Captain America: You Can Handle the Truth
Writer Tochi Onyebuchi cuts loose on his big plans for Sam Wilson as the Super-Soldier in new series ‘Captain America: Symbol of Truth.’
For years, Avenger Sam Wilson has soared among the most steadfast heroes in the Marvel Universe, primarily known as the highflying Falcon, but on occasion donning the stars and stripes to fill the role of Captain America. Now, the call has gone out once more, and a world aching for champions of liberty has two prominent ones in the form of original Cap Steve Rogers plus Sam stepping up like never before.
All-new series CAPTAIN AMERICA: SYMBOL OF TRUTH will chronicle Sam Wilson as he seeks to set right injustices in the United States and beyond. Writer Tochi Onyebuchi, coming in hot off the success of his BLACK PANTHER LEGENDS series, brings this book to life alongside extraordinary artist R.B. Silva. Now that issue #1 is out in comic shops now, we spoke with the scribe about what to expect next!
What’s your history as a fan with Captain America, both the Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson incarnations?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: Growing up, I was a huge X-Men fan. As you know, “X-Cutioner’s Song” is one of the greatest stories ever told. I’d have to say that AVENGERS VS. X-MEN was my gateway into the world of the Avengers and more specifically the world of Captain America. Then when it was announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates would be taking over the character after his run on BLACK PANTHER (2018), I was like “Okay, very, very interesting.” I guess you could say up until then, I was more familiar with the idea of the character than with the character itself. Then, like many people, I imagine, the cinematic iterations of Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson opened the door for me to dive deeper into their stories in the comics.
How were you approached for this particular series, SYMBOL OF TRUTH?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: It was this wonderful email from Alanna Smith, an incredible editor in the Avengers office and the true captain of this whole endeavor, back in—I wanna say—July of 2021. I was in the middle of BLACK PANTHER LEGENDS and Alanna reached out after Caitlin O’Connell recommended me for what would turn out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
Right off the bat, why is Sam Wilson as Captain America such an important moment, both in comics and in culture?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: Maaaaaaaan! I think it’s that combination of people being hungry for his story and the “Powers That Be” deciding that now is the time to meet that hunger. I think the impact of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther cannot be overstated in this regard. Also, the end of Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and The Winter Soldier really resonated with a lot of people, especially taking into account Sam Wilson’s interaction with Isaiah Bradley during the show. As powerful as the representational element is (a Black man as Captain America), I think, too, that it provides a huge wealth of dramatic storytelling material. There’s inherent conflict there, and conflict is a key ingredient in the type of storytelling I’m interested in.
Outside of the significance, why is this an appropriate role for Sam Wilson?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: He’s got the résumé! Sam’s got decades of experience seeing, from a front row seat, how the job’s done (and how sometimes it's not supposed to be done). Another thing to keep in mind is that right now, the role of Captain America is bifurcated in a certain sense. Steve’s certainly around, but he’s got a lot of stuff to figure out, and that means he can’t be the front-facing Captain America that goes out representing the country or, rather, trying to represent its best self. That’s Sam’s job now. Jackson [Lanzing] and Collin [Kelly] are doing such an incredible job digging into Steve Rogers [in CAPTAIN AMERICA: SENTINEL OF LIBERTY], so Sam gets to really grow into this public-facing icon, interacting with the Marvel Universe not as Falcon but as Captain America.
From the first issue, it’s clear you won’t be shying away from relevant social issues including racial injustice and immigration. Why is SYMBOL OF TRUTH the right place to address these hot button topics?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: A narrative benefit to having characters of color as your protagonists (especially in stories set in the United States) is that there’s an automatic dramatic tension underlying every single interaction that you might not necessarily have if your protagonist is a white man. There’s a moment in season three of True Detective where [actors] Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff, detectives investigating the disappearance of a little girl, go to interview the missing girl’s father. Ali’s the lead detective on the case but when they approach the father, the father immediately starts addressing Dorff’s character, assuming he's the guy in charge, and there’s this silent moment where Dorff has to let the guy know, “No, Ali’s the lead on this, talk to him.” It’s a silent moment and it’s, maybe, two seconds, but it’s so powerful to me. It still stays in my head. So Sam’s got that dramatic tension that we’re going to explore in fascinating fashion in this first arc of SYMBOL OF TRUTH. Also, it’s just impossible for me to tell stories that are divorced from social issues or hot button topics, even if those things are addressed in allegory. I’m just constitutionally incapable of avoiding that stuff. Heck, BLACK PANTHER LEGENDS (2021) #1 sends teenage T’Challa straight into apartheid South Africa! But my hunch is that it’s precisely this predilection that played a part (however small) in my getting the “call” to do this book.
