Since Avengers Endgame, the big question has been – who takes on the mantle of Captain America now? The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS) promised to address that, and it has so far failed to disappoint. Not only have we got a great action-thriller, but the show is an equally powerful political commentary on the state of America today. That commentary is visible in almost all the facets of the show, but none as obvious as the character of John Walker. I’d go as far as to say he is the perfect ‘Cap’. Following up on Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers is no easy feat, but Wyatt Russell has done so beautifully.
I gather that there aren’t many who agree with me. Reportedly, Russell has received death threats and been slammed on social media, but that just goes to prove my point. The character of John Walker is a perfect reflection of America today, and thus the mantle of Captain America.
To understand why I say this, I’d first like to take you on a trip into the past so we can understand how I arrived that this conclusion. To know why Walker is so perfect, we must first know the origins and purpose of the character of Captain America.
What is America?
For the uninitiated, Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1940. The New York Public Library says, “both men had been morally repulsed by the actions of Nazi Germany leading up to the United States involvement in World War II, and saw their character as a symbol of America.” Cap (as he shall now be called for convenience) was everything the Americans stood for. From his on-the-face uniform to his ideals, Cap oozed America.
I could go into a full history lesson here, but that would just divert you and me from the topic at hand. If you are interested in learning more about how Cap reflects the attitudes of America and its leaders, I’d recommend you read this thesis by Brandi Hodo from the University of Alabama. Hodo concludes, “the Captain represents ideals and beliefs across the American political continuum… From World War II to the post-9/11 America, the Captain and his fellow heroes have provoked readers to examine what it means to be an American.”
That is what I would like to focus on. Throughout his publication history, Cap has always asked the question – “what is America?” We’ve seen him represent America at its best, during WW2, and at its worst, by abandoning the shield for the title of ‘Nomad’. These events serve as a good reminder that the nation is not perfect, and America has its own dark history. Every time the nation has found itself on the wrong side of history, Cap has been there, providing commentary and questioning the nation’s government.
Art has long been used to critique politics, but Cap manages to do it like no other, thanks to the unique position he occupies. He’s fictional, but also real enough to become the ‘Uncle Sam’ for the post-war generations.
Now, if we look at Cap’s adaptation in film, we see a similar representation and transition.
MCU Captain America Asks the Questions
The first Captain America movie was decidedly uncomplicated. The Americans were the good guys, and the Nazis the bad. There was no doubt, which is why the film was able to really build upon its comic origins. A feature in The Dissolved said, “the film portrays Captain America as readers first encountered him in the 1940s comics, in the hands of co-creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon: a man engaged in patriotic, fascist-crushing adventures. Kirby and Simon even had Cap punching out Hitler on the cover of his book’s first issue, published a year before the U.S. entered the war. Isolationists took offence, but history soon swallowed any objections. Once that happened, it was the last time everyone could agree on what Captain America represented.”
But since The First Avenger, Cap has come a long way. Modern politics isn’t so cut-and-dry. Take any issue from Watergate to the War on Drugs, and from surveillance to questions of jurisdiction, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find such a clear side. Cap is supposed to represent righteousness, but what does that mean when we cannot agree on what is right anymore?
We got our first glimpse of this in The Winter Soldier (TWS). It was the first time MCU Cap stopped to ask what is right and what is American. I consider TWS to be my favourite MCU entry for this exact reason. It forced a new generation to really think about the America they were growing up in. In particular, a few pieces of dialogue really stood out to me.
- “Thought the punishment usually came after the crime”
- “By holding a gun to everyone on Earth and calling it protection”
- “This isn’t freedom. This is fear”
- “But the price of freedom is high. It always has been”
These dialogues aren’t just throwaway lines written for applause, but to really make us think. Cap is asking the essential questions and pointing out the facts that hold America, and indeed other nations, hostage. TWS dealt with surveillance but also offered us a commentary on just how comfortable we are with the state of America.
