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REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE COMIC SERIES U.S. AGENT
By Thomas Wheeler

2011 certainly seems to be the summer of the super-hero movie. You've got Green Lantern, Thor, a new X-Men movie, and Captain America -- and the only one without an accompanying toy line is the X-Men. As I write this, the toy aisles are filled with characters adapted from Norse mythology, a wide range of aliens dressed in green, and a group with a rather more patriotic bent. And those are just the ones with movies. Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Batman still have a certain presence, as well.

The Captain America line, which early indicators would seem to show is proving to be extremely popular, has taken a cue from the Iron Man line, in that it has divided itself into three segments -- there's the Movie series, the Concept series, and the Comic series.

Cap, as his friends call him, has been put through the wringer in recent years in the comics. He discovered his long-thought-dead sidekick Bucky was still alive; he opposed Iron Man on a Superhero Registration Act, which unfortunately led to way too much political commentary in the comics pages; was killed, and was brought back only to discover that Bucky had assumed his role. Steve Rogers decided to let him continue to do so, while he assumed the leadership of SHIELD. Current word is Rogers is soon to return to the red-white-and-blue costume and role for which he is best known.

But it's not the first time that Steve Rogers has been deprived of the Captain America costume. There was another incident, years ago, where Rogers was forced by the United States government to surrender the costume and role of Captain America. During this time, another man assumed the role, while Rogers took on a different costume, calling himself, simply, "The Captain". Later on, he battled the new Captain America, and won back his role, legally, while the now-former Captain America eventually became the man we know as -- USAGENT!

The Comic Series of Captain America figures has seen fit to render this interesting individual in plastic, and I decided he'd make an interesting addition to my Marvel collection. Let's consider the admittedly rather convoluted history of the character.

USAgent's real name is John F. Walker, and he first appeared in Captain America #323, in 1986, and was created by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary. John Walker was born in the town of Custer's Grove, Georgia. He grew up idolizing his older brother, Mike, who died in Vietnam. John wanted to honor his brother's memory by enlisting in the military, becoming a soldier himself.

After John received an honorable discharge from the United States Army, he was told by a friend about the Power Broken, a mysterious individual who gave people superhuman abilities. Walker and his friend received the treatment, which granted them superhuman physical power.

Walker, now in debt, needed a way to pay back the Power Broker. He intended to join the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, until he met a man named Ethan Thurm, who persuaded him to become a super-hero instead. With Thurm backing him, Walker debuted as the corporate-sponsored Super-Patriot, and traveled the country promoting his image to the nation.

Walker staged a rally in Central Park to publicly criticize Captain America. Here, he was attacked by a group of self-proclaimed "supporters" of Captain America, called "Buckies". Walker defeated these protectors and proclaimed to Captain America that the people should decide who was worthy of being Captain America, challenging the man's role as a symbol of America. The Buckies were in fact a fraud to stage the fight in order to heighten Walker's status.

Captain America declined the challenge, but would later confront Walker after the former Buckies became Walker's new partners. A fight ensued. Cap dominated the contest but failed to land a decisive blow. Super-Patriot ultimately hit Cap squarely in the chest with a throwing star. The strike did virtually no damage, but Walker claimed victory and the fight abruptly ceased.

Soon after, Steve Rogers was forced to abandon his costume and identity, the alternative being to serve the U.S. Government without question. Rogers resigned, donning a black costume with red and white trim on it and calling himself The Captain. Dr. Valerie Cooper, a member of the Commission on Superhuman Activities, suggested that Walker should be made the new Captain America, as a U.S. Government operative. Unknown to anyone, the Commission's chairman, Douglas Rockwell, was an ally of the Red Skull, who had come up with a plan to destroy Captain America's image.

Walker was trained in the use of Captain America's shield by the Taskmaster, and was partnered with Lemar Hoskins, one of the former Buckies, now calling himself Battlestar.

Although he made an honest effort to emulate Rogers' ethics, Walker was more brutal than his predecessor. Two former partners, jealous of his success, publicly revealed his identity to the press, and subsequently, Walker's parents were killed by a terrorist group called the Watchdogs, whom Walker had been fighting in his new role.

