The MCU has introduced a grim new chapter to the super soldier story thanks to The Falcon & The Winter Soldier‘s reveal of Isaiah Bradley, but it leaves one question on the forgotten hero tantalizingly unanswered. Just how powerful is he and how does his powerset compare to that of MCU “original” Captain America, Steve Rogers? Given the fascination with varying super soldier powers in the MCU – as a reflection of the spectrum of different types of super serum – it’s inevitably intriguing, but it’s even more of a loaded issue given the specifics of Bradley’s treatment and alienation.
As in the comics – and specifically seminal arc Truth: Red, White & Black – Bradley was introduced to the MCU as the US government’s guilty secret. He and his fellow test subjects, none of whom volunteered and none of whom were aware of what they were being seemingly inoculated with, were guinea pigs, inhumanely given test variants of the Captain America super soldier serum. Only Bradley survived, with the variant given to him seemingly mirroring that which coursed through Steve Rogers’ veins. By the time Sam Wilson meets him, Bradley appears far younger than his age and he gets a flash of the athletic old man’s remaining powers, suggesting he’s aged similarly to Rogers. Therein lies the fascinating question of comparable powers.
The Falcon & The Winter Soldier offers some concrete evidence of Bradley’s strength and durability. On top of his physical appearance following the same trend as Steve Rogers at the end of Avengers: Endgame, in his anger, Bradley throws what appeared to be a tobacco tin at the wall, embedding it halfway in. That takes a considerable amount of power, even without considering how close he is standing to the wall. Then there’s the revelation of his past trauma in episode 5, which confirms he was tortured over the thirty years of his unspeakable captivity including treatment that led to severe scarring on Bradley’s side. That too suggests a healing factor similar to Steve Rogers’ own, which all-in-all seems to point to the serum variant despicable forced upon Bradley was close to the original. That in turn gives a firmer idea of Bradley’s powers in the MCU.
There are more considerations here, of course, and looking back to Bucky’s past prior to his reprogramming as the Winter Soldier. When he was taken as a POW during World War II, Bucky was given Arnim Zola’s variant serum that gave him super powers but with the caveat that he was still able to lose his arm in the fall that Cap thought had killed him. That suggests a weakness in variant serums, even though the Winter Soldier was able to stand toe-to-toe with Steve Rogers in a fight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Bradley also reveals in episode 2 that he beat Bucky so badly that his original arm was partly smashed and the formidable assassin was forced to retreat. Clearly, if Bradley’s serum variant had weaknesses, they didn’t compromise his strength.
In the comics, Bradley’s powers are more concisely mapped out. Truth: Red, White & Black, which forms a fairly close foundation for his character history in the The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, reveals that he was capable of lifting 800lbs and running 30mph. On top of that, he could withstand falling around 100ft, had a boosted healing factor, and could exert himself for an hour without fatigue. MCU Bradley appears stronger, given the feat with the tin and the history of beating Bucky, but whether he could match Steve Rogers’ own feats of strength, like holding a helicopter back and lifting a several-ton steel beam in The Winter Soldier is less clear. What is established in The Falcon & The Winter Soldier is that Isaiah Bradley was a formidable enough opponent to scare Bucky, to liberate an entire POW camp single-handedly and to ensure unspeakable, inhumane oppression in captivity over three decades. alongside the emotional turmoil of being torn from the love of his life. That much took more power than Steve was ever forced to show in the MCU.