Weighing In: The Captain America Controversy

Unless you’ve been under a rock on one of Saturn’s moon (maybe on Titan hiding from Thanos under the aforementioned rock) you are no doubt aware of the shit-storm Nick Spencer and the folks at Marvel created this week with the release of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1.

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And no the controversy was not about his new costume.

No.

Sadly the controversy was over this:

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In one of the (in my opinion) dumbest, headline bating plot-twists in recent memory the final pages reveal that Steve Rogers is a Hydra agent before he throws frequent ally Jack Flag out of an airplane.  Furthermore the flashbacks throughout the issue seem to imply that this is not a sudden shift in allegiance but rather a near life-long secret.

Steve Rogers, the original (possibly best) Captain America, a character that has stood as a symbol of liberty and righteousness for damn near three quarters of a century is now supposed to have secretly been an undercover agent from a fascist terrorist organization with heavy similarities to Nazis (when not outright led by one in Red Skull).

The discontinuity makes my brain hurt.

There has been a lot said online in the last couple of days about how idiotic and arguably disrespectful this twist is to the origins of the character.  Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, two Jewish Americans, created Captain America specifically as a patriotic super-soldier to do battle with the Axis Powers (especially the Nazis) in 1941 (or for those without a mind for historical dates, while World War 2 was in full swing).

Hell one of the most iconic covers even had Rogers socking Adolf Hitler in the face.

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As I mentioned there has been a lot said about this apparent disrespect for the character’s creators and his origins all over the internet (especially on Twitter) so I’ll not go into it here.

What I will go into is my utter personal disappointment (at this moment) with the decision and my love of the character.

Captain America is and has always been one of my favorite characters, not just in comic books but across all forms of media, falling directly between Batman and Deadpool.  When I was a child I didn’t have a lot of comic books, only getting to read sporadic issues when I had the chance to pick up a book here or there.  One of the books I picked up was issue 4 of the Infinity Gauntlet story (a book I highly recommend you pick up if you have never read it).  Hordes of super heroes have amassed against Thanos and with the titular gauntlet Thanos has beat them all back, leaving many of them dead or severely wounded.  There comes a panel where Captain America is left alone, standing face to face with Thanos and likely very aware that he too will die at the madman’s hands.

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As I read and reread this story (and believe me I literally read the cover right off of the issue) I fell immensely in love with the Captain America character.  Here was more or less a regular guy (the effects of the super-soldier serum aside) who has watched a monster utterly destroy beings far more powerful than any normal human and he still bravely walks up and stares his death in the face.

Throughout my life I’ve always enjoyed Rogers’ man out of time character.  I’ve enjoyed him as a living anachronism, as a man ripped from the “simpler” time he was born in and thrown into our very different world.  His sense of righteousness and drive to do the right thing even when it is the difficult thing has always been an inspiration to me and admittedly played a crucial role during my developmental years.

When I saw that Marvel had decided to undo what they had done a few years ago, returning Steve Rogers’ youth and letting him be a proper Captain America again I was overjoyed.  Nothing against Sam Wilson as Captain America, I’ve heard great things about those books but he’s simply “not my Cap”.  On Free Comic Book Day  a few weeks back one of the issues I made sure I picked up was the preview of this new series as I was absolutely filled to the brim with excitement over its potential.  I was finally going to get my proper Captain America back at the end of the month.

And then I woke up Wednesday afternoon to find all my social media feeds full of outrage and later the #saynotoHydraCap posts.

Initially my reaction was a mixture of befuddlement and rage.

Like so many others I was furious at the idea of a traitorous Captain America.

Who the hell thought this was a good idea?  How can you take a guy who has been a beacon of virtue and say “oh yeah he’s been a lying bastard the whole time”?  How do you take a guy who has spent nearly his entire history defeating Hydra and say he’s actually been one of them from the start?

I mean just a normal “I’m with Hydra now” twist would have been hard enough to stomach but to say his entire history has been a ruse is too much to believe in.  Comic books take a fair bit of suspension of disbelief to enjoy as is but this sort of over the top twist is simply too much to allow.

Over the last two days the rage has subsided, namely because I’ve seen a lot of people take it too far.  As much as I dislike what Nick Spencer has done here I feel death threats are more than a bit much.  Seriously at worst he could be pulled off the book but that is really as far as it should go.  Not that I am discrediting or attempting to silence those who feel strongly about the issue still, work of fiction or not I get that the character means a lot to people.  In fact I think a lot of the people out there trying to silence or belittle those who are upset are just simply being smug asshats but I digress, as I said Captain America means a lot to me too but now that I’ve had a few days to think about it the rage has been replaced with disgust.

Befuddled disgust is what I feel about it with a tiny twinge of curiosity over how they’ll get themselves out of the mess they have created.  I’m confused about why they thought this was a good twist and disgusted about the blatant disregard for history they have shown.  Ten years ago they killed Captain America and while it was also rage inducing for many it made for good story-telling in my opinion.  It did nothing to hurt the legacy of the character while still being shocking.  A few years back they took his youth from him, turning him into an old man.  Not quite as effective as his death was but still a shock and not disrespectful.  Eventually both those things were undone and I’m certain this will be too but the questions remain of when and how.

My gut tells me Marvel will stubbornly stick to the story they’ve started in spite of how the fans feel.  After all this is only the first chapter in a longer story and maybe, just maybe they have something great in store for us (not that it makes the stupidity of the detestable twist any better).  Admittedly I am very curious as to how this story will pan out long term.  Will they comic book it up and have this Rogers be a clone, has he been brainwashed, was some sort of time-traveling tomfoolery to blame or as the guys at Nerdist submitted is this the result of Captain being hit with Cosmic Cube energy and causing some sort of alteration of his past.  It almost has to be some sort of crazy comic book thing that caused this simply because the idea of Rogers being a Hydra agent all along breaks the continuity so badly and I just can’t see an experienced company like Marvel making such a catastrophic break from continuity without some logical, by comic book standards, rationale.

One thing a life long love of comics has taught me is that nothing is forever (except Uncle Ben being dead) and writers will (almost) always find a way out of a bad decision.  My hope is that Marvel does so soon and the secret villain Captain America will be a forgettable footnote in his otherwise stellar history.

The ball is in Marvel’s court to correct this travesty sooner or later.  Maybe over the next six or so issues Nick Spencer will blow our minds and tell one of the best Captain America stories ever and this seemingly secret villain Rogers will pan out in a satisfactory way.

Or maybe Spencer’s idea will continue to be as awful as the immediate gut-feeling says it is and in a year or so a more talented writer with a better understanding and appreciation of the character will come and retcon the whole fucking thing and we can collectively come together to work on healing the mental scars left by Hydra Cap.

Final judgement will be reserved until I see how the whole thing plays out but until it does I’m just going to pull a Nick Fury in regards to Marvel’s decision making:

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I’m just going to keep enjoying my old Avengers and Captain America stories and recognize this Hydra Cap debacle for just what it is.

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

Author’s Note:  I do have to admit a number of pretty damn funny memes have sprung up as a result of this mess…one of my personal favorites has been other heroes following Cap’s lead.

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