Walker, driven close to a mental breakdown as a result of this, attacked and killed many of the Watchdogs, as well as his former partners. He was then captured by Flag-Smasher, but rescued by the original Captain America and Battlestar. Subsequent to this, Walker was lured to Washington DC by the Red Skull, who attacked Walker with a rogue's gallery of Walker's enemies. Walker defeated and killed them all in a single brawl.

At this point the Skull arranged for Walker to confront Steve Rogers. This time, Rogers defeated Walker, knocking him out. Rogers confronted the Skull, but Walker woke up just in time to prevent the Skull from exposing Rogers to his "dust of death". The Skull managed to escape, and Rogers and Walker gave their report of the incident to the Commission, with the Commission returning the uniform and title of Captain America back to Rogers. Rogers initially declined the offer, but Walker persuaded him to reconsider and accept it.

General Haywerth wanted to set up Walker under a new identity, so he faked the man's death, and then had him hypnotized to take the edge off his psychosis, into believing that his parents were still alive. Walker would not recover his full memory for years.

Walker soon resurfaced in his new identity as USAgent, wearing a variation of the costume that Rogers had worn as The Captain. Walker continued to work for the Commission, and was placed as a watchdog over the West Coast Avengers, with the Commission being concerned about the recently overhauled Vision, as a condition to possibly getting their government clearances reinstated.

Despite some considerable personality conflicts with the rest of the team, he proved himself worthy and remained with the team off-and-on for the duration of its existence. When the West Coast Avengers dissolved, he was later brought into a new team called Force Works, with a new costume.

Interestingly, he was also featured in a Marvel UK comic called Super Soldiers, teaming up with a group of American and British soldiers.

He eventually became the field leader of the Jury, a group of armored corporate vigilantes, owned by Edwin Cord. USAgent was once again wearing his original costume, and now used an eagle-shaped shield that could be directed in mid-air via remote control. Interestingly enough, this is the shield that comes with the action figure.

Sometime later, he rejoined the Commission on Superhuman Activities, adopting a new costume that -- well, made it look like he'd been reading a few too many "Judge Dredd" comics. Looking like a cross between a super-hero and a SWAT specialist, USAgent was instrumental during the "Maximum Security" storyline, when Earth was briefly turned into an extraterrestrial prison. He starred in a three-issue mini-series subsequent to this, still with this particular costume.

He later became a member of the New Invaders, adopting a costume closer to Captain America, and even calling himself Captain America for a brief time. During the events of Civil War, the U.S. Government offers him the position to lead a newly-formed team called Omega Flight, that is intended to defend Canada.

During the Dark Reign storyline, he joins the Mighty Avengers team, and following a series of adventures here, he is appointed the new warden of the maximum superhuman security prison known as The Raft. Walker has been in better condition, though. Injuries sustained in a fight against a villain named Nuke have left him wheelchair-bound and wearing a prosthetic arm. He refuses additional prostheses, however, as he doesn't want to become a cyborg like the man who crippled him.

The figure is obviously of an earlier time than this. As to his powers and abilities from his better days, John Walker has superhuman strength, agility, reflexes, and endurance. His speed, dexterity, coordination and balance are of the order of a superior Olympic athlete.

USAgent is also an exceptional hand-to-hand combatant, having received rigorous training in unarmed combat and the use of a field in a style similar to Captain America's own fighting style by the Taskmaster. He is also a seasoned combat veteran with military combat experience in tactical and strategic planning and observations, special operations, and is highly proficient in the use of conventional firearms.

As to his personality -- well... that's a bit of a stickler. Arguably, Walker is a bit of a reactionary with an above-average patriotic fervor. I've read any number of his adventures over the years, including the West Coast Avengers and his post Maximum Security mini-series, and depending on who was writing him (and likely the writer's political persuasion), USAgent tended to come across as anywhere from moderately ill-tempered to bordering on the maniacal. Personally, I never thought he needed to be that over-the-top, and tended to think that whenever he was shown as such, it was poor judgment on the part of the writer who was letting his or her own leanings show a bit too much, although nothing like what would happen during and after the events of Civil War.

