Rebel Without a Cause
After the dissolution of Force Works and a brief stint fighting alongside the Avengers when they returned to the Marvel universe proper, U.S. Agent next appeared as leader of a group known as The Jury. They were a group of mercenaries originally formed to kill Venom. Walker joined them as they were sent after the Thunderbolts.
True to form, however, U.S. Agent would end up leading The Jury in aiding the Thunderbolts against Gravitron, despite the wishes of their financial backer.
The fact that Walker had a financial backer was a good indication of one of the biggest struggles in his career: finding a cause. It had been clear as day to him as Super Patriot and Captain America, but it his faith in the U.S. government had become a crutch and he only truly seemed to flourish while with Force Works. Without that group to tether him, he was adrift, now working for anyone who could sign a paycheck.
His lack of direction eventually led him back to the government, back to The Commission. This time he was put in charge of S.T.A.R.S., the Superhuman Tactical Activities Response Squad. The group is meant to respond to superhuman activity and eventually become embroiled in the Maximum Security crossover in which U.S. Agent plays a prominent role.
It’s a strange role, though. In Maximum Security, aliens have begun using Earth as a dumping ground for their criminals. While Earth’s heroes are trying to handle the situation delicately — particularly since there’s more to the situation than just a bunch of criminal aliens running amok — U.S. Agent is as brusque as ever.
In today’s climate, this is hard to read. U.S. Agent is basically taking a hard line against aliens, all of whom are suddenly painted as criminals. Given the brevity of the series, there’s not enough time or space given to Walker to give his bluster any sort of nuance. He comes across as a jack ass who happens to get a few things right.
That’s not to say that being a jack ass who occasionally gets things right isn’t an accurate portrayal of Walker, because it is. But there’s more to him than that.
Unfortunately, this becomes a bit of a crutch for those telling stories about the U.S. Agent. A great example of this is the New Invaders series.
Walker isn’t treated well in New Invaders. He’s the one note character that Roy Thomas gave us, a drastic step back from the complicated individual Mark Gruenwald had spent all that time building up. The most revealing moment comes when Walker, who is masquerading as Captain America while on the New Invaders, tells Steve Rogers that he chose to pretend to be Cap so that America’s enemies would see that Captain America is not afraid to fight.
The series manages to wipe away all the growth Walker has undergone.
He wouldn’t want to be Captain America again. He’s spent the last few years trying to figure out his own identity. He also wouldn’t claim to impersonate Cap because he thought Rogers wasn’t sending the right message. That was the reason he started off as Super Patriot, but that’s not who he became.
Walker isn’t someone who blindly follows orders anymore, either, something that was underscored in Maximum Security. He does what he thinks is best for his country, but he’s been betrayed by the U.S. government too many times to just do whatever they ask. This is another aspect of his evolution that is wiped away, this time in Civil War.
Sir Yes Sir
Iron Man sends U.S. Agent to Canada to help the new Omega Flight, the team meant to replace the then-deceased Alpha Flight. Iron Man wants Walker to stop the flow of super powered criminals fleeing the U.S. due to the Super Human Registration Act.
Ignoring Walker’s general feelings about Tony Stark (which are not particularly positive), I’m not sure U.S. Agent would have supported the SHRA. I think he would have been suspicious of anything Stark supported, plus he would have seen it as an impingement on individual’s rights. Even if he had been on board, I don’t know that he would have done so enthusiastically.
But he did and he went to Canada.
Omega Flight was a weird book. The team ostensibly filled the void left by Alpha Flight, yet counted U.S. Agent and Beta Ray Bill among their number. U.S. Agent was there specifically to train Weapon Omega, who was ultimately responsible for the death of Alpha Flight. The team was rounded out by Sasquatch and Talisman.
U.S. Agent plays the roll he’s been saddled with since he left the pages of Captain America — the hot head who says obnoxious things. I’m not sure why creators keep using him if he’s going to be relegated to this role over and over again.
