Tentpole blockbusters like the Marvel movies aren’t known for their subtlety. When each film tackles saving the city, world, or galaxy from a different hero’s perspective, it’s forgivable when some Avengers get more screen time than others and the details of the latter Avengers’ lives fall by the wayside.
But those details are harder to ignore in a television show like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Spending more time with Marvel’s underutilized characters is so far delightful, but more time also means more scrutiny of the logic in these heroes’ everyday lives. And if there’s one thing the Marvel fandom does best, it’s scrutiny.
In the first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Sam and his sister Sarah attempt to get a loan from a bank. Even though their financial projections are solid, the bank rejects them, citing Sam’s lack of income for the past five years (harsh, he was blipped) and a lot of other banky nonsense that really means “we’re racist.” It’s a hard scene to watch, having just witnessed the white loan officer recognize Sam as an Avenger and ask for a selfie before rejecting his application, but it also raises the question of why Sam needed to ask for a loan in the first place.
In that same scene, Sam explains that being an Avenger didn’t come with a salary because the initiative stayed afloat by drawing on financial help from unnamed, grateful individuals. That’s horrible. Even if 99% of those “donations” came from Tony Stark making it rain on the Avengers campus, Sam’s statement means that Earth’s mightiest heroes put their lives on the line for the low, low, cost of room and board. Furthermore, any add-ons to their base salary of nothing appear to have been distributed haphazardly at best, and deliberately unequal in the worst case scenario.
How is it possible to keep up with the mortgage payments without a taxable “thank you for saving the world” stipend?
Take Clint Barton’s “retirement,” for example. Nick Fury set Clint up with a farmhouse, as established in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but even with the baseline wealth of gifted home ownership, Clint still had to be bringing in some money to keep his family fed. Some of his cash might come from smart investments when he was an agent of SHIELD, but he lost his salary (and probably his 401k) when his big time government gig literally exploded. How is it possible to keep up with the mortgage payments without a taxable “thank you for saving the world” stipend?
In that same movie, Captain America mentions his unsuccessful search for a place to live in New York. Captain America can’t afford Brooklyn, but Clint’s got three kids and isn’t visibly worried about saving for their college educations. Furthermore, Vision is “born” in Age of Ultron, making him legally four years old when he purchases the deed to the Westview lot seen in WandaVision. Unless a bank approved a loan for a toddler-aged weapon with no social security number, someone helped Vision buy property in a high tax New Jersey suburb. But Sam has to humiliate himself to get a loan to save his nephews’ home? That’s not okay.
Sam can’t even catch a break compared to the co-lead in his own show. Bucky Barnes has an apartment in New York, presumably Brooklyn or the Lower East Side based on the establishing shots, and can afford court mandated therapy in a really nice-looking office. Who is paying the Winter Soldier’s rent? He is 106 years old and does not have a job. Sam has a job and he doesn’t have any extra money to help his sister. Can whoever pays for Bucky’s dumpling habit, Clint’s kids, Vision’s real estate dreams, and — while we’re at it — Wanda’s red Buick Verano with the cream leather seats toss a coin to Sam Wilson?
Sam’s experience with racism in the banking industry is integral to the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier because it emphasizes the “reality” of being a Black superhero in a world quite like our own. With the episode’s final reveal that the U.S. government has minted a new, white Captain America with Sam’s inherited shield, it appears that the show will finally grapple with institutional inequality regarding Marvel’s heroes of color. It’s just messed up that the financial inequality between Avengers started long before Sam walked into that bank.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on , with new episodes every Friday.