after his apotheosis into the latest failed super soldier working for the American government.
Postscript: I Hate This.
I hate everything which lead up to Hoskins death, mostly because it didn’t have to happen and with only two episodes remaining, with Walker being superpowered and unstable, Zemo in the wind, and Karli Morganthau minus one more friend, all I can see is the number of people who will have to die, before Falcon and the Winter Soldier comes to a close.
Minorities will bear the brunt of these shenanigans leaving John Walker to continue to work with the US government, Sam without a girlfriend or a loan, and the next installment of the MCU to continue to paint a picture of a world gone mad, yet very familiar to every person of color, a world without respect or opportunity supporting white agency and supremacy while talking about parity and equality, which is always parroted but never engaged in.
And don’t get me started on Madripoor, an Indonesian den of inequity, a crossing of Singapore and Hong Kong’s Kowloon district which didn’t feature a single prominent Asian the entire time Sam, Bucky and Zemo were in the country.
This Doesn’t Mean I’m Going to Stop Watching
It just means I am sick and tired of the Magical Negro, the Moral Negro or the Sacrificial Negro being the only stances taken with the advent of this Golden Age of Heroes, only without the gold or the heroes. Black heroes have to already contend with the invisibility of not existing due to social pressures, white supremacy and racist thought structures from earlier eras. Being relegated to disposable sidekicks, secondary characters and Magical Negros shouldn’t be the MCU’s legacy to the next generation of movie and television viewers.
Notice I never posited the idea of killing John Walker and giving the shield to Battlestar. Why? Because then I would be accused of being a racist for killing a white character who appeared as a character in comics and what appears in comics has to happen, unless its a Black character surviving to be a hero and recognized for his efforts.
Funny how rarely such a turnabout never seems to take place. You don’t even think about it, do you? One of the ways to recognize privilege is you can’t imagine the world any other way than it always has been. Anything else is simply unthinkable.
You deserved better, Lemar Hoskins (ably portrayed by Clé Bennett).
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.