Who is John Walker, the Controversial U.S. Agent
In the 1940s, the U.S. Army gave the green light to Project Rebirth, the first to receive the super-soldier serum wasn’t an Army decorated hero, but frail and weak Steve Rogers. The creator of the project, Dr. Erskine, decided on Roger’s willingness to sacrifice himself for principles of bravery and honor.
But what would happen if they chose a man without the same qualities to be Captain America? Both the comics and the MCU answered this question in the figure of John F. Walker. He was Cap’s replacement for some time and, in both media formats, proved not to share the same values.
Walker would later assume the alias U.S. Agent, becoming a kind of renegade Captain America. But the short period in which John Walker wore the costume of Marvel’s greatest hero was never forgotten.
Let’s take a look at the trajectory of the bizarre "evil twin" of Captain America.
John Walker’s Background in Marvel Comics
Before his live-action version in the MCU, John Walker appeared in comic books representing the “ideals” of that time. In 1986, when the character was introduced, the United States was at the height of the Reagan Era. Between 1981 and 1989, President Ronald Reagan promoted a so-called “conservative revolution”.
The whole country was in turmoil because of the outcome of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal in the past decade. Reagan preached ideals of patriotism and fought behavioral changes such as the gay rights movement or feminism. His period also coincided with the rise of the religious right-wing and the fear of communism (represented by then enemy USSR).
Coincidentally or not, Marvel decided to make some changes in Captain America to keep up with the trends of that era. His comic book also became more adult and violent, in the wake of works like Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight. New, more contemporary enemies were created to replace those old ones from WWII (such as the Red Skull). And then Mark Gruenwald started to write his adventures. He remained for 10 years as the Cap’s official writer, from 1985 to 1995, and took the opportunity to analyze patriotism with a more cynical guise.
The long and dramatic story arc that gave rise to the U.S. Agent started around Captain America #321 (September 1986). Original Cap Steve Rogers is in Switzerland dealing with his archenemy Flag-Smasher. When a terrorist opens fire on unarmed hostages, the star-spangled hero needs to think fast. Instead of his shield, he fires an Uzi and kills the villain instantly.
Captain America’s response is consistent with the Reagan Era. Just remember the great heroes of that time, such as Rambo or Chuck Norris. But the killing starts to haunt Steve and divide the United States. Liberals criticize the action because Cap has always been against killing. Conservatives, on the other hand, appreciate a more aggressive response to terrorism.
The US government creates a Commission on Superhuman Activities to analyze the case. They call Rogers and try to convince him to work for them, following orders from the government. After all, “Captain America” was a creation of the U.S. Army, and Steve was using a costume and shield they created. But our hero refuses to follow orders and decides to retire. First, he hands over the suit and shield. Then he starts a journey of self-discovery through the United States, trying to better understand that new America.
Now the government needs a replacement. Several options are considered, from Nick Fury to Sam Wilson, alias The Falcon. Someone suggests that the US is still not ready for a black Captain America. Sadly, almost 40 years later the US still seems not to be ready for a black Captain America, considering what's happening in the MCU right now…
The committee decides on Jonathan F. “John” Walker, a soldier raised in a small town in rural Georgia. His older brother Mike died in Vietnam and John grew up with the desire to honor his country. But his stint in the U.S. Army didn’t bring glory, nor the heroism he wanted. Shortly before being selected to be the new Cap, Walker had ironically started an anti-Captain America campaign. He considered the character too old-fashioned for 1980s America.
John and some friends underwent the Power Broker Inc’s procedure to gain super strength. Then he chose the name Super-Patriot and began making public appearances. He tried to discredit Steve Rogers for some time using his colleagues. Disguised as a group called Bold Urban Commandos (or “Buckies”), they start to commit illegal actions “in the name of Captain America.”
To become the new Cap, Walker and one of his old pals, Lemar Hoskins aka Battlestar, had to undergo a lot of training. The idea was to mimic Steve Rogers’ movements down to the last detail. No one should know there was another man behind the mask.
John F. Walker’s journey as a hero started relatively well. But unlike Rogers, the replacement was a Christian redneck and right-wing conservative. He believed in defending the country's ideals before anything else.
Soon the contrast between the man and the hero became more evident For example, let’s take Captain America #335 (November 1987). In this issue, Walker was sent to infiltrate the extremist right-wing group Watchdogs. They were against pornography, homosexuality, abortion, and sex education. Confused, John began to feel at home: he just defended the same “ideals”.
Gradually, writer Gruenwald began to turn the new Cap into a violent, fascist anti-hero that some people hated, but some people loved. In Captain America #338 (February 1988), Walker fought his first super-villain. The chosen one was megalomaniac Professor Power. At the end of the story, Walker loses his head and beats the villain to death.
And that’s when the new Cap starts to go off the rails. Of his three super-strength old pals, only Lemar was accepted by the government to join him as a sidekick (called Battlestar). But the guys in suits refused the other two, Hector and Jerome, for having criminal records.
