When The Falcon and The Winter Soldier starts up on Disney+ next year, one of its main antagonists will be the returning Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo. At D23, it’s been announced that there will be another major antagonist in the form of John Walker, as played by Wyatt Russell. Walker is a B-lister-at-best to Marvel and it makes sense that this would be the project that would formally introduce him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While there have been various people to take up the mantle of Captain America outside of Steve Rogers, there are only five who truly matter. Isaiah Bradley was the prototype for Captain America as revealed in the excellent Truth: Red, White, and Black. William Burnside became Captain America in the 1950s in response to Rogers’ disappearance after World War II. John Walker became the new Captain America after Steve Rogers was dismissed from the role. Bucky Barnes took over as Cap when Rogers temporarily died. Then Sam Wilson became Cap when Rogers (living again) lost his super soldier powers and became physically elderly.
While Bradley and Burnside have potential to show up in the future (though they’d have to get a good Chris Evans double for Burnside, if not Evans himself), John Walker is the perfect wrench to throw into a story about Sam Wilson wielding the shield.
So who is John Walker, the Captain America of the 80s?
Walker was created by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary, debuting in the pages of Captain America #323 in 1986. In his original appearances, he played the role of Super-Patriot, a glory-hound loud-mouth vigilante backed up by his own propaganda machine. He’d spend much of his time giving speeches about how Captain America was old news, falsely portraying him as a gun-toting psychopath, and he’d even stage fights with goons in Captain America masks called “The Buckies.”
Though respecting the First Amendment and all that, Captain America obviously didn’t like this. Walker, who was driven by fascism, couldn’t leave well enough alone and instigated a fight with Cap. It went on for a while and Walker considered himself the winner because he…threw a shuriken into Cap’s chainmail.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
A few issues later, Rogers had issues with the US government. The two parties disagreed on the status of the Captain America identity and the United States’ ownership. Deciding that he answered to the dream and not the suits behind the desks, Rogers gave up being Captain America, choosing instead to fight crime as Nomad and later The Captain. Tony Stark even made him a new shield!
The high-ranking government types discussed who would make for the best replacement. Fittingly enough, one even suggested that Sam Wilson would be a perfect candidate…but the public wasn’t ready for a black Captain America. They instead went with Walker, because jerk or not, he was still pretty damn good at punching terrorists in the face.
Walker was taken aback, especially considering he made had made a name for himself specifically by telling everyone how much Cap sucked. He ended up agreeing to the terms, mainly since he would do just about anything the government tells him to. It was there that we also got to learn his origin.
Walker was the younger brother of a soldier who died in Vietnam and was celebrated as a real hero. Idolizing his brother, but stuck in his shadow, Walker decided to prove himself by joining the military. While he was active, the US wasn’t involved in any wars, so his attempts for glory and acknowledgement were empty gestures. He ended up getting powers from the Power Broker, a pro-wrestling promoter who was the lazy way out whenever a writer in the ’80s needed to give someone special abilities without revealing that they were actually a mutant. Walker never entered the squared circle, as he instead got himself an agent and a dream to be America’s #1 patriotic hero.
Then again, he did stage pre-determined fights with the Buckies to get him more cheers from the public, so I guess he’s more pro-wrestling than I originally thought.
After Taskmaster trained Walker to sling a shield like an expert, the new Captain America started kicking ass in the name of ‘Murica. For roughly two years, Walker played the role, where he was portrayed as a violent psychopath dressed in the flag. He wasn’t quite Frank Castle level of bonkers, but he had no problem tying his villains to explosives and leaving them to die.
Over the course of his run, he started to chill out a bit, question authority a little, and the narrative made sure to make him sympathetic. For instance, he got doxxed and his parents were murdered because of it. Then he wasn’t even allowed to see their funeral because duty calls.
In the end, it turns out the big puppetmaster of everything was the Red Skull. Walker and Rogers teamed up against him and took him down. Then everyone decided to go back to the status quo with Rogers as Cap.
