Batman’s dark replacement is shaping up to be DC’s John Walker, except this version asks far deeper questions about the flaws inherent to superheroes.
Warning: contains spoilers for Batman #108 and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier!
Batman‘s version of John Walker works better than The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s version for one major reason. DC Comics’ Future State event introduced Peacekeeper-01 – a fascistic leader presiding over Gotham City in the near future. Batman #108 showed his first steps towards this new role, exposing more of his mentality and the work that went into shaping his identity and outlook. But a major difference between John Walker and DC’s Sean Mahoney is that while Steve Rogers had very little personal responsibility for the new Captain America, Batman has been directly involved in shaping Peacekeeper-01 into the villain he’ll become.
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A Disney+ entry into the MCU, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, introduced John Walker as Steve Roger’s successor to the Captain America mantle. John Walker was a good soldier who did everything right in the field, but by the show’s end, it’s proven he doesn’t have the heart and principles to be Captain America, dishonoring the legacy with a grisly act of rage. Similarly, while Sean Mahoney possesses a sincere wish to serve, Future State revealed he’ll be consumed by obsession, resenting Batman and stripping Gotham of its freedoms in the name of security.
Batman #108 – from James Tynion IV, Jorge Jimenez, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles – shows how Sean Mahoney is doing following the Arkham Attack. In Infinite Frontier #0, Mahoney was at Arkham the night it was attacked with poisonous gas, working as a security guard. Batman was unable to reach Arkham in time to save most of the victims of what’s now being called “A-Day,” but Mahoney managed to save two nurses before losing an arm and a leg.
The latest issue of Batman shows Sean Mahoney being honored for his bravery and meeting Simon Saint, whose Magistrate concept is the seed of Gotham’s Future State doom. Mahoney’s motivations are largely revealed this issue as well. He has a family history that connects to the Gotham Police Department, and he generally believes in what law enforcement is trying to do. He has a problem with the way that the “masks” handle Gotham, believing their methods are more harmful than helpful. He also largely blames Batman for his situation, as well as Commissioner Gordon, who fired his father for taking a bribe. Though he respects law and order, Mahoney sees the world through his own grievances, making it far easier for him to stretch and break his personal morality.
In that regard, he’s just like John Walker. Walker genuinely believed he was doing the right thing. He considered the role of Captain America to be the job of a soldier, and even when he lost control in front of the world, he still believed he was in the right. Sean Mahoney and John Walker both think they’re uniquely qualified to fix the world, and power drags each off course. But while Steve Rogers simply left a void that Walker couldn’t fill, Batman’s failures have created a Gotham used to unaccountable justice and so tired of costumed crime it can no longer tell hero from villain. Mahoney is partially a result of the Gotham Batman built, and so acts as a much more potent criticism of his choices than Walker could for the concept of Captain America.
Sean Mahoney is a dark answer to Batman, and as he attempts to tear Gotham from Bruce Wayne’s grip, DC has a chance to explore where the Dark Knight has gone wrong. The legacies of Batman and Steve Rogers are both called into question by their replacements, but while Walker engaged with the larger philosophy of what being Captain America means, Mahoney is far more able to challenge who Batman is, and how he affects the world around him. In creating their own patriotic, capable, but misguided version of John Walker, DC are ready to ask larger questions about where heroes get their authority, and what they should be allowed to do with it, than The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ultimately managed to pose.
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