John Walker is a very difficult character to care about nowadays. To me he's always been Marvel's version of Jean-Paul Valley—someone deliberately crafted to be an inferior version of an iconic hero (in that case, Azrael to Batman) that the superior hero must eventually overcome. Walker had his one-on-one with Steve Rogers over the Captain America mantle decades ago, but instead of fading into obscurity or joining Cap's rogue's gallery, he's been kicked around as an anti-hero bit player in various series.
And I've just never wanted to give him the time of day beyond his origin story. To me, the best Captain America stories are when Rogers' old school morality stands firm against modern cynicism (i.e. everything Chris Evans did in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Walker is nothing like that. He's the one who let the cynicism, the violence and the more troubling aspects of American patriotism mold him. He's easy to hate.
Thankfully, writer Christopher Priest clearly understands this. The first issue of his five-part U.S.Agent miniseries dropped this week, and he doesn't hesitate to show off Walker's worst traits for exactly what they are. Just like with previous characters, Priest seems dead set on addressing those flaws while also attempting to rehabilitate Walker, but after one issue it's hard to tell if he can pull that trick off.
The initial struggle comes with the dialogue. Priest doesn't hesitate to jump right into the middle of a conversation between two characters, and the choppy pacing had me re-reading panels over and over to contextualize and understand them. By the end of every conversation, you still only possess the foggiest idea of what's happening, leaving you numb to the cliffhanger reveal.
As for the plot, citizens of a small town in West Virginia blow up what they think is an Amazon-like distribution plant after being spurned by the closing of a coal mine. Only it turns out the plant was a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base and Walker (now working as a civilian government contractor) is activated to find out what happened.
Walker's cynicism infects the comic, from the vaguely racist remarks he makes towards an Asian-American government agent (or maybe he really is just a pizza guy?) to the spiteful office worker who assigns Walker to the mission. Thankfully, that doesn't apply to the art. Georges Jeanty, Karl Story and Matt Milla bring a less-detailed, almost cartoonish style to the characters and their story. While the faces aren't very pretty the action scenes are packed with energy as a result.
I hope Priest can find a way to dig through all the muck and what doesn't work about John Walker in order to rehabilitate him as a character worth exploring and understanding. However, I struggle to think it will happen in these five issues, or if Walker is even worth the effort.
Published by Marvel Comics
On Nov 4, 2020
Written by Christopher Priest
Art by Georges Jeanty and Karl Story
Colors by Matt Milla
Letters by Joe Sabino
Cover by Marco Checchetto