Both guys never forgave John for abandoning them. To get revenge, they became Left-Winger and Right-Winger and publicly reveal Walker's identity. Finally knowing their opponent, the Watchdogs kill his parents in Georgia – in a brutal scene even for those times.
Maddened, Walker went on a killing spree. First, he savagely slaughters several of the Watchdogs. Then, he ties his old pals Hector and Jerome, and burns them alive!
While all this happens, Steve Rogers was roaming the United States. He starts to wear a new all-black uniform (because the government forbade him to use the colors of the American flag). He also took a new, not-so-original name: The Captain.
Almost three years after all this storyline began, the new and the old Captains finally have a face-off. In the end, Walker is defeated by Rogers. But turns out that it was all a plan by the resurrected Red Skull to discredit the figure of Captain America. Walker is deemed unworthy of the title and Rogers regains his costume and shield. It all happened in Captain America #350 (February 1989).
John Walker was later reprogrammed by the U.S. Army, taking on a new identity (Jack Daniels) and the black uniform discarded by Steve. With the new name U.S. Agent, he joins the Avengers West Coast.
John Walker’s Background in the MCU
If in the comics John Walker was a product of the Reagan Era, the character played by Wyat Russell in the MCU is a representative of the Donald Trump Era (2017-2021). After all, as the president of the United States, Trump tried to rescue those same ideals of patriotism and conservatism.
But the John Walker featured in the TV show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) comes from a completely different background. Only his controversial, somewhat tragic trajectory is similar.
The MCU’s Walker was also raised in rural Georgia. He also has a black friend named Lemar Hoskins, who later joins him as a sidekick under the name Battlestar. But unlike the Walker in the comics, the one on the TV show isn’t a far-right militant trying to delegitimize Captain America’s name. The character’s entire trajectory as Super-Patriot has been erased from the MCU timeline.
The John Walker of the comics was a frustrated military man. In contrast, the MCU version is a decorated captain of the U.S. Army, with several acts of valor that have earned him three Medals of Honor.
Walker’s run as Captain America begins when Sam Wilson decides Steve Rogers’ legacy is too big for him. As you may remember, Sam had received the shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame (2019), when the original Cap went back in time to live a normal life. At the beginning of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam decides to return the shield to the US government. That’s when they decide to recruit the war hero John Walker as Steve’s successor.
The new Cap and Battlestar begin to investigate the action of an extremist group. It’s called the Flag Smashers as a nod to the Flag-Smasher, a former comic book villain. But the new duo ends up on a collision course with Falcon and Bucky Barnes, as they’re also hunting the same enemies for their own reasons.
Everything considered, the MCU’s John Walker isn’t exactly a bad person. Sam and Bucky treat him coldly for not deeming John worthy of Captain America’s name and legacy. Although he has a huge ego, Walker is also quite insecure himself. Successive defeats in battle (against the Dora Milaje of Wakanda, for example) make the new Cap increasingly bitter and angry. John begins to believe that he will never be able to live up to the uniform if he doesn’t have superpowers.
Later in the series, Walker retrieves vials of the new super-soldier serum and decides to inject the formula into himself. But with great power comes great responsibility, as the great philosopher Ben Parker once said. And the superpowers end up amplifying Walker’s dark side as well.
When his partner Lemar is killed in battle with the Flag Smashers (something that doesn’t happen in the comic books), John freaks out. He defeats one of the group’s members and executes the immobilized enemy using his shield. The image of Captain America’s shield covered in blood goes viral, generating a wave of protests.
After Walker’s final battle against Falcon and Bucky, the new Captain America is defeated and the shield taken from him. John loses his uniform and is also honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. This time, Sam decides to take on Captain America’s name, costume, and shield.
At the end of the series, John is recruited by the mysterious Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. His job is to wear a new uniform, all black, to work incognito for the government as the infamous U.S. Agent.
Despite his flaws and the violent act that he commits, MCU's John Walker is presented as a decent man that really tries to do good – the opposite of the fascist character shown in the comics.
Is U.S. Agent a Super-soldier?
In the comic books, John Walker didn’t get the super-soldier serum, as Steve Rogers. But to become the Super-Patriot, he submitted to Power Broker Inc., a black market company that uses advanced technology to turn customers into superhumans. For a million-dollar price, of course.
The procedure did not always work – and generated countless monstrosities in the comics. But all went well with Walker and three friends, including Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar. Their powers were comparable, if not superior, to Captain America’s. That is: superhuman strength, stamina, agility, reflexes, and durability.
On The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Walker is just a regular guy at first. He was selected by the U.S. Army to be the new Captain America for his brilliant military record and bravery. But aside from his combat experience, John doesn’t have any superpowers.
As the TV show progresses, the new Cap begins to question his relevance in a world filled with people with superpowers. When the opportunity arises, he uses the super-soldier serum to get powers like those of the Winter Soldier or Steve Rogers. Between them, enhanced strength, speed, agility, reflexes, and durability.
During his brief career as Captain America, John Walker used Steve Rogers’ original shield as a weapon. In the comics, after being stripped of his duties, the new U.S. Agent started using his own shield made of vibranium. In the MCU, although Walker has already received his new U.S. Agent suit, it’s not clear yet if he will also have another shield.
