This past week on Falcon and the Winter Soldier saw a big turn for the character of John Walker who is currently attempting to convince the world that he is Captain America. And in a way, he’s a better Captain America than Steve Rogers ever was, because Steve Rogers was never the Captain America that the American government wanted him to be.
(Disclaimer: I have not read any Marvel comics about Captain America, my entire analysis here is based on the MCU. Obviously, the comics are more nuanced and have storylines that could make all of this moot or just plain wrong.)
When Captain America first hit the scene, the U.S. Government took their brand new, one-of-a-kind super soldier and turned him into … a salesman. Cap’s big shiny assignment was traveling around the country with a chorus line and a pitch to buy war bonds. The mission with the Howling Commandos was him going against orders, so far against orders that he had to steal a helmet from one of his backup dancers for protection. After he was successful, the military leaned into it, but what choice did he leave them? Steve Rogers didn’t beat people up in the name of the stars and stripes, he fought evil as he understood it by his own moral code. He didn’t win every fight he got into, he was just willing to keep standing up. He wasn’t loyal to a title or a shield, when he figured out that Hydra had infiltrated the organization that he’d been serving he literally burned it to the ground. His image, the concept of Captain America, has been aggressively white-washed into the ultimate patriot when he was never anything of the sort. Unfortunately, John Walker failed to get that memo.
The problem with trying to emulate the version of Captain America as made famous by Steve Rogers is that Steve Rogers was never trying to be Captain America. More to the point, he WAS NOT Captain America for about 70 years because he was trapped in ice. Instead, the concept of Captain America was masterminded by the U.S. Government to be something that Steve Rogers himself never would have been. We know this because Steve Rogers always followed his own sense of right and wrong even when it went directly against the government’s wishes, we saw this in both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. His relationship with the government and military was always uneasy and a lot of what he did had to be papered over or “handled” after the fact to maintain the image of Captain America. He was not a decorated war hero when he became Captain America, he was a kid from Brooklyn trying to do the right thing.
Eighty years later and a new Captain America, and the assignment has expanded from winning the local hearts and minds to tracking targets across the globe for high-profile, extra-jurisdictional takedowns. But this time the government has a version of Captain America that’s willing to do whatever they say to win their approval because he thinks that’s what Captain America is, the perfect representation of the American government. And in that role, John Walker is perfect. He acts unilaterally, he desires as much power as he can get, and he wants to win every fight at any cost. He breaks rules, refuses to cooperate or compromise, and generally escalates every situation he gets himself involved in until the use of force is the only option as far as he is concerned.
The shock at the end of the episode isn’t that John Walker has now killed in uniform as Captain America, it’s that we’re meant to be shocked that a man desperate to live up to a false ideal took that long to arrive at that point. Frankly, it may simply be that this is the first fight he was in a position to win, thanks to his unilateral decision to take the super-soldier serum. This is exactly the version of Captain America the government always wanted and now they have to deal with it.
Header Image Source: Disney/Marvel