In the latest episode of the Marvel television series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” the title superheroes wing into Europe for hand-to-hand combat with a gang of chemically enhanced super soldiers. Meanwhile, back on the home front, there’s a more nebulous threat looming for Falcon in the form of his personal finances.
That conflict was set up in the first episode when Sam Wilson, aka Falcon and a member of all-star superhero squad the Avengers, got rejected for a loan. A bank official ignored Sam’s freelance pay from the government, and instead zeroed in on his spotty credit and income history, including a period when Sam subsisted on people’s goodwill toward the Avengers in lieu of a salary.
As the series expands a franchise that dominated pop culture with sagas of an ultrarich tech mogul (Iron Man), an African king (Black Panther) and an interdimensional god (Thor), one of its most surprising revelations so far is that, for some heroes, the job of saving the planet in costume doesn’t pay very well.
“The most human thing is to deal with bills and being broke. You can’t humanize heroes without showing that,” says Malcolm Spellman, an executive producer of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and its head writer. For fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, learning how Sam was piecing together his income “was like your favorite uncle finally told you something about himself that you never knew,” the writer says.
In the modern Marvel movies, spanning 23 blockbuster releases so far over 13 years, the heroes’ origin stories and battles with supervillains didn’t leave much room to explain their paycheck situation. Captain America once quipped about unaffordable real estate in his native Brooklyn—but fans were left to assume that Tony Stark was footing most of the Avengers’ bills while leading the team as Iron Man.