These questions were carried on into Civil War. We see Cap abandon the shield, and fully take on the mantle of ‘Nomad’ or the man without a nation. This isn’t an accident. Steve Rogers is still supposed to be the boy scout from the 1940s, his sense of morality hasn’t been corrupted by the modern world. That’s why he abandoned America in Civil War and the final Avengers films. The America he knew had changed so much, he no longer recognised it and refused to fight under its flag.
That conflict allowed TFATWS to re-introduce Cap to the MCU, but a new one bent to the government’s will.
Why Walker is the Perfect Successor
With this information in mind, look at John Walker. He is everything Rogers isn’t. He uses the shield for offence, does not question the government, and is willing to use violence as a first resort. Walker’s character isn’t meant to be a successor to Rogers, but rather a complete antithesis. That’s because, unlike Cap, viewers haven’t truly woken up to just how far America has fallen today.
Whether it is the KKK rallies, repeated attacks and killing of Black Americans at the hands of the police, or Republicans’ careful dismantling of minorities rights to vote, what America stands for today is a far cry from the 1940s. We see a nation divided, and that is exactly what Walker represents. The MCU isn’t shying away from getting political and doing so in a shocking manner.
Walker, as a white man in uniform, stands for the government, with the title of Captain America. He also stands for the police, and armed forces, being a man in uniform. He is also a representation of the majority, a white middle-class America whose politics decide their morality. What is a better representation of America than this? Don’t take my word for it. Collider wrote in March 2021, “through his actions, we can see Walker represents the banality of white supremacy. Too often, white supremacy is equated with Klan members in hoods or neo-Nazis or anyone who outwardly presents their bigotry and hatred in a clear and obvious way. It creates a standard that allows anything less to slip through and become accepted as a normal form of behaviour.”
I couldn’t have put it any better myself. Walker isn’t your over-hyped and clearly visible racist or white supremacist. Instead, he’s the guy next door who voted to acquit a police officer despite overwhelming evidence of police brutality. Walker is the guy who marched into the Capitol chanting “stop the steal”. He’s the person who makes off-the-cuff racist comments over a beer with his friends. John Walker is the everyday white supremacist or your average American. They aren’t overly visible, but they exist and exist as a majority.
To be clear, I am NOT calling all American’s racist or white supremacists. I feel like I need to add this disclosure here because there will no doubt be some who are going to attack me with “not all Whites” or whatever. If you get offended by this article, you are exactly who I am describing.
The fact that Walker represents all these things is what makes him the ideal successor to Steve Rogers. He isn’t just Captain America, but America itself. Isn’t that what the character was originally meant to represent?
Moving on from Captain America John Walker
We’ve got two more episodes in TFATWS, and I am eager to see where Marvel takes the character. I hope they don’t end with him being an agent of Hydra or something, that would be a great injustice to the build-up they have done so far. I would also hate to see Sam handed the shield and title next episode, although that’s very likely to happen. I believe it is too premature for the MCU to move away from Walker just yet. If TFATWS really wants to deliver on its promise to be a political commentary, it should keep Walker as Cap, even beyond the series.
I want to see the government defend Walker. I want to see Senators get on TV and defend his actions, including the brutal murder we witnessed at the end of Episode 4. I want Americans to march on the streets defending Walker. That would well and truly serve as a mirror of our times. Handing over the mantle is easy to do, it shows that there is indeed a line that can be crossed. As we have learnt from the Trump Presidency and beyond, for some Americans, there is no line. That’s who Walker represents and it should be a part of his story.
Consider this my official appeal to Disney for a Walker standalone film/TV show. I want to see more of Walker as Captain America stand for the things America stands for today. Eventually, the shield should be handed to Sam, that is the right thing to do. But as we have learnt from the comics and the MCU, what the right thing is, is up for debate.
Eventually, America will come to terms with its state, and then only real change can begin. But until that happens, Walker is the best Cap for our times. He’s provocative, controversial, makes us think and divisive. Isn’t that the state of not just America, but the world as we know it?