Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What Might John Ridley's Marvel Project Be?

Image Courtesy www.screenrant.com

If you remember from a while back, there were reports that John Ridley was in the process of actively developing a TV series for Marvel and Disney which would air on ABC.  Evidently, this is still happening, and according to Ridley himself all the rumors and speculation to-date has been off.  So here is my idea for a TV series that John Ridley could bring to ABC.  I actually mentioned this as a possibility a while ago, but I’m going to take a wild guess that I’m not quite mainstream enough for John Ridley to notice!  So in other words, maybe I’m right!  (Probably not, but I can dream…)

John Ridley is known for his portrayal of characters who need to overcome adversity and prejudice, as seen in such movies as 12 Years a Slave and Red Tails; this has fueled the speculation that he would be bringing characters like Kamala Khan and Cloak and Dagger to life.  However, one character which I do not think anyone else has suggested is the “original” African-American superhero.  I’m not talking about the first black superhero to appear in Marvel Comics; Black Panther is already appearing in Captain America: Civil War before receiving his own feature film in 2018.  Besides, Black Panther isn’t actually African-American; he’s African-African (so… “African”)!  I’m also not talking about the first African-American hero to appear in Marvel Comics; the Falcon first appeared in 1969, but his story starts in the 1960s.  Instead, I’m talking about the chronologically-first African-American superhero in Marvel Comics, whose story begins during World War II, though it was not published until 2003.  I’m talking, of course, about Isaiah Bradley, the (first) Black Captain America.

While you may think it’s racist to call this character the “Black Captain America,” once you understand the character’s back story, the moniker will make a lot of sense.

The Background

Image Courtesy en.wikipedia.org
In essence, Isaiah Bradley is an amalgamation of the Steve Rogers/Captain America story and the real-world Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment conducted during and after World War II.  The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment involved the U.S. Public Health Service conducting experiments on poor African-American men to study the progression of untreated syphilis.  The tests were done without the subjects’ permission or knowledge; they believed that they were receiving free health care.  Only 74 of the 399 test subjects survived until the conclusion of the study in 1972; 28 of the subjects had died of syphilis and 100 more had died of related conditions.  40 of their wives contracted syphilis, and 28 children were born to the subjects with congenital syphilis.  Once the experiment became public knowledge, there was an outcry which led to the implementation of new laws and regulations to protect the subjects of clinical studies.

In 2003, writer Robert Morales created a Marvel Comics version of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment which began very shortly after the success of Project: Rebirth and Steve Rogers’ successful transformation into Captain America.  After Professor Erskine’s assassination by Hydra, the secret to the Super-Soldier Serum seems to be lost forever if it could not be recreated from Steve Rogers’ blood.  Consequently, the U.S. military conscripts a regiment of 300 African-American soldiers and forces them to endure tests designed to rediscover the Super-Soldier Serum.  However, only five of the original subjects survive the initial experiments, and all those involved with the project (or left at the base where it took place, Camp Cathcart) are executed by the military in an effort to cover up what had happened.  Isaiah Bradley is the sole survivor of the project and ensuing cover-up.  He steals a spare uniform and shield intended for Steve Rogers and takes on a suicide mission to infiltrate a Hydra attempt at recreating the Super-Soldier Serum and destroy it.  He succeeds in his mission but is captured by the Nazis.  Before he can be dissected, reverse-engineered, and sent back in pieces, he is rescued by German dissenters and escapes to America.  Back home, Bradley is court-martialed and imprisoned for nearly 20 years before receiving a presidential pardon.

Though Bradley is largely unknown to the Marvel universe as a whole, he is “depicted as an underground legend among much of the African-American community in the Marvel Universe” according to Wikipedia.  Characters such as Storm, Luke Cage (another result of Super-Soldier testing), (Black) Goliath (Bill Foster), and Falcon consider him to be one of the greatest heroes in the world because he overcame such great obstacles.

Does this sound like the kind of TV series that the screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave (about a free black man unjustly returned to slavery) and Red Tails (a dramatized account of the Tuskegee Airmen, black aviators who fought in World War II) would be interested in?

I think so.

The Back Story and First Appearance

Image Courtesy www.twitter.com/AgentCarterTV
So how would this series go?  Here’s my pitch.

Isaiah Bradley’s back story will be adapted from the 2003 series virtually in its entirety.  Like in the comics he will be an African-America soldier forced to participate in a Project: Rebirth offshoot following the success of the original and the subsequent assassination of Dr. Erskine.  Also like the comics, he will be the sole survivor of that test and have engaged in a suicide mission against the Nazis before being court-martialed for his actions and sent to prison.

However, this back story will not be Bradley’s first appearance.  Instead, his first appearance will come about 4 years after the experiments that gave him his superhuman abilities, in 1947 during the second season of Agent Carter.  When season 2 begins Bradley will be sitting in Fort Leavenworth serving his sentence.  However, thanks to his superhuman hearing he overhears a news report about an incident in California.  Believing the incident to be related to the same Nazi cell which he had defeated previously, Bradley breaks out of prison and makes his way halfway across the country to Los Angeles, where he happens upon Peggy Carter in the middle of a mission.  The two of them have an altercation, during which Peggy realizes that Bradley’s physical abilities are beyond those of a normal human—comparable only to Steve Rogers himself.  She interrogates him to learn what had happened to him, finds out that the S.S.R. was involved, and confronts her S.S.R. superior, who was one of the agents overseeing the experiments.  At the end of the day, Peggy and Bradley team up to take down Madame Masque and Peggy invites Bradley to join her in the recently-founded S.H.I.E.L.D.