Walker was lucky, though. You see, the 90s were on their way and there was no better haven for an edgier copycat of an existing hero. It was a time when Iron Man was flying around with a giant gattling gun on his shoulder, Spider-Man’s alien double was eating the brains of drug dealers, a Thor knockoff was embarrassing all of us with a leather jacket and ponytail, a new Batman had a hideous costume covered in razors, and so on. Rather than go back to being Super-Patriot, Walker dressed in a black version of the Captain America outfit, got a shield of his own, and fought crime as US Agent.
Even though the two were never really shown to be close friends, Captain America and US Agent co-existed as politically-opposite counterparts with a mutual respect (usually). US Agent received a couple miniseries to his name, but never got a full-on solo series.
Instead, he spent the next few decades jumping from team to team. As part of the West Coast Avengers and later Forceworks (oof, the ’90s), he often played opposite Hawkeye. Hawkeye initially was the Avenger who was a stubborn asshole to nice guy Captain America, so now he had to deal with a version of Captain America who was actually a stubborn asshole. US Agent later led the Jury, a team of armored soldiers who were originally put together as a revenge pact against Venom, then just kind of stopped fighting him after two stories.
For real, though, it’s kind of amazing how nobody cares about the Jury and yet they still show up from time to time.
Speaking of teams nobody cares about, US Agent was also part of Superhuman Tactical Activities Response Squad (STARS) and one of the modern incarnations of the Invaders. He became the American liaison to Omega Flight (which he hated, because they’re filthy Canadians). This led to him joining Hank Pym’s Mighty Avengers during the whole Dark Reign thing. Funny enough, Walker was a big supporter of Norman Osborn being in charge of the superhero wing of the government for a time. Of course he was.
This came to a head in a Siege tie-in where the Mighty Avengers fought Osborn’s Thunderbolts and we got US Agent vs. Nuke. It was the battle of the I-can-see-where-you’re-coming-from right wing patriotic super soldier and the crazy-email-that-your-uncle-sent-you right wing patriotic super soldier. The Mighty Avengers won, but US Agent took some horrible damage from the fight, losing an arm and a leg in the process.
No longer wearing the tights, US Agent became Warden Walker as part of the Thunderbolts. He remained in a wheelchair as he didn’t want to use cybernetic attachments to augment his body and be one step closer to becoming like Nuke, the unfortunate super soldier knockoff who first appeared in Daredevil: Born Again. The comic was bloated with characters, so his panel-time was limited, but Walker at least got a rad moment when he took care of a prison riot on his own, Bad Day at Black Rock style.
It’s the guy meekly bringing over the wheelchair that gets me.
Thunderbolts became Dark Avengers and US Agent was briefly sucked into an alternate reality where the heroes of NYC were at war with each other. Using a lobotomized Venom symbiote, the creature was used to replace the missing pieces of Walker’s body, making him whole again. Team member Toxie Doxie had US Agent under her control, but that was a series-ending cliffhanger that was never touched on ever again.
After that, US Agent has been just kind of kicking around Marvel, showing up whenever someone needs a cranky guy who can still kick some ass. Fittingly, one of his last appearances was him going after Sam Wilson Captain America, but that ties into Civil War II and Secret Empire bullshit and I really don’t want to have to discuss those events.
Outside of comics, the biggest appearance for US Agent was the Capcom tag-team fighter Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. He was a secret character and really just a recolored Captain America to the point that they didn’t even make his outfit accurate. Still better than how the game turned Blackheart red and called him “Mephisto.” US Agent would reappear in Marvel vs. Capcom as an assist character and would be an alternate costume for Cap in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
As a newcomer to the MCU, Walker is going to be a real wild card. He could be anywhere from a full-on villain to an eventual member of the Avengers. The most likely scenario, at least at first, is that the government isn’t going to be thrilled with the idea that Steve Rogers bequeathed the Captain America legacy to Sam Wilson without checking in with them first, and Walker is probably their preferred candidate. I can’t wait to see what Wyatt Russell has to offer.
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