|Truth: Red, White & Black #1 (Jan. 2003)
|Trained unarmed combatant
Peak physical attributes
Extraordinary immunity to disease
Carries a convex triangular metal shield
Isaiah Bradley is one of the superheroes to hold the title of Captain America, appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character is an early product of the United States' Super Soldier program (codenamed Project: Rebirth) during World War II.
Carl Lumbly portrays the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe streaming television series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), and will reprise the role in the upcoming film Captain America: Brave New World (2025).
The original concept for the character came from an offhand comment by Marvel Comics' publisher Bill Jemas. Editor Axel Alonso was taken by the idea "inherent of politics of wrapping a Black man in red, white, and blue" and "a larger story ... a metaphor of America itself"; he also immediately thought of the Tuskegee Study. He proceeded to pitch the idea to Robert Morales, who was brought in to write the story, created the supporting cast and the ending. The idea of an African American Captain America made Morales laugh, but, once he heard the premise, he found it depressing. Morales originally envisioned the character as a scientist who experimented on himself, a reference to Silver Age scientist Bruce Banner; however, Marvel wanted a more explicit reference to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Morales was able to push through an ending in which Bradley suffered brain damage, a reference to Muhammad Ali that gave the character a tragic ending. Morales performed extensive research into the time period, which he balanced with editorial suggestions.
As depicted in the 2003 limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, the World War II Super Soldier program of 1942, operated by Reinstein (Dr. Wilfred Nagel, employing an alias previously used by Dr. Abraham Erskine), uses African American test subjects to re-create the Super Soldier Serum that had previously been used to turn Steve Rogers from a skinny, but patriotic, army reject into Captain America. The clandestine experimentation that empowers Isaiah is reminiscent of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
Project: Rebirth begins as a collaboration between US, British and German scientists led by Dr. "Josef Reinstein" (real name Dr. Wilfred Nagel), and Dr. Koch. When World War II begins, Koch takes over the German program and Reinstein takes over the American program. Each attempts to recreate the super soldier serum which had previously turned Steve Rogers into Captain America a year prior to Pearl Harbor. Reinstein's early attempts to refine the formula are tested on African-Americans. Three hundred of these soldiers are taken from Camp Cathcart and subjected to potentially fatal experiments at an undisclosed location, as seen in Truth: Red, White & Black. Only five subjects survive the original trials. In the name of secrecy, US soldiers execute the camp's commander and hundreds of black soldiers left behind at Camp Cathcart. The government tells the families of the three hundred subjects that their loved ones had died in battle.[volume & issue needed]
Due to field missions in Europe and internal strife, Bradley emerges the sole survivor of his test group. He steals a spare costume and a shield intended for Captain America before he engages in a suicide mission to destroy the Super Soldier efforts of the Nazis at the Schwarzebitte concentration camp. There, he is able to assassinate Koch, but the mission ends when the Germans capture Bradley. Nazi interest in the American supersoldier is high; he is even brought before the Führer himself who decides to dissect him to reverse engineer his powers and send the spare parts back to America as a message. Bradley is later rescued by German insurgents, only to be court-martialed and imprisoned at Leavenworth around 1943. In 1960, Bradley is pardoned by President Eisenhower and released.
Considered to be the "Black Captain America", Isaiah Bradley is depicted as an underground legend among much of the African-American community in the Marvel Universe. A number of the most noted Africans and African-Americans of the twentieth century's last four decades visit Bradley as a sign of respect and, in many cases, hero worship. He receives visits from Malcolm X, Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Alex Haley, Nelson Mandela, and Colin Powell. Outside the Black community, he remains largely unknown. When he arrives as a special guest at the wedding of Storm and Black Panther, several African-American heroes are awestruck, including Luke Cage, Goliath, Monica Rambeau, Triathlon, and Falcon. Canadian-born Wolverine is totally unaware of his identity or importance.
At the time when Isaiah was in prison for operating as Captain America, the government attempts to use his altered DNA to create another Super Soldier. After 39 attempts the result is a child named Josiah, Isaiah and Faith's genetic son. Josiah X, as he would later call himself, is born to a surrogate mother who smuggles him out of the government's clutches. The character was introduced in the short-lived comic book series The Crew, created by Christopher Priest and Joe Bennett and published in 2003.
Meanwhile, the long-term effects of the test serum severely damage Bradley's mind and body, similar in part to the effects of various steroids and Alzheimer's. In 2003, Steve Rogers learns the truth behind the Super Soldier program and attempts a reconciliation with the now-childlike Bradley. Captain America never discovers that the true mastermind behind the Super Soldier program is the clandestine organization Weapon Plus, and that Bradley is only one in a long line of Weapons, including Wolverine and Fantomex.
Isaiah is also the grandfather of Elijah Bradley (aka Patriot of the Young Avengers). Elijah initially claims that his powers originated from a blood transfusion from Isaiah, whereby he gained the abilities of the super soldier serum. However, it is subsequently revealed that this is a lie, and Elijah really gains his powers artificially from the drug Mutant Growth Hormone. The Young Avengers convince him that he does not need superpowers to be a superhero and he becomes the head of the Young Avengers using his intelligence and natural athletic abilities. After Eli is critically injured in a battle with the Kree and Skrulls, he gets a blood transfusion from his grandfather which enables him to have his grandfather's abilities.
While Isaiah possesses no superhuman powers as such, the super soldier formula running through his veins means that, physically, he is the perfect human: all of his bodily functions have been enhanced to the peak of human efficiency, making his agility, dexterity, strength, speed, endurance, reaction time, coordination, and balance superior to those of an Olympic athlete. His body eliminates any excessive build-up of lactic acid and other fatigue poisons in his muscles, which grants him phenomenal endurance. He has an extraordinary immunity to disease, and his aging process is also slowed dramatically. Isaiah is trained in unarmed combat by the U.S. Army.
Isaiah carries a concave triangular metal shield, useful for either defense or offense, which he decorated with the Double V campaign eagle crest, a symbol of a victory against the Axis as well as a victory against racial discrimination at home. For protection, he wears a loose chain mesh shirt over light padding; the shirt is capable of blunting the impact of most small arms fire.
Clarifying the timeline for Isaiah Bradley and Steve Rogers—and who predates whom—Robert Morales states in his appendix to the Truth: Red, White & Black trade paperback collection (2004):
Truth was originally planned to be outside of the Marvel Universe's official continuity. The editorial decision to place it into continuity meant explaining Timely Comics' first publication of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America in 1940—a full year before Pearl Harbor and the true start of our story.
Truth co-creator Kyle Baker further clarified the respective timelines of Bradley and Rogers in an interview:
With Captain America, people get on my case for 'changing' Captain America. We got a lot of grief from the Captain America fans on that series until the fifth and sixth issues came out; when it turned out that we hadn't tinkered with the continuity. Before that, everybody was very upset, because our story started with Pearl Harbor, and everybody knows that the first issue of Captain America took place before Pearl. Somewhere in the middle of the series, it's revealed that Cap already existed, and we hadn't tinkered with the timeline, and suddenly, the book is okay.
Editor-in-chief Axel Alonso felt that critical reaction of some fans to the first image that Marvel released of the silhouette of an African American man in a Captain America costume was based on the prejudicial assumption that it tarnished Captain America's legacy. Alonso stated that by the time the entire series had been published, reaction was more positive, with one prominent reviewer writing that he had done precisely this.
Sharon Packer, in her 2010 book Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds Behind the Masks, wrote that the events and characters of Truth: Red, White & Black convey important messages about race relations, conspiracy theories, and performance enhancement in sports.
Stories he has appeared in have been collected into graphic novels: