While the news made headlines all over the mainstream media and will be providing websites with unique hits for days to come, the fact is, Sam Wilson isn't the first man to replace Steve Rogers in the Captain America suit. He's not even the first black man. That honor belongs to Isaiah Bradley, who many fans refer to as the first Captain America in general, though, due to Marvel's indecipherable continuity, that matter is up for dispute.
Wikipedia offers this explanation regarding who wore the suit first, Steve Rogers or Isaiah Bradley:
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 Axel Alonso described the debate as internet fans unfairly prejudging the series based on assumptions that it tarnished Captain America's legacy.
Okay, you all clear now? No? Well, there's more. Bradley's grandson, Elijah, also became a Captain America of a sort after receiving Isaiah's powers via blood transfusion.
Calling himself Patriot and teaming with the Young Avengers, Patriot was basically a Captain America of a sort, at least, going by the prevailing Marvel logic that if a character wears a similar costume to and performs the same function as a hero, they are that hero. After all, we recently learned that Thor, an actual person whose name is Thor, will be replaced by a woman who will have not only Thor's powers and costume, but also his identity, forcing Thor to call himself something else. So, since all vampires are Draculas and all heroes who are similar to Thor are Thors, then it follows that all characters who are basically Captain Americas are actual Captain Americas.
We've established that Sam Wilson is the third black Captain America, and he's a great choice to take up the mantle, as he's been an on-and-off partner with Cap since the seventies. He has the history. He has the pedigree.
He was also recently featured in the successful Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie, and has played a prominent role in Cap's current ongoing since Cap returned from Dimension Z, even going so far as to be involved in a sex scandal that caused Tumblr users to call for the firing of surly writer Rick Remender. Sam Wilson is hot right now, and this could potentially sell a lot of books.
But as far as overall Captain Americas, Sam Wilson has quite a few more predecessors. Captain America's original Golden Age series continued to be published into the 1950s, but when Marvel brought Cap into the modern Marvel Universe in 1964, the story was that Steve Rogers had been lost in a plane crash in 1945 and frozen in a block of ice all that time. So, to make sense out of the issues published after that, Marvel retconned at least three men into the suit: William Naslund, Jeffrey Mace, and William Burnside. In the 1980s, Steve was replaced by a guy named John Walker who was kind of a dick, and when Steve came back again, Walker became U.S. Agent, a guy who dressed exactly like Cap, and therefore (remember our logical precedent), was yet another Captain America.
So what are we up to now? Seven? Eight? Nine if you count the times Steve comes back to replace his replacements as new Caps? And if you start getting into alternate universe versions of Captain America, or Captain Americas that could exist in a possible future, things get even crazier. There was even a Captain America named American Dream in Marvel's future MC2 Universe that was a woman! With boobs and everything!
No, not those kind! This one:
So what's old is new again. It happens all the time. But in Cap's case, it never even has a chance to get old. It was just in 2007 that Steve Rogers was killed for not knowing how to use MySpace, and he was replaced by his former sidekick, formerly thought dead but then retconned back to life himself, Bucky Barnes, for two years before coming back in 2009. And now, Sam Wilson joins this proud, albeit indecipherable without a PHD in genealogy, lineage.
So racists - and I know you're out there, being all mad about this and shit - calm down. Cap has been black before. And unlike everyone else, once Captain America goes black, he always comes back. At the latest, by the time the next Avengers movies is in theaters. The only remaining question is, who will take up the mantle of the Falcon while Sam is wearing Cap's suit?
What the... they whitewashed The Falcon! Reset the counter!!! What? This is Marvel? Oh, and that's Steven Colbert? And it's a joke? Well alright then. False alarm. We're good.
Welcome to the Captain Americas, Sam Wilson... hope you survive the experience!