So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. This Comic Series of Captain America figures, unlike most of the Iron Man counterpart, doesn't have the option of showing characters in high-tech armor. Captain America wears a super-hero costume, and so do most of his allies. So the figure has to show off a powerful human physique without any technological advantages. It does this to superb effect.

There are some structural similarities between USAgent's costume and Cap's. Let's remember, Steve Rogers himself adopted this guise for a while. The biggest difference is that while Captain America's costume is predominantly blue, USAgent's is black. The headpiece is virtually identical, however. It's black, rather than blue, and it lacks the "A" on the forehead, but otherwise, it's essentially the same, even to including the little white wing-tips above the ears.

You know, I've never understood the reason for those, but there have been a couple of Cap costumes that haven't used them, and it just doesn't look right without them. And USAgent wouldn't look right without them, either.

The mask allows USAgent's eyes, ears, and lower face to be shown. Now, they could have probably just popped a Cap head on this figure, but they didn't. It's definitely a distinct sculpt, and it's well done. I will say that I think the facial expression is perhaps a little over the top. USAgent, arguably, should look a little angrier and even more intense than Cap. This obviously has to be accomplished with those portions of the face that are visible, which is mostly the eyes, nose, and mouth. There's nothing wrong with the eyes and nose, but the mouth is maybe a little much. Somehow, it just seems to cross the line from "intensely determined" to "I just swallowed a lemon." Not too far over the line, but a little.

USAgent's brow is sort of visible underneath the mask, and it's clearly downturned in a scowl. The eyes are superbly well painted. Regardless of the figure line, I am always impressed when I see well-painted eyes on such small figures. USAgent stands about 4-1/8" in height, and his head is about 1/2" of that. So you can guess how small the eyes are. And yet, there they are, the whites of the eyes, the blue irises, the black pupils, and a black line over the eyes representing eyelashes. Very superbly done.

USAgent's shirt is very similar to Captain America's -- with one notable exception, and that being the front of the shirt. The basic tunic is the same scaled chain-mail that we've come to expect from Cap, and the fine detail work on the figure in this regard is excellent. The chain-mail is fully sculpted, and in a very neat and orderly fashion. I haven't seen this sort of precision since Aquaman's shirt in the DC Universe Classics line, and USAgent is a smaller figure with much finer patterning. And it holds up well on the upper torso, mid-torso, and upper arms.

USAgent's mid-arms are smooth, and painted white, again very similar to Cap, and he has somewhat flared red gloves, also like Cap. The main different is the chest decoration. Whereas Captain America has a white star in the center of his chest (duplicated on the back), and vertical red and white stripes wrapped around his abdomen and mid-back, USAgent has a large section of his chest and abdomen featuring horizontal red and white stripes, with a black star emblem in the upper left corner. There are no markings on the back. These details have not only been painted onto the figure, they've been sculpted into it, and very neatly.

USAgent is wearing a red belt with a distinct silver buckle, and assorted pouches along the sides. This is a relatively recent development. I believe Captain America himself has adopted this practice. It seems that a number of super-heroes who rely more on their wits and fighting prowess than any particular super-powers have decided to take a cue from Batman and have determined that a utility belt of some sort isn't a bad idea. I have no real idea what's in the belt.

USAgent's costume below the bent consists of black leggings and red boots, with the same sort of foldover flap as Captain America's. Honestly, although the head of the figure is unique, and certainly the torso is, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the arms and legs of this USAgent figure were also used for the Comic Series Captain America figure. They'd certainly work. As of this writing, however, I can't confirm that, as I don't have that figure -- yet, anyway. He's on my list, though.

Paintwork is, for the most part, excellent. Let me say this -- I know for a fact that the hardest thing to do is to paint a lighter color over a darker color. You don't get much darker than black, and you don't get much lighter than white -- although it's also been my experience that yellow over black is tougher than white over black for some odd reason. There's no yellow on USAgent, but there is white -- and red, and flesh-tone.

Generally speaking, the best way to overcome the black is with a thicker coat of paint. One can sort of see this as being the case on the torso, but not that severely. The paint is very well done, especially the stripes. It's a little more evident on the face, where it sort of looks like the flesh-tone paint might have taken a little of the detail out of the sculpt. Not much, though.