The First Season

Image Courtesy www.johnbierly.com
The first season of the series will air during the summer of 2016.  It will be a straightforward adaptation of the 2003 limited series, but with a few additions—primarily in the form of cameos—to build up the connections with Captain America: The First Avenger.

The first episode picks up midway through the movie with the Project: Rebirth experiment.  Steve Rogers is reborn as Captain America, Dr. Erskine is assassinated by Red Skull’s top assassin, Heinz Kruger, and Steve and Peggy both leap into action to prevent the assassin from escaping with the extra vial of Super-Soldier Serum.  However, while they are otherwise occupied, Col. Phillips immediately shifts into military mode and locks down the facility.  After everything is secure, he approaches Howard Stark to find out if there is a way for them to continue Project: Rebirth now that Erskine is dead.  Stark does not think it is possible, but agrees to consult with the other scientists involved.  Later, after Steve agreed to go to work for the U.S.O., Phillips, Stark, and Senator Brandt sit down together with a couple of the scientists, who confirm that they can try to reverse-engineer the Super-Soldier Serum from Steve Rogers’ blood.  Brandt offers for his committee to provide the funding for the program and agrees to keep Steve nearby through his U.S.O. connections so the scientists can take more blood samples as necessary.

The scene shifts to Col. Phillips at Camp Cathcart, where a regiment of African-American soldiers is standing at attention.  Phillips is in the process of putting the soldiers through training exercises before returning to his S.S.R. troops on the Italian Front.  Following training, the soldiers receive injections with experimental variants of the Super-Soldier Serum.  This is when we meet Pvt. Isaiah Bradley, one of the (unwilling) participants in the experiment.  Through his perspective we learn more about the experiment and the other participants.  At the end of the first episode, several of the test subjects begin to experience negative side effects.

Note:  This would require quite a few cameos.  The ideal would be for Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, and Michael Brandon to reprise their roles as Col. Phillips, Howard Stark, and Senator Brandt, respectively, for the first episode, as well as for Jones and Brandon to return near the end of the season.

The second episode begins with Isaiah Bradley as one of the final ten surviving test subjects, who are all sent on a mission in Europe where they must confront and defeat a Nazi compound.  While on the mission, Bradley discovers evidence of a Nazi (non-Hydra) attempt to create their own super soldiers, which he brings to the attention of his commander.  The commander initially dismisses his suspicions.  Also on the mission, a couple of the other test subjects are killed.

During the third episode, the experiment is shut down by the S.S.R., with all the test subjects executed along with most of the support staff.  Isaiah Bradley avoids execution and escapes from the Camp.  Raiding an S.S.R. supply depot gets him a mail suit and spare shield intended for Captain America, which he takes to go on one final mission to stop the Nazi super-solder program to prevent anyone else from going through the same torture as he has.

The remainder of the season follows Bradley as he completes the mission, destroys the super-soldier program, and kills the scientists involved.  The penultimate episode ends with Bradley captured by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp.  In the final episode, the German resistance movement frees Bradley and brings him to the American lines, where he is arrested by the military police and taken back to America for a court martial.  The season ends with Bradley locked up in Leavenworth.

The Remainder of the Series

Image Courtesy
Following the first season, this series would air alongside Agent Carter during the winter break.  While Agent Carter runs with the espionage element, this series focuses on superpowers and takes a much darker tone, similar to the division the DCTVU is creating between Arrow’s focus on mysticism and The Flash’s focus on superpowers.  The two series could cross over on occasion, though it would not be necessary, as both series would be short, 8-10 episodes in a season, and have much more compact storylines.

This series would be an opportunity to fill in some of the blanks as far as military efforts to create super soldiers go.  We have already seen a couple of government/military-endorsed superhero efforts:  Captain America, the Hulk, and Iron Patriot are all examples.  In the near future we will also meet Luke Cage, who is the product of a program very similar to the one which created Isaiah Bradley.  Seeing the darker side of government efforts to create superheroes—and seeing the dark side of Project: Rebirth—would be an interesting way to further the story of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history.  It would also open a door to a whole new realm of super-powered individuals active in the years between Captain America and Ant-Man.


So this is my idea for what John Ridley’s mysterious MCU TV series could be.  I think that Isaiah Bradley would be an interesting character to pair with Peggy Carter, both because he represents something that she thought was gone forever with Captain America’s disappearance and because he represents a dark side of the S.S.R. and America which she may never have considered before.  Isaiah Bradley can help fill a key void in the MCU’s history, and he can do it with a compelling and powerful message.

What do you think about this idea?  Do you like the idea of a second period-set MCU TV series, or would you prefer for John Ridley’s series to be set today?  Which character do you want to see brought to life on the small screen?  Let me know in the comments!

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