Captain America dating back to the 1940s has been about threading a needle between social commentary and Super Hero comic. How do you best achieve that balance?
In addition to Sam, Joaquín Torres, his successor as Falcon, features heavily in this first issue. How does he add depth to Sam’s story?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: A part of being a major hero, to me, is showing the younger generation the ropes, whether that method is hands-on or more, I guess, hands-off. And I think that’s part of Sam’s own education: “How do I guide someone into hero-stuff when I’m so used to doing things my own way?” Also, Joaquín is more dramatic storytelling material for me. He opens up a whole other world of issues and narrative opportunities that it wouldn’t necessarily make sense for Sam to explore alone.
Also, we’ve got Misty Knight on board at least as a recurring feature! Do you have any plans to advance her and Sam’s “will they/won’t they” dynamic?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: No comment. [Laughs]
Will any other familiar faces be showing up in the way of guest stars and supporting characters?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: To be honest, that’s been one of the most fun parts. Just a peek at a few of our covers should give you a hint as to what I have in mind.
What kind of threats are Sam and company going to be tackling?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: I’m a big fan of international spy thrillers, so there is most definitely a conspiracy. But that won’t be the only threat Sam and Joaquín face. The question of “How good am I doing my job?” rears its head for Sam.
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: We’re going to see Sam get increasingly intertwined with the rest of the Marvel Universe. And by the end of this first arc, these won’t be the only enemies he’s made...
Why bring White Wolf over from the world of Black Panther? He’s a great character, but not traditionally seen in the wider Marvel Universe outside of Wakanda.
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: I first learned of him while doing my research prep for BLACK PANTHER LEGENDS and was like: “HOLD UP! T’CHALLA HAS A BROTHER?! AND HE’S OLDER? AND HE’S WHITE?! What in the Prince of Egypt…?” Anyway, Hunter is such a rich character and I knew I had to work with him again (I sound like a movie director talking about an actor). One thing that’s important for me in building Sam’s place in the canon is that he’s, at one point, going to have to deal with having an opposite, someone who represents the polar opposite of everything he stands for. An eternal antagonist, so to speak. Steve Rogers has the Red Skull. Who will be Sam Wilson’s Red Skull?
How is this as a Captain America book going to be distinct?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: Well, here, we’re throwing Sam straight into the frying pan; issue #2, he goes from the frying pan to the fire. Writers before me have already contended with Captain America’s place in a politically divided America, especially when it comes to race. And they’ve done that through both Steve and Sam. So it didn’t make sense to me to retread that ground. Sam’s anxieties about the job don’t come from edge-lords on Twitter tweeting #NotMyCaptainAmerica. Those people aren’t going to have Sam going “Welp, people don’t like me, guess I should just hang up my new shield.” The threats to Sam and his job are bigger than that. Much bigger. Black Americans applying for asylum in different countries in the Marvel Universe is going to have a bigger impact on him than a rando who lets their Super Hero preference be dictated to them by right-wing propaganda. This way, I don’t have to do any of “Sam’s-first-week-on-the-job-as-Black-Cap throat-clearing.” Skipping right past that allows me to get to the good stuff quicker.
How is Sam a different Captain America than Steve Rogers? What values do they share and what sets him apart?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: They both pursue justice, and I think even though they’ve partnered with each other and others, there’s a loner streak to both. A sort of “at the end of the day, I gotta do this my way” beat. I think one thing that sets—or will set—them apart is who they’re willing to enforce this against and who they’re willing to concede to. One counterfactual question to ask yourself: “If Sam is Captain America during CIVIL WAR (either alongside or replacing Steve), does he still initially oppose the Super Hero Registration Act along with Steve or does he do something completely different?”
Will we see a lot of crossover between the two books?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: I can neither confirm nor deny.
You talked about it briefly, but how is it working with R.B. Silva and the editorial team?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: Working with R.B. is a dream. There’s not really anything more I can say about that. I feel so blessed to have him drawing this book. And the editorial team! Whew, Alanna is such a joy to work with. Always. Between R.B. and the editorial team, the thing I feel most is empowered. Coming into this, I thought there’d be a ton of restrictions to what I wanted to do, but there are quite literally no guardrails. I have all this freedom to build Sam’s canon, and it really bowls me over that they’re trusting me like this. Makes me even more hell-bent on delivering the best Captain America stories it is within me to tell.
What else can we expect from CAPTAIN AMERICA: SYMBOL OF TRUTH?
TOCHI ONYEBUCHI: The end of the first arc will have widespread consequences for the citizens of at least two countries. And the Sam stories I have further down the river may leave indelible marks on the whole Marvel Universe. Stay tuned.
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