I hadn’t intended to pick up Falcon #1 because I already buy too many books. (Comics aren’t cheap, in case you didn’t know.) But I saw some good reviews of it, and I’m a sucker for both a good Alex Ross cover and for a good Sam Wilson story, so I picked it up.

Let me say at the outset that Falcon #1 is a good issue. It both takes Sam back to his urban roots and also continues to develop the themes that Nick Spencer began in Captain America: Sam Wilson. The book follows Sam and his new sidekick Rayshaun Lucas as they seek to broker a peace deal between warring Chicago gangs while corrupt forces in the city government try to inflame the violence. Along the way it raises questions about what it means to be a “true” black man, what it means to have heroes and look up to them, and other issues. Sam is in good hands with writer Rodney Barnes.

But there’s a problem.

The end of Secret Empire established pretty clearly that the Steve Rogers who led a Hydra takeover of America wasn’t the “real” Steve. Instead, the real Steve had been preserved as a memory in a world of her own creation.

Moreover, Secret Empire #10 and Generations: The Americas both establish pretty clearly that Sam knows what really happened and is still on good terms with his best friend:

So it’s jarring and confusing to read in Falcon #1 that Sam now seems to think that Steve was always Hydra and that in trusting him, he was complicit in treason. What gives? Have I missed something?

By the end of Secret Empire I just wanted it to be over and to have Steve Rogers back, but I also hoped that Marvel wouldn’t simply forget that Hydra Steve ever happened. This couldn’t be simply a What If? story. It had to have real consequences for Steve. The most obvious consequence is that many people––people in the public, I mean––would have difficulty believing that Hydra Cap wasn’t the “real” Steve. Conspiracy theories would say that the whole Cosmic Cube story was a coverup. Pundits would always use scare quotes when speaking of Steve’s “doppleganger.” Steve’s new story arc would be that he had to work to regain public trust. Maybe there would even be heroes who had doubts or questions about what happened in Secret Empire. (The Punisher would be a perfect candidate for this.)

But why Sam? He saw what happened. He was there. And Generations shows that he clearly still believes in Steve. So has something happened between Generations and Falcon #1 to change his mind? Or has Falcon’s creative team chosen simply to ignore what was established at the end of Secret Empire?

What makes the things that Sam says about Steve even stranger is that Rayshaun seems to know the truth about what happened. When Sam blames himself for not seeing the “truth” about Steve, Rayshaun reminds him that the events of Secret Empire were caused by a Cosmic Cube. So why does Sam continue to speak as if his friend turned out to be Hydra all along?

The Hydra Cap story tried hard to be an allegory for the state of America today and for disillusionment about America’s past, so it’s only natural that Falcon #1––a book about two black heroes who try to confront race problems in Chicago––would continue exploring those same themes. Themes of disillusionment and questions about what the true America is make perfect sense in that context, but why does the story so blatantly contradict what other books have established pretty clearly? And why does all this have to be at the expense of Steve Rogers, who was ultimately the victim in Secret Empire, not the villain?