Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
Anti-Heroes: Captain America, The Punisher, and Wolverine
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series seems to have created something of a controversy surrounding the character of John Walker.
Taken from the comics, the character was the government’s response to having a controllable Captain America. In the show, Walker is a veteran of the Afghan war. While looking the part of the "all American hero" by being a war hero, White, and blond-haired, the government also ignored his mental fitness to carry the mantle.
The result was a public relations disaster in Latveria when he was filmed killing and decapitating a Flag-Smasher. While the audience knew the situation, that he and his partner Lamar had been ambushed by the terrorists with the express intent of killing them, the ruthlessness and intensity that this Captain America showed running a man down who was trying to surrender overshadowed all of that.
Walker was already despised as somewhat cocky and arrogant by many MCU fans, despite his efforts to work with Sam and Bucky. So the killing of someone so brutally and with Captain America’s symbolic shield was too much. Though he is deposed of the mantle, John is able to bounce back by the end of the series as the US Agent.
Many fans supported the Walker character. They felt that the man he killed was trying to kill him. That he was under a tremendous amount of pressure to measure up to the original Captain America, and he was a veteran suffering from PTSD that had not been treated.
For my part, the one question I had throughout was how was this character any different from two other violent anti-heroes with mental issues: Wolverine and the Punisher?
Throughout all his iterations, the qualities that always remained the same about Wolverine is that he is a violent man with a violent past. Having had adamantium bonded to his bones, a process that would kill most people, he is often depicted either as a reluctant hero who doesn't want to be one or be involved, or as an active superhero carving his way through enemies wholesale.
The six claws embedded in his forearms and coated with unbreakable metal only enhanced his brutality. Wolvie has always been a man who walks the line between being a civilized human being and a savage beast. Yet this also made him a consistent fan favorite.
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When the first X-Men movie came out in 2000, some fans were not happy about not being able to see him kill people or display his famous berserker rage. Slowly as the franchise went along, he was made increasingly more violent until 2017’s Logan finally let him fully off the leash. And I don’t recall one fan being upset by it either.
With the exception of having no powers, the Punisher is very similar to Wolverine and US Agent. Whether in his comic or Netflix version, he is also a war vet who suffers yet another trauma with the death of his family by the Mafia. An expert in many forms of firearms and explosives, he becomes an outlaw himself being judge, jury, and always executioner of the criminal underworld.
While not prone to berserker rages like the other two, Punisher does have the obsessive drive to take out his pain and rage on anything that looks like those who killed his family. Thus he has no issues showing zero mercy, and in the comics and the show Daredevil, he has come into conflict with more moral superheroes. So much so that he has been compared to Wolverine and the two had a brief mini-series where they fought each other back in the late 1980s.
While the modern audience had somewhat of a hard time watching his battles, few criticized him for it.
A Trinity of Misunderstood Violence?
Ultimately, you have these three characters who are comparably as ruthless and violent when stacked against each other. All of them are in need of major counseling. If you had swapped out John Walker in his Latveria takedown with any of these other two, would fans have been horrified? If anything there would have been even more blood.
So while John Walker, the US Agent, is certainly no hero like his predecessors or peers, he’s not exactly a villain either. Though often called privileged because of his expectation of others to honor his uniform, Walker doesn't have the obsessive megalomania of Zemo, the power-hungry drive for conquest like the Red Skull, or a genocidal desire to wipe out whole populations like Thanos. He’s a man scarred by trauma like his two peers, who's been discarded by the machine that made him and did not help him with his PTSD, and was rejected by the heroes he wanted to work with. So there are mixed messages in what the show wants the US Agent to represent.
While not a direct criticism, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier does portray him at first as sympathetic and later as an unhinged hero. That he was stepping into the shoes of the beloved Steve Rogers, another great character only made it easier for fans to side with eventually dislike him.
Perhaps that’s the one difference between him, Wolverine and Punisher.
© 2021 Jamal Smith