How Strong is John Walker?
The two versions of John Walker went through different processes to gain their powers. Both are extremely strong.
To put it in numbers: after getting enhanced strength via the Power Broker procedure in the comics, Walker can lift 10 tons! He had another advantage over his live-action version: John was personally trained by the Taskmaster. He could mimic Steve Rogers’ moves and fighting style down to the last detail!
In the MCU, John Walker never had the opportunity to face his predecessor. But his superhuman strength was quite evident in the fight against Falcon and Bucky Barnes at the end of the TV show. He fights two powerful heroes alone, manages to defeat Sam, and even overpowers the Winter Soldier twice! The duo can only defeat their powerful adversary when they join forces and grab John at the same time, breaking his arm to take his shield away.
Who is Stronger: John Walker or Steve Rogers?
In the comic books, John Walker and Steve Rogers fought twice. The first match was shown in Captain America #327, published in March 1987. At the time, John still wore the Super-Patriot costume and a strange Torch-Sword as a weapon (inspired by the Statue of Liberty).
The fight took place in the parking lot of a rock concert. Captain America used only his shield as a weapon while Walker sliced vehicles in half with his sword. The fight lasts for almost an hour. In the end, the two fighters remain standing and decide to go separate ways, proclaiming a draw. But Steve thinks to himself: “I can’t remember ever coming so close to losing...”
The second and definitive clash, now between the two Captains, took place months later in Captain America #350 (February 1989). John is psychologically manipulated by the resurrected Red Skull and goes full force on Steve. At this point in the story arc, Rogers is furious with Walker for having destroyed Captain America’s image with so much violence. During the confrontation, he has to relearn how to fight someone who knows all his moves. Steve knocks Walker out in the end, but they make up. The original Captain gets his suit back while his substitute is discharged.
How Does U.S. Agent Fit Into the Marvel Universe?
In comic books, right after his failed run as Captain America, the U.S. Agent had a controversial trajectory as one of the West Coast Avengers. He tried to enforce a military routine that wasn’t well-received by fellow Avengers, clashed with Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and even punched Spider-Woman in the face!
Years later, the West Coast branch was shut down by the original Avengers. It happened in Avengers West Coast #102 (January 1994). Walker doesn’t take the news well and, again, tries to punch Captain America, being stopped by Iron Man.
From there, the U.S. Agent became a kind of wild card, used by Marvel Comics writers whenever it was necessary to put a more unstable anti-hero to play. He was part of the Force Works, the vigilante team The Jury, and even the Mighty Avengers for some time.
John Walker’s trajectory is marked by his violent behavior, which brought him closer to vigilantes like The Punisher. In recent times, he sided with the Superhuman Registration Act during the Civil War saga (of course…), lost an arm and a leg fighting with Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts, and became warden of the super-villain prison The Raft. He also led the Dark Avengers group in an alternate reality.
One of the last appearances of the old John Walker as we know him was in Captain America: Sam Wilson (2016). During a few stories, he is convinced by far-right politicians to fight the new Captain America Sam and take back his shield.
How Does U.S. Agent Fit Into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
It’s still a mystery how the U.S. Agent will be used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He may reappear as the antagonist of the new Cap Sam Wilson in the upcoming movie Captain America 4. Considering the time he spent with the West Coast Avengers and other groups in the comics, the U.S. Agent could also lead a team of rogue MCU characters – maybe with the new Black Widow Yelena Belova and the villain-turned-heroine Echo.
Comic Books to Learn More About U.S. Agent John Walker
John Walker had a trajectory full of twists in the chronology of Marvel Comics. But he was always a very controversial character, loved and hated with equal intensity. These story arcs are great to better understand the infamous U.S. Agent.
Captain America Epic Collection Vol. 14 – The Captain
A 500-page edition that compiles almost the entire Mark Gruewald story arc introducing John Walker to the world. The only adventures that don’t appear are the first ones that show him as the Super-Patriot. The collection begins already with Walker taking on the role of the new Captain America while the old one retires. It’s a long, violent adventure full of twists. Iconic British artist Paul Neary (The Ultimates, The Authority) is one of the talents involved.
Captain America:Sam Wilson #11-13 (2006)
This story arc is interesting because it resembles what happens on the TV show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, only with the roles switched. When Sam Wilson became the new Captain America, far-right militants start movements like Not my Cap and #givetheshieldback. The U.S. Agent, who was on a violent mission in the Middle East, is summoned by these politicians to force Sam to hand over the shield.
U.S. Agent – American Zealot #1-5 (2021)
In the same year of the TV show, Marvel Comics released this miniseries full of dark humor. Looks like the aim was to turn John Walker into an anti-hero like Deadpool. The plot takes place just a few years after Mark Gruenwald-s original story arc. The retired U.S. Agent is reactivated by accident to investigate strange happenings in an impoverished mining town. John Walker ends up having to face his younger sister Kate (who received a new version of the super-soldier serum) and also his replacement as U.S. Agent.