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Isaiah Bradley is a fictional character in the Marvel Comics universe, an early product of the United States' Super-Soldier program (codenamed Project: Rebirth) during World War II.
As depicted in the 2003 limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, the World War II Super Soldier program of 1942, operated by "Reinstein" (Wilfred Nagel, employing an alias previously used by Dr. Abraham Erskine), used African American test subjects to re-create the formula that had been used to turn Steve Rogers from skinny, but patriotic, army reject into Captain America. The clandestine experimentation that empowered Isaiah held similarities with the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
Project: Rebirth began as a collaboration between US, British and German eugenicists led by Dr. "Josef Reinstein" (real name Dr. Wilfred Nagel), and Dr. Koch. When World War II began, Koch took over the German program and Josef Reinstein took over the American program. Each was attempting 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 were tested on African-Americans. Three hundred of these soldiers were taken from Camp Cathcart and subjected to potentially fatal experiments at an undisclosed location in an attempt to re-create the Super Soldier formula, as seen in Truth: Red, White & Black. Only five subjects survived the original trials. In the name of secrecy, US soldiers executed the camp's commander and hundreds of black soldiers left behind at Camp Cathcart. The government told the families of the three hundred subjects that their loved ones had died in battle.
Due to field missions in Europe as well as internal strife, Bradley emerged the sole survivor of his test group. He stole a spare costume and a shield intended for Captain America before he engaged in a suicide mission to destroy the Super-Soldier efforts of the Nazis at the Schwarzebitte concentration camp. There, he was also able to assassinate Koch. The mission ended when the Germans captured Bradley. Nazi interest in the American supersoldier was high; he was even brought before the Führer himself, who decided to dissect him in order to reverse engineer his powers but send the spare parts back to America as a message to the government. Bradley was later rescued by German insurgents, only to be court-martialed and imprisoned at Leavenworth around 1943. In 1960, Bradley was pardoned by President Eisenhower and released.
Considered to be the "Black Captain America", Isaiah Bradley became 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 visited Bradley as a sign of respect and, in many cases, hero worship. His visitors have included Malcolm X, Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Alex Haley, Nelson Mandela, and Colin Powell. Outside the Black community, however, he remains largely unknown. When he arrived as a special guest to the wedding of Storm and the Black Panther, several African-American heroes were awestruck, including Luke Cage (who described him as "the first me"), Goliath (Bill Foster), Monica Rambeau, Triathlon, and the Falcon. However, the Canadian-born Wolverine was totally unaware of the man's identity or importance.
Main article: Josiah X
While Isaiah was in prison, the government attempted to use his altered DNA to create another Super-Soldier. After 39 attempts the result was a child named Josiah, Isaiah and Faith's genetic son. Josiah X, as he would later call himself, was born to a surrogate mother, who smuggled him out of the government's clutches.
Meanwhile, the long-term effects of the test serum had severely damaged Isaiah Bradley's mind and body, similar in part to the effects of various steroids and Alzheimer's. In 2003, Steve Rogers (Captain America) learned the truth behind the Super-Soldier program and attempted a reconciliation with the now-childlike Isaiah Bradley. However, Captain America never discovered that the true mastermind behind the Super-Soldier program was the clandestine organization Weapon Plus and that Bradley was 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 claimed that his powers originated from a blood transfusion from Isaiah, whereby he gained the abilities of the Super-Soldier Serum. However, it was subsequently revealed that this was a lie, and Elijah really gained his powers from Mutant Growth Hormone. Elijah was later critically injured in battle with the Skrulls and Kree. This forced Isaiah to give him a blood transfusion, and as a result, Elijah develops actual super powers.
Powers and abilities
While Isaiah possesses no superhuman powers as such, the super-soldier formula running through his veins means that, physically, he is, for most intents and purposes, the perfect human. This means that his agility, strength, speed, endurance, and reaction time are superior to any Olympic athlete who has ever or ever will compete. Once it was metabolized, the Super-Soldier formula enhanced all of his bodily functions to the peak of human efficiency. His body eliminates any excessive build-up of lactic acid and other fatigue poisons in his muscles, granting him phenomenal endurance. He also has an extraordinary immunity to disease. His aging process was also slowed dramatically. Isaiah was trained in unarmed combat by the US Army.
Isaiah carried 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 wore a loose chain mesh shirt over light padding, the shirt was capable of blunting the impact of most small arms fire.
- In Captain America vol. 4, #28, an Isaiah Bradley from an alternate Earth became Captain America and never married. Later, he was elected president and served two terms. He traveled back in time, incidentally crossing to Earth-616, and brought the mainstream Captain America and Rebecca Quan forward into his own time to prevent his daughter, Rebecca "Becky" Barnes, from traveling to Earth-616.
- Though Bradley has not yet appeared in any Ultimate Marvel title, the origins of Ultimate Nick Fury share many similarities with Bradley. During World War II, Nick Fury is unwillingly inducted into a United States government experiment to recreate the Super Soldier Serum. The only subject to survive, Fury leaves the experiment with a healing factor and slowed or halted aging.
Captain America timeline
Clarifying the timeline for Isaiah Bradley and Steve Rogers — and who predates who — 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.
Stories he has appeared in have been collected into graphic novels:
- Truth: Red, White & Black (collects Truth: Red, White & Black #1-7, by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker); published in 2004. Reprinted in 2009 as Captain America: Truth.
- Captain America: Homeland (collects Captain America vol. 4 #21-28, by Robert Morales, Chris Bachalo and Eddie Campbell); published in 2004.