Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Back In Black

Back in the 90’s grim and gritty heroes such as the Punisher and Wolverine rose in popularity in the comic book world. As such, writers of more traditional heroes like Superman and Captain America were being pushed to follow suit in order to “keep up” with the times. Fortunately, the late great Mark Gruenwald, who at the time was writing the Captain America series didn’t buckle to the pressure and instead came up with an effective solution to his problem.

Enter the Super Patriot, John F. Walker, who was created by Mr.Gruenwald as a character that was meant to show the “dark side” of patriotism. The Super Patriot was a more proactive and violent America themed hero who immediately butted heads with Captain America, whom he considered (much like most readers of the time) an outdated and boring hero that needed to be replaced.

As it turned out, John Walker would end up being the solution to Mr. Gruenwald’s dilemma. So in the “Captain America No More” storyline, Steve Rogers was basically forced to give up the mantle of the Star Spangled Avenger and Walker was appointed to take his place. Thus giving Gruenwald and his readers a win-win compromise. They got a more hard edged Captain America, without sacrificing Steve Roger’s core principles.

Anyway, I covered the main points of the story in my last post, but basically in the end, as with the cyclical nature of comics, Rogers takes back the mantle and Walker, well...gets assassinated for his troubles.

To commemorate the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America, the US Government holds a public turn over ceremony with both Rogers and Walker dressed as Captain America. But when Walker takes to the podium to give his speech, he is promptly shot by a member of the extremist right-wing group the Watchdogs. A group that Walker had a rather violent run in with during his tenure as Cap.

While this seemed to be a quick and easy way to wrap up the whole John Walker story, it turned out to be just the beginning. Despite his nearly disastrous turn as Captain America, Walker did manage to gain a strong following from readers, and more importantly, he did manage to redeem himself in the end.

Marvel recognized this and decided to continue his story under a new identity. So as the story goes, the whole “assasination” was actually a gov’t staged ruse done to give Walker a clean slate moving forward. He was secretly wheeled off, brainwashed and given a new identity of Jack Daniels….no really. He was also given a new heroic role as the US Agent, donning Roger's discarded black “Captain” costume and wielding his vibranium shield. And just like Mark Gruenwald, this was a win-win solution for the government as they got their official American superhero under their authority without once again compromising SteveRoger’s role as Captain America.

As the newly minted US Agent, his first assignment was to join the West Coast Avengers to act as a liaison *cough* spy *cough* spy for the government. Anyway, considering his rather….abrasive personality and forced inclusion onto the team, it’s no surprise that he instantly didn’t hit it off with his new teammates. He also immediately clashed with the current leader of the team, Hawkeye, whom he easily dispatched, causing him to quit the team.

I have to admit that by this point, I had kinda moved away from reading comics so I'm only aware of what happens to Walker moving forward in more broad strokes.

Eventually, he regained his full memories and reverted to his original identity of John Walker and despite his less than ideal start to his initial assignment, the US Agent remained a member of the West Coast Avengers up until the team’s dissolution and reformation into the more proactive Force Works.

All this time , he continued to work officially for the US govt and was even sent to Canada at one point to join their team Omega Flight, to once again “keep tabs” on them.

Later on, during a battle with the Dark Avengers, he lost both an arm and a leg and was for a time bound to a wheelchair. Despite his disability though, Walker became the warden of the super villain prison, the Raft. Eventually he regained his lost limbs by being bonded with a Venom symbiote from an alternate reality.

As far as toys go, Hasbro did release a Marvel Legends version many years ago, unfortunately I felt that he was a bit too undersized for Walker, so I passed on him.

A few years later they released a new Captain America figure that had a rather rough head sculpt. To me he looked more like John Walker rather than Steve Rogers. And after a few years of no updated US Agent figure, I decided to just have this Cap repainted into my default US Agent for the display.

Anyway while I have always gravitated more to the goody goody hero archetypes like Steve Rogers or Superman over the more grim and gritty ones, I have always liked John Walker. Despite being mostly portrayed as an antagonistic character at best to an abrasive asshole at worst, he does possess key heroic qualities that run deep, deeep within his core. Not to give the guy a complete pass, but as far as character origins are concerned, Walker’s is a rather rough one that revolves around the themes of being manipulated and discarded when his purpose is served. But through it all, the key point in his Captain America run was him learning to rise above it all and discovering what it took to be a true hero.  Whatever shortcomings he may have personality wise, for better or worse there is no denying his strong sense of loyalty and service to America, A country he literally gave an arm...and a leg too.

Even the MCU version of Walker shares the same story beats as his comic predecessor. The MCU version played by Wyatt Russell is a highly decorated Army vet who served his country with no questions asked and stepped up to the plate vacated by both Steve Rogers AND Sam Wilson.

It’s kinda hinted that he suffers from some post traumatic stress disorder from his previous tours of duty. And from the very start he was basically dismissed by Wilson and Bucky despite his calls for them all to work together.

The only positive Walker has on his side is his best friend Lemar Hoskins aka Battle Star who serves as a moral compass and voice of reason for him. Unfortunately, Hoskins takes the place of the comic Walkers’ parents. It is Battle Star who is killed in a fight with the Flag Smasher which causes Walker to snap….and then you know what happens next.

Fortunately, just like in the comics, Walker manages to somewhat rehabilitate his character and re-affirm himself as a “good guy” by the series’ end.

In a post series scene, he is recruited by the mysterious Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and given his new US Agent identity. Speculation is high that he will be a part of a live action Dark Avengers/Thunderbolts team. What’s important though is that it’s pretty clear that John Walker’s story is far from done.