The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has introduced yet another Marvel comic character with a rather interesting comic origin. Not that you need to know who he is in the comics to enjoy the series, but it also doesn’t hurt to learn a thing or two about them. John Walker, for lack of a better descriptor, is somewhat of an anti-hero. Kind of like Deadpool — but not really — he isn’t nearly as funny or reluctantly lovable. Now that Steve is out of the picture in Falcon and the Winter Soldier — Bucky and Sam will have to deal with the man who was given the shield by the government and not by the man who made it worth passing on. John Walker is the worst kind of Chad — one with powers and a fighting ability that left Steve Rogers with imposter syndrome.
Created by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary, John Walker first appeared in Captain America #323 as Super Patriot. If the name made you cringe, good, it should. Walker spends his first appearance showing exactly what kind of person he is – a righteous flag-loving patriot who doesn’t have a kind bone in his body. John Walker is niceness dressed in red, white, and blue. He is exactly who writer Mark Gruenwald wanted him to be — a patriotic villain.
After receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, Walker undergoes unique treatments to gain superhuman abilities courtesy of the Power Broker. He initially was going to become a wrestler to pay off his debt for the treatment. Instead, he becomes a bloated patriotic mascot who thinks of himself as a “hero.” He made a grand show of introducing himself as the Super-Patriot while jumping off the Statue of Liberty right into the water. He followed that hollow imagery by letting an older woman get mugged — petty crimes aren’t worth his nationalist time.
From the start, John Walker was established as someone no better than the “bad guys.” He just came in a more palatable All-American Package. Or so the Commission on Superhuman Activities thought anyway. Even though Sam Wilson had worked right alongside Captain America for years, they didn’t think America was ready for a Black Captain America. So, after a dejected Steve Rogers — who lost to Super-Patriot just three issues after their first encounter — turned in his uniform and shield, the Commission members wasted no time replacing him. John Walker caught the eye of Dr. Valerie Cooper, a commission board member, after he stopped a terrorist attack in Washington, DC. He wasted no time accepting his new role as Captain America — a position he highly criticized.
In his time as Cap, John Walker is even partnered with a Black sidekick. Lemar Hoskins is introduced as Bucky but soon changes his name to Battlestar due to the historical negative racial connotations of a Black man going by that name. John Walker is trained by Taskmaster, some of Mystique’s Freedom Force members, and Guardsmen. His first mission is against a militia group, The Watchdogs, whose ideals Walker aligns with himself. It’s not until his appearance in Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man #138, that he shows a flash of being capable of redeemable growth. In that story, he finally realizes how his presence as Captain America brings terror to anyone who was not in mind as equals when the founding fathers wrote the constitution. Even still, Walker struggles to emulate Rogers’ ethics. He is just way too reactionary. Walker is more realistic and more pragmatic than his predecessor.
His superhuman strength combined with his lack of emotional control makes him too much of the wild card the Commission had believed Steve Rogers to be. Walker completely loses his poorly put-together Rogers’ facade after his parents are murdered in front of him – leaving the Commission wondering what to do about yet another troublesome lapdog. It’s also how he became a pawn in the Red Skull’s plan for another go at defeating Steve Rogers. This time around, the fight between Rogers and Walker ends with the end of Rogers’ existential and Red Skull looking like himself again instead of a cloned Steve Rogers.
The two aren't besties or anything after their encounter with Red Skull. Still, Walker finally respects Steve Rogers and how he embodies what the Captain America uniform and shield should ideally represent. After Walker and Rogers give their reports of their tango with Red Skull to the Commission – Walker persuades Rogers to take back the Captain America uniform after Rogers turned down the Commission's reappointment.
That’s not at all the end of John Walker’s story. Do you think the government would let all that training go to waste? Of course not. After being declared dead after he is assassinated next to the original Captain America during a public show of the passing back of the mantle – a rewired Walker resurfaces again as Jack Daniels, aka U.S. Agent. The government hypnotizes him to believe his parents were still alive and shipped west to join the West Coast Avengers. His time from this point on is worth a separate character profile. He’s grown some since his first appearance, but he still gives off top cop vibes.
Don’t be surprised if the John Walker in the The Falcon and the Winter Soldier carries that same energy as his earlier appearances in Marvel Comics. Aside from needing a boost in comic sales — by having Steve Rogers relinquish the Captain America mantle so that John Walker could take over the role — creator Mark Gruenwald wanted to define Captain America's concept better. He hoped that by creating a situation in which a character like John Walker tries to live up to the prestige and grasp all the facets of Captain America beyond the surface level symbolism, readers would better understand that the person defines the suit and shield under the mask – not the other way around. Perhaps John Walker will exist in the MCU initially to serve this purpose for Sam Wilson. However — as a Black man living in America —Sam brings his own nuances that could make those parallels moot.
As it stands with the series' current premise, it's most likely that we'll see him run in conjunction with Sam's journey. The U.S. government doesn't want him holding the shield, so they'll place their own mouthpiece in the role. Insisting the mantle be filled at all is an odd choice given that Cap was very recently an enemy of the state. But, if they see it as a Walker or Wilson situation, well... I think we know which direction the government is prone to heading in.
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