Finally, John Walker is a villain you love to hate. In the latest round of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the new Captain America became exactly what Zemo predicted: a supremacist. He bragged about the military’s “resources” to Bucky and Sam, whined about being beat by the Dora Milaje, and, in a shocking display, used his ill-gotten super-soldier powers to brutally avenge his sidekick’s death.
There’s no way he could be a good Captain America, right? Well, a glimpse at his very first comics appearance may prove the opposite — that Walker is the perfect Captain America for this moment.
A Tale of Two Captain Americas
John Walker first appeared as “Super Patriot” in Captain America Vol 1 #323. In that comic, Steve Rogers’ Captain America is witnessed killing a terrorist, and as such, he faces public scorn — the culmination of several anti-Cap rallies held by Walker.
In order to calm the public’s reaction to his actions, Steve does what many celebrities find it so difficult to do even today:
Live on television, Rogers admits he made a mistake, says he wants to do better and asks the country to forgive him. It’s a masterful move, and one that works efficiently. In response to Steve’s apology, John Walker swears he’ll prove himself the better symbol of America one day.
That day may have arrived in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, where John Walker is introduced as the next successor of Steve Rogers, someone who will carry the ideals of America and become a symbol for the nation all over the globe.
But when John Walker kills a terrorist in full view of the public, it’s clear he’s not about to take the blame and broadcast a sincere, heartfelt apology.
And that’s a good thing.
Not Righteous, But Accurate
Steve Rogers is not the symbol of an Avengers-era America. He doesn’t represent the ideals of conquering the Chitauri or Ultron. He was created to be a symbol of World War II America, a propaganda tool used to stoke morale against the Nazis, both on the page and off.
In the current-day MCU, America is portrayed as the opposite of a monolithic, single force in a world conflict. Finally, the fictional oppression against the Blipped population and the Avengers themselves and the all-too-real systematic oppression against veterans and people of color are shown without apology.
America isn’t the hero of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, so it doesn’t deserve a heroic Captain America.
John Walker is actually the perfect Captain America for the America we see in this series, a hero who assumes he has everyone’s best interest in mind but ultimately seeks glory, supremacy, and revenge. He’s here to bolster patriotism not for America, but against the enemy.
For a series that’s based around the legacy of Captain America, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has spent a significant portion of its time outside the country. In fact, the only time we see John Walker in combat is in Europe against the Flag-Smashers.
It’s fitting, then, that the image of John Walker’s Captain America resembles less how Americans think of their own country, and more how other countries perceive America. He’s constantly intervening in Sam and Bucky’s affairs, whether that’s helpful or not — and when he finds a vial of the super-soldier serum, he steals it.
It’s hard to find clearer evidence about Walker’s Captain America than when he’s beaten to submission by Ayo of the Dora Milaje, a group of foreign Black women. He doesn’t accept the fact that his life was spared; instead, he whines about the fact he was beaten by non-super soldiers.
Why John Walker is so Important to the MCU
John Walker is the perfect Captain America for Falcon and the Winter Soldier because he exposes the issues with not only America itself, but the concept of superheroes as symbolism in general. He affirms all of Sam Wilson’s hesitations about taking on the Captain America name, and surely will go on to prove why Sam needs to ultimately accept it.
In the series premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam gives a speech to mark his donation of Steve’s shield to the Smithsonian. In it, he makes an important point:
“Symbols are nothing without the women and men who give them meaning.”
This works both ways. When America needed a symbol of World War II America sticking it to the Nazis, Steve Rogers was the righteous underdog it needed. When America wanted a symbol of a Post-Blip country that thought it was a world superpower but was letting forgotten communities slip through the cracks, John Walker fit the role perfectly.
When Steve Rogers gave his apology in Captain America #323, he echoes this sentiment, saying, “I have done my best to live up to the ideals our nation embodies... But I am only human, and even I can fall short of my ideals at times.”
While John Walker may be the perfect Captain America for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson knows what it means to fail. It’s this attitude that makes Sam the perfect Captain America for a new America, one that’s ready to look inward and address its own issues, just as Sam does at every turn.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney+.