The Hero No One Needs or Wants
John Walker, aka U.S. Agent, was created in the 80’s. First he was Superpatriot, a Reganesque counterpart to Marvel’s Captain America who took over for the Captain in a controversial storyline that had at least one dear friend of mine drop the series for good out of disgust. Walker didn’t perform or cope well at all, and he gave up the shield little over a year later. Without writer and co-creator Mark Guenwald guiding the character, U.S. Agent since has mostly been a whipping boy and punchline for both the writers and audience over the last three decades. That might change with the new limited series by writer Priest and artists Georges Jeanty and Karl Story. Maybe not by much, but I appreciate the difference two issues in.
With Trump being the latest but surely not last product of the Regan era, 2020 was the perfect time for U.S. Agent to make a comeback. Add in Agent’s background as a showman turned very flawed hero to pallet swapped Captain America clone (excluding his time in a costume that seemed like a Judge Dredd pallet swap). Mix in the fact that many of Trump’s base have also pallet swapped red white and blue for mostly black like Agent, and you have a lot to play with.
Priest obviously knows this, but he’s also smart enough to not hit you over the head with it. Instead, he digs into Agent’s very infrequently touched backstory, stirring up potential that hasn’t even been touched upon since Gruenwald’s take. But Agent is still going to be mocked a little for being a pallet swapped Captain America clone. Compared to Priest’s best known work on Black Panther, Agent is more the unlucky Everett K. Ross character. Case in point is his action fight scene in issue #1, where he gets beat up by his new sidekick.
It doesn’t get much better for him. Priest continues to put Agent through his paces as he starts the story being a fired servant of power down on his luck with barely any of the right tools for the job. The first issue came out the same week as the presidential election, but damn if this isn’t a metaphor in the making for the majority of the base and supporters of our voted out leader (or just about every person behind any past political movement, now that I think about it).
That’s just the bare bones. At the heart of the series is a story detailing downtrodden Americans caught in the middle of power games that span years. It has the makings of a good Captain America story, if only he were the main character.
I’ve always liked Priest’s way of writing Captain America as the ultimate man trying to do the right thing and uncannily succeeding. Agent is written as the near polar opposite, a zealot patriot who only knows one way of doing things and bangs his head against the wall trying the same approach no matter how disillusioned he becomes (his strategy in issue #1 for handling a bomb threat sums that up pretty well).
We’re only at issue #2, and his entire motivation for being hero is already upheaved. The teaser on the final page shows that John Walker’s lowest point hasn’t even happened yet, but at least there’s still enough of a chance for redemption at the end. What could have been several issues of cheap potshots and easy jokes to cater to the current political climate has turned into an engaging and layered story. I want to see it to the end.