“It always ends in a fight.” It’s an eventuality that both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes know all too well. The two Marvel characters at the heart of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which streams March 19 on Disney+, not only know their way around a fight — they know their way around a fight with each other.
Both of them are patriots and both of them are trying to live up to the tremendous Captain America legacy left behind by Steve Rogers. Anthony Mackie’s Sam and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky are soldiers on a mission to save the soul of America, though neither man sees the country they call home through the same lens. While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stands ready to put the two heroes in a reluctant partnership, only one can don the red, white, and blue by the series’ end.
So, who will it be? There are a few ways to settle the matter. One is by waiting to see how the MCU’s next Disney+ outing handles the question. The other one? A comic book brawl for it all.
Let’s go with the second option, digging into the comic book canon for more on how a fight with the Falcon and the Winter Soldier might shake out ahead of … well, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
INVERSUS is an Inverse series that pits the best of the best against each other from all corners of the superhero omniverse.
In the Red Corner: Falcon
Standing at 6’2 and weighing in at 240 pounds, Sam Wilson is a former United States Airforce pararescue airman and counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs who became an Avenger.
First appearing in Marvel Comics’ 1969 comic book Captain America #117 and later in the MCU in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Falcon has been one of Captain America’s longest-running allies, eventually taking up the role himself in 2014, a role he’s also set up to take at the end of Avengers: Endgame.
Falcon’s powers include a mastery of flight, thanks to his wing harness, and fighting abilities that make him one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the Marvel Universe, thanks to his training from Steve Rogers. And in the comics, he also possesses avian telepathy. Yes, he talks to birds. (Eat your heart out Aquaman.)
But Sam’s greatest ability is his sense of goodness. He is a righteous man, always ready to lend his support for the right cause — “on your left,” as known to say to his fellow Avengers — though he’s also prone to some good-natured ribbing, especially when it's at Bucky’s expense.
In the Blue Corner: Winter Soldier
Standing at 5’9 and weighing in at 260 pounds, Bucky Barnes is a former United States Army Sergeant who served in World War II, later turned brainwashed, cyborg HYDRA assassin who found redemption as an Avenger.
So, “who the hell is Bucky?” First appearing as Bucky in Marvel’s 1940 comic book Captain America Comics #1, and later as Winter Soldier in 2004’s Captain America Vol. 5 #1, Barnes made his MCU debut in Captain America: The First Avenger. Over the years, he’s served as Captain America’s partner, and enemy, eventually taking up the mantle for himself in the comics after Steve Rogers’s apparent death. But he’s always been most comfortable in the shadows, working as one of the Marvel Universe’s top super-spies.
After being injected by the Infinity Formula during the process that made Bucky the Winter Soldier, he developed enhanced strength, speed, stamina, reflexes, and durability including a regenerative healing factor. He’s also cybernetically enhanced with a bionic arm, which is made of Vibranium in the MCU, and which has palm print sensors, allowing no one else to use his arsenal except for him. In the comics, Bucky’s bionic arm has also displayed the ability to release an electromagnetic current and retractable blade. He also happens to be a master martial artist and marksman who has bested Black Widow, Wolverine, and The Punisher.
So, yeah, Bucky’s a badass — hindered only by the trauma from his days as a brainwashed assassin.
Falcon vs. Bucky in Comic book history
Wanna see these two Avengers go head-to-head? Here’s your recommended reading:
Captain America Vol. 5 #39 (2008): Sam and Bucky engage in a friendly sparring match, and Bucky comes out on top.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): Aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarier, the Winter Soldier dodges the Falcon’s bullets before grounding him with a grappling hook, tearing one of his wings off, and kicking him off the aircraft.
Falcon vs. Winter Soldier: Fight!
With Steve Rogers out of the picture, Bucky’s going to do his best to make sure his mentor and best friend’s hopes and dreams for his mantle don’t die on the vine. And that means helping Sam Wilson prepare for the role of Captain America.
For Bucky, the best way to help is to catch the winged wonder off-guard and drag him down into a fight, one that could eventually save Sam’s life should he go up against an enemy not as restrained as the Winter Soldier.
Sam’s a capable fighter, but he’s also a little too trusting, and despite his aerial view, can be taken by surprise. Remember, this is a guy who was beaten by Ant-Man in the MCU.
Bucky doesn’t trust anyone, and as such, he’s always prepared. The Winter Soldier’s first move would be to ground the Falcon. As long as he’s in the air, he can dodge anything that Bucky throws or shoots at him.
In this theoretical match-up: Winter Soldier uses a grappling gun to bring the Falcon down to Earth and immediately uses his bionic arm to rend the wings from Falcon’s harness. He manages to tear one wing off. In the confusion, Sam, not even realizing who is attacking him yet, calls on all of the birds of prey in the area. They swarm the Winter Soldier, Hitchcock style, claws slicing his face while Falcon gets some distance between himself and his attacker.
Winter Soldier discharges an electrical pulse from his bionic arm, knocking the birds unconscious. Careful not to tread on any of the Falcon’s winged friends, the Winter Soldier charges at Sam, unholsters his machine gun, and fires.
Sam would block the oncoming barrage of bullets with his remaining wing. As Bucky closes the distance, he discards the machine gun and draws a serrated blade from his belt, launching into an attack. Falcon dodges. He’s quick, but off balance because of his one remaining wing. Winter Soldier sees an opportunity to bring Falcon lower to the ground and knocks him off his feet, drawing the blade to Sam’s throat. He should’ve been watching his left.
Falcon vs. Winter Soldier: The verdict
When it comes to a moral compass, Sam Wilson is the best you can get. But when it comes to fighting, Bucky Barnes has over 80 years of intense training for militaries, terrorist organizations, and shadow ops from across the globe. Falcon doesn’t stand a chance against the Winter Soldier’s combat skills.
The Winter Soldier won’t gloat — much. Instead, he’ll keep pushing Falcon to be stronger, and faster. But until that day comes, he’ll serve in the same role he did for Steve Rogers during World War II: back-up, reconnaissance, the man who will do the dirty work in order to protect the hands and heart of America’s symbol.
Still, in the battle to make Sam better, the Inversus winner is… the Winter Soldier!
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier streams March 19 on Disney+.