Worse, there’s no movement in this book with regards to Walker and the last member of the team, Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter), at this point calling herself Arachne. Actually, I suppose I’m wrong about that, as they’re barely even friends, which would be a downgrade from what we saw before.
U.S. Agent is eventually whisked away from Canada by a disguised Loki to help other former Avengers battle Chthon. When the fight’s over, the team decides to stay together as the last incarnation of the Mighty Avengers.
It’s a weird team, this group, kind of the left over Avengers from all the Dark and New ones running around. U.S. Agent doesn’t get a ton of attention aside from being devolved (and then evolved) and getting a new shield. He works fine on the team, but the focus is more on Hank Pym (now known as the Wasp) and his journey than any of the other characters. The U.S. Agent is stripped of his rank by Norman Osborne at the end of the series, though, which is more or less irrelevant, but still a moment.
This leads into the big Siege event where U.S. Agent loses and arm and a leg. As awful as it sounds, losing limbs leads Walker to the first character evolution he’s seen in decades as he becomes warden of the Raft.
Walker Finally Gets What He Deserves
A lot of the credit for Walker’s eventual progress as a character goes to writer Jeff Parker, who seems to be the first creator to add Walker to their book with an actual desire to do something with him. Honestly, had Walker gone from Captain America, to a brief stint in Avengers West Coast, to Forceworks, to another brief stint in the Mighty Avengers, and finally to Thunderbolts, he’d have a hell of a story. Sadly, corporate comics are never a straight line.
Here’s the thing about Parker’s take on Walker: he’s still a hard ass, tell it like it is, jerk. But instead playing that for forced drama, Parker plays as a strength, something that makes Walker unique among other superheroes. Walker comes off like a veteran, which is exactly what he is: he served his country fighting the good fight and has lost limbs because of it. He’s paid the price for his convictions and deserves respect.
And he gets it. Luke Cage treats him like an equal right from the start of a new era for the Thunderbolts, this one led by Cage. It helps that Cage is exactly the character you would expect to treat Walker as an equal as opposed to a B or C lister, which is who it seems every other Marvel hero treats him.
The Thunderbolts ultimately become the latest version of the Dark Avengers and Walker gets pulled in. It has its upside, though: on a trip to an alternate earth, his body is fixed using a version of the alien symbiote that makes up Venom.
The series ends with the U.S. Agent back in action and leading the new Dark Avengers, although exactly what he’s leading this team towards I have no idea. It doesn’t last long, regardless, as U.S. Agent joins Dr. Doom on an Avengers team during the woeful Axis.
After that, Walker is recruited by billionaire Paul Keane who wants him to convince Sam Wilson to give up the mantle of Captain America. Walker goes back and forth on the issue (and there’s fighting, of course) but he eventually decides that Sam is a worthy successor to Steve Rogers, at least until Rogers becomes evil and all that ridiculous nonsense in Secret Empire.
As for U.S. Agent’s current whereabouts, he’s sitting in limbo, not doing much avenging. He’s probably never going to be much more than a C-list character unless he ends up in a movie. But given his long history, he’s got the potential to be great (again) if the right creators come along.
One thought on “Johnnie Walker Blues Part 2: A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
I’ve been a USAgent fan since Gruenwald days, but I think few writers had taken him seriously. As you said, most of them just step on the sterotype. I especialy hate when he appears in a Captain America book just to be smashed. In muy opinion, Walker is an important part of Cap’s history. As important as Bucky or Falcon.
Gruenwald wrote a complex man who fell into rage and despair, but was actively trying to grow up. That was mostly forgotten when Roy Thomas caught him. There were some moments of clarity. I remember when he said to Spiderwoman “you can call me John” (she was the only Avenger allowed to do it). Or when he visited his parents grave in Force Works. That was a lot of mellowing. Considering he even asked the government their demise of his mind.
USAgent appeared shortly ago in Captain America. And he was again defeated, but this time Rogers showed some respect. He even promised he and Walker must take some beers and chat. I hope they do so!