Curiously, the only place where the paint falters at all on the particular USAgent figure that I picked up, and I'm not saying they would all be like this, certainly, is on the lower right arm, which was molded in red, for the sake of the glove. Somehow, the upper part of the lower arm just didn't quite get sprayed well enough, and it looks very slightly pink. Not seriously at all, though. Still, that's what Walker gets for washing his gloves with the rest of his laundry...

The figure's articulation is, for the most part, excellent. USAgent is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), mid-torso (which works out better than average given the placement of one of his stripes), legs, knees, and ankles. Many of these articulation points have a rotational motion as well as back and forth.

A few observations -- not so much complaints, just observations. The legs have an interesting design. It's not quite a ball and socket so much as it's a rotational joint at the hip, with an upper leg rotation immediately following. In my opinion, it's a little over-engineered. The Marvel Universe line has adopted a leg structure very similar to G.I. Joe figures, and it would have been perfectly workable here.

There is no wrist movement. This honestly surprised me. I figured for sure that the wrists would turn at the glove tops, but they don't. The slightly pink lower sleeve was the giveaway on that one as much as anything. It's not a major loss, but given the amount of articulation that tend to be put in these Marvel figures, I was a little surprised.

Finally, the knees. They're double-jointed, and in that respect, they don't work worth a darn, especially the left knee, which almost looks misassembled with the lower leg. It won't snap all the way back. Now, since the figure is black, and he still stands well on his own, thanks to the other part of the knee-joint, it's not that big of a deal.

But honestly, this double-jointed practice is something that really needs to be stopped, regardless of the action figure line it's applied to. I have yet to see one on which it works well, and on super-hero lines in particular, it generally looks like heck because the characters are supposed to be wearing tights and there's no way to hide it. And on figures as relatively small as this Captain America line, assembly is a tricky proposition at best. I'm not saying USAgent is defective. I think some might say he is. I don't. I'm saying he's been given an articulation design that's not necessary and doesn't really work that well regardless of who it's given to, and the quirk in his lower leg is only further proof of it.

This doesn't mean I'm displeased with the figure. Not at all. I'm glad to have him. He stands well and he poses well. I'm just saying, I'm tired of any action figure from any company being subjected to this.

Let's discuss accessories. USAgent comes with the shield that he had during his time with Edwin Cord. It's not a round shield like Captain America's. It's sort of round. It's a silver gray eagle shape, with a star in the center, and upswept wings that come close to forming a circle. The outer edges of these wings are painted in a dark red, and -- surprise! -- they swivel outwards! The shield is listed on the package as "Star-Blade Shield", and obviously, the wings are intended to act as blades. Not something you'd want to be on the wrong end of.

The shield has a peg and a clip on the back, that can be rotated outward. This gives USAgent a couple of ways of holding the shield, either in his hand or clipped to his lower arm. I should mention that the excellent sculpting on this figure also includes very nicely sculpted hands. Superb detail here, as really everywhere on the figure.

USAgent also comes with a small black gun, that looks a fair bit like an UZI with a fairly long ammo clip.

The character description on the back of the package is somewhat more charitable towards USAgent than some of his writer's have been. It reads: "USAgent is armed with a vibranium shield very similar to that of Captain America. He uses this for protection and as a weapon. Although he and Captain America have had their differences, they both agree that any threat to justice and freedom must be stopped."

Vibranium, by the way, is a metallic element in the Marvel Universe, almost as strong as adamantium, and native to the Black Panther's kingdom of Wakanda. Oddly, the shield the figure comes with is not the original vibranium shield, which Captain America used for a time as The Captain, which was a plain silver disc. Now, this eagle-type shield might also have been made of vibranium. I don't have those particular adventures, so I really don't know.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I've always rather liked USAgent, but he hasn't had an action figure in years -- and the last one, part of the 1990's Iron Man series, only saw an EXTREMELY limited release and is next to impossible to get. And it isn't this costume, anyway.

This figure is USAgent as I believe he is best known, and I am sincerely pleased that he has been added to the Comic Series segment of the Captain America movie line. I believe that any longtime Captain America fan would be very pleased to add this figure to their collection. He's well-made, well-sculpted, well-painted, and well articulated.

The CAPTAIN AMERICA COMIC SERIES figure of USAGENT definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation.