Welcome to the D-List: Isaiah Bradley
I’ve used holidays to give this column a specific theme in the past. In fact, this isn’t the first year that I’ve picked a patriotic character for Independence Day. Although Rikki Barnes and Jack Flag were sidekicks to Captain America, this month’s D-Lister actually wore Cap’s costume.
Isaiah Bradley is a superhuman who has powers comparable to Steve Rogers and received those powers in a similar fashion. However, Bradley’s history is steeped in tragedy, but that should not diminish his contribution to fighting evil. A truly super solider, let’s welcome Isaiah Bradley to the D-List.
Isaiah Bradley first appeared in Truth: Red, White & Black vol.1 #1 in 2003. Created by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker, Bradley was introduced saying goodbye to his pregnant wife and joining the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Isaiah was stationed in a battalion with all Black soldiers and became close with the men in his unit. The majority of this miniseries focused on his entire unit and not just him—Truth highlighted the treatment of Black soldiers during WWII and explored themes of racism and human experiments.
Many Black soldiers were loaded onto trucks unaware of where they were being transported, but they became test subjects for the super-soldier serum. Unfortunately, nearly all of the soldiers had terrible reactions to the serum and died, but the men in Isaiah’s unit all survived, albeit with misshapen heads and enormous muscles. Isaiah, however, looked perfect.
This was a stark contrast to the way in which Steve Rogers gained his powers. The scrawny man volunteered for the procedure because of the sense of duty he felt to his country, whereas these Black men weren’t given a choice. However, they valiantly fought for the country currently using them as unwitting guinea pigs. Finally, albeit briefly, Isaiah became the focus of this story.
Bradley’s unit fought and killed Nazis, but it wasn’t long before his fellow soldiers died and Isaiah was the only one left. Isaiah’s superiors tasked him with a suicide mission, so he stole a spare Captain America costume and shield before dropping out of a plane and infiltrating a concentration camp. Bradley killed Nazi soldiers and doctors, then blew up a compound and destroyed their experiments. On his way to escape, however, he was outnumbered, but tried to protect a group of Jewish women. Sadly, they were all trapped in a shower and gassed. Although the gas killed the women, Isaiah was merely knocked unconscious. Bradley awoke to a personal visit from Hitler who offered to recruit him, but of course, the solider refused. Hitler then planned to amputate Isaiah’s limbs and send his remains back to the United States as a message, but during the hero’s transport, allies rescued him.
Although the action was brief, Isaiah Bradley was amazing. A Black man dressed in Captain America’s costume single-handedly defeated Nazis, destroyed much of a concentration camp, held his composure when facing Hitler, and tried to save innocent people. I only wish Bradley could have gotten an arm free to punch Hitler in the face as an homage to Captain America Comics #1. Regardless, Isaiah accomplished the mission with which he was tasked—to destroy Nazi supplies and test subjects.
After Isaiah was rescued, he was arrested and imprisoned for stealing Captain America’s costume. Bradley was kept in solitary confinement for 17 years until Eisenhower pardoned him, but the military swore his family to secrecy. Sadly, over the course of his confinement, the super-soldier serum deteriorated Isaiah’s brain and he was left barely able to speak. In fact, when Steve Rogers discovered Isaiah Bradley’s existence and visited him, Isaiah couldn’t converse, and it looked like the man didn’t even recognize Cap. But when Rogers presented him with the tattered Captain America costume Bradley had briefly worn, Isaiah’s face lit up and they took a picture together.
Truth: Red, White & Black was an incredibly interesting miniseries and showed the terrible treatment of Black soldiers through a superhero comic. It is completely believable that the government would want to cover up its experiments and throw an innocent man in prison for years, because such things have actually happened. Unfortunately, because of the mental deterioration he has endured, it is likely the man doesn’t even remember the injustice. Because of Bradley’s history, it isn’t really possible to show more of him in action. Sure, it’s comic books, so there is certainly a way to regenerate his mental faculties, but that would be a huge disservice to the character. Isaiah was prepared to sacrifice his life for his country, and then that country was prepared to forget about him – the fact that he remains in a child-like state serves as a reminder of his awful treatment at the hands of the government and military. Ultimately, Isaiah Bradley is a tragic character who had a desire to fight for the country which betrayed him.
Although Isaiah has had minor appearances in other comics, the biggest highlight since Truth was when he defended his grandson, Eli, from bullies. Although he did not speak, he towered over the young men and single-handedly beat the crap out of them. Unfortunately, he hasn’t appeared in roughly a decade. Although his spotlight was brief, Isaiah Bradley was shown to be a brave and awesome character.
Racism and bigotry are clearly doing quite well in 2019 since people in positions of power are fanning the flames of ignorance and hatred which are causing an increase in hateful rhetoric and hate crimes. Therefore, I think a Black man dressed as Captain America fighting modern—day Nazis, such as the KKK and Proud Boys, would be a fantastic and welcomed sight. Even though Isaiah has the mind of a child, he clearly understands the symbolism of the costume he once wore. I am certain that Isaiah is still willing to fight against hatred, and I would love to see it.
Isaiah Bradley has appeared in alternate universes, but never outside of comic books. This was a really interesting story of superheroes in World War II that didn’t feature Steve Rogers or the Invaders, and instead focused on a man who fought to do the right thing regardless of the terrible circumstances into which he was forced. It’s a shame we may never see Isaiah Bradley in action again, but he was a brave and awesome character, and certainly a hero I will salute.