Everyone loves an evil scientist, but was Wilfred Nagel evil — or just amoral? In the latest episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we meet the scientist responsible for the creation of a new Super Soldier Serum. He’s presented as an arrogant scientist just doing his job, but a closer look at his comic book origins reveals that Doctor Wilfred Nagel’s Marvel history is a lot darker than you might think.
Warning! Spoilers ahead for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 3.
In Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 3, Sam, Bucky, and Baron Zemo head to Madripoor to track down the source of the Super Soldier Serum that gave the Flag-Smashers their power. After a bar fight and a confrontation that ends with a bounty on their heads, the trio tracks down Wilfred Nagel, the doctor responsible for reverse engineering Dr. Abraham Erskine’s serum (which was only used once, on Steve Rogers).
We learn that Nagel worked for Hydra, before getting recruited by the CIA. He turned to dust in the Blip, and when he came back, he wound up in Madripoor employed by the Power Broker.
It’s strongly implied that Nagel’s work involved Isaiah Bradley, the Black super soldier we met in Episode 2 who we know was brutally tested on and mistreated by the U.S. government. But the doctor doesn’t have much time to go into details. After he reveals that the Flag-Smashers stole the only serum he made, Zemo pulls out a gun and shoots him point-blank.
The implication is that Zemo, whose entire character is built on hating superheroes, killed Wilfred Nagel for creating more of them. That makes sense, and our heroes don’t have much time to think about it after a bounty hunter shoots a rocket through the wind of Nagel’s lab. But thankfully, we’ve got plenty of time to look back at this doctor’s comic book history.
Who is Wilfred Nagel in Marvel, really?
In the comic books, Dr. Wilfred Nagel (whose code name was Dr. Josef Reinstein) was a scientist involved in Project Rebirth (aka, the program that created the original Captain America). After the death of Dr. Erskine, Nagel was responsible for recreating the serum, which Erskine had kept a secret.
To do so, Nagel recruited 300 Black soldiers and used them as his test subjects. These tests were horrific and dangerous. Out of 300 victims, the only survivor was Isaiah Bradley.
In other words, the comic books’ Wilfred Nagel is not just an arrogant scientist. He’s an evil person with blood on his hands.
The timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe muddles this connection somewhat. Even after losing five years to the Blip, Nagel is still too young to have created Isaiah Bradley. Falcon and the Winter Soldier updates Nagel’s story so that he instead used “blood samples from an American test subject with semi-stable traces of the serum in his system.”
“After much labor,” he says, “I was able to isolate the necessary compounds in his blood.”
Did Nagel use Bradley’s blood samples, or did he even directly continue testing on Bradley? Both are grim prospects to consider. It’s easy to read between the lines and find another chapter of American racism buried in Nagel’s history.
With all that in mind, there’s only one logical conclusion: Bazon Zemo was right.