May 25, 2016 is a day that will live in fleeting infamy. Writer Nick Spencer and artist Jesus Saiz put out the first issue of “Steve Rogers: Captain America”, and the internet erupted in a firestorm of fury (comic geek pun intended) as Marvel used this first issue to show that Steve Rogers, the ultimate embodiment of American idealism and possibly the truest hero the Marvel Universe has ever had, has been a deep cover operative for the evil Nazi organization Hydra for his whole life.
Now this is just the first issue of this series, and Marvel editor Tom Brevoort made some statements regarding this dramatic shift:
“It’s not a Steve from the universe next door, it’s not a clone, it’s not a robot, it’s not mind control.” He also stated, “Captain America, because he’s draped head to toe in the flag, has more of a larger, more symbolic meaning than many of other characters. In an allegorical fashion, you want to make his adventures about where America and where the world is.”
So Marvel is essentially using Captain America as a symbol of how fractured our political and civil discourse is in the U.S. of A. This is not new. Back during the Watergate years, Steve Rogers abandoned the Captain America guise due to his disillusionment with the country and became Nomad, but that didn’t last too long since the fans were missing Cap in the stars and stripes. And just in this century, one of the major deaths in the Marvel Universe was undone by Ed Brubaker when Bucky Barnes came back as The Winter Soldier… and just after the “Civil War” event, Steve Rogers was “killed”? Or when Captain America was an ultra-reactionary murderous crypto-fascist like John Walker during the grimdark comic book era of the late 80’s-mid-90’s? Or when he was a werewolf?
Just in the last few years, we’ve seen “Amazing Spider-Man” end with Peter Parker’s brain being taken over by long-time foe Doctor Octopus and restart with “Superior Spider-Man” and the internet went totally berserk. Friends of mine who were long-time lovers of Spidey decided that they were boycotting future issues of “Superior Spider-Man”… at least until Peter Parker’s brain made his eventual return. That was something that we were assured several times would be a permanent change, but of course, it wasn’t. In fact, as someone who’s first comic love was Spider-Man, I liked “Superior” a lot because, even at its worst (and some issues were quite bad), it was a useful reminder of why Peter Parker was so awesome.
We’ve been treated to a number of incidents over the last few decades where it looked like a permanent change was occurring and the collective fandom freaked the f–k out. Remember “The Death of Superman” storyline? The Batman “Knightfall” arc? The Green Lantern “Emerald Twilight” arc where Hal Jordan went totally insane and killed almost the entire Green Lantern Corps and then tried to reset all history? Ever hear of Jean Grey? She killed BILLIONS of aliens, but when she came back, everyone was like, “Aw, shucks, Jeannie, it’s all good”. Just in the last year or so, writer Scott Snyder had “killed” Batman (for the second time in a decade, since Grant Morrison had done it in the first decade of the new millennium) and put Commissioner Gordon in a robotic Bat-suit. And let us not forget DC’s “New 52” initiative which rebooted the whole DC universe to being only 5 years old (where the most glaring contradiction to that being Batman having three Robins in those 5 years), and many characters were re-invented in order to fit into this new history, such as Swamp Thing, John Constantine, Animal Man, and even Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane was undone. This is the nature of the business. It provided a sales boom for DC, and actually did a lot of good for some of these characters, like Barbara Gordon who was restored to being Batgirl and one of my personal favorites was the reintroduction of Andrew Bennett in “I, Vampire”.
However, this new dimension to Captain America is rubbing people the wrong way for different reasons than your standard fanboy whining. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the creators of Captain America, were Jewish and Hydra is an off-shoot of the Nazi Party. This has led certain fans to campaign on their behalf that making Steve Rogers a de facto Nazi is somehow an insult to the memories of these legendary creators. In the Rick Remender run on Cap, he sent Steve to another dimension and ended his run with sapping Steve of the Super-Soldier serum and making him a feeble old man. This led to Sam Wilson, the Falcon, to wield the shield as Captain America, and that caused a lot of ripples as well in the media and the fanbase. Personally, I was really happy to see a black Captain America, but not everyone liked that idea which degenerated into the same old fill-in-the-blank argument:
“Why would they make (insert famous and recognizable character here) into (insert minority, opposite sex or non-heterosexual preference here)? If they want to, they could just create a whole new character or start a whole new comic with that character! Don’t mess with my (insert famous and recognizable homogenous white hero here)!”
Marvel actually did this twice in the same year with Sam Wilson becoming Cap and Jane Foster becoming Thor. Sales went up and most fans were happy with the new direction those titles took. But let’s face it; as much as you can make the whole “Simon and Kirby would spin in their graves” argument, you have to understand that this is the nature of the beast. Comics will do things to shake up old characters. It leads the character in new directions, and the one thing you can count on is that if the new direction doesn’t work, they’ll ALWAYS find a way to hit the reset button.
This nerd-rage is also a symptom of entitlement and it’s something that’s been pervasive since the first time one version of a character didn’t jibe with the fan’s vision of how the character should be. In a new book by writer Glen Weldon entitled “The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture” (an utterly fantastic and supremely entertaining and illuminating read for comic fans), he posits that the culture of fan outrage began with the 1966 “Batman” television show and how the mod goody-two-shoes camp clashed with the dark avenger of the night that the character was created to be. Apparently, fans hadn’t been paying much attention to the last dozen years where Batman went from dark avenging crime-fighter to crazy goofy time-hopping, space-traveling, dog/ape-training crime-fighter. Hell, people were still bitching about Robin and he’d been a mainstay since 1940. This sense of “this ain’t my (character)” outrage is innately false. Almost every major character has had the reset button hit on them at one point or another, and for a fan to claim that their “definitive” version is the only version that’s acceptable not only shows a grandiose sense of entitlement, but is also inherently incorrect. Why?
Because what you think is the “definitive” version is just an opinion and comic book fans are akin to religious fanatics when it comes to interpretation. The mindset of “mine is the RIGHT ONE, and you are WRONG” is not based in fact; it’s based in opinion.
For yet another instance, there’s still an ongoing nerd conflict over which film Batman is the “definitive” one: Tim Burton’s or Christopher Nolan’s (and now Zack Snyder’s, but that discussion is about as robust as the ones discussing Joel Schumacher’s version).
In the era of social media dominating so many aspects of daily life, it’s hard to not feel like everyone is shouting their opinions in your face and espousing them as fact. From every issue where someone has an opinion, the sense of entitlement and instant gratification is even more prevalent. I’m not trying to say that social media is inherently bad; some of it is very good, but there was an age not so many years ago where if you wanted to voice an opinion on a comic book, you had to put pen to paper or paper in a typewriter and think about what you wanted to say before you wrote it, put that letter in an envelope, add a stamp and send it to an address where someone read that letter and decided whether or not it was worthy of adding to the letter column that used to be omnipresent in the end of a comic book.
As a life-long fan of Captain America, am I a fan of what Spencer and Brevoort are currently doing with Steve Rogers? Frankly I’m interested to see where it goes. Spencer is a writer with a really good head on his shoulders who has proven that with his work on “Morning Glories”, “Bedlam”, the recent “Ant-Man” series, and “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents”, and I can see Marvel working hard and telling good stories in order to make it work. Am I of the opinion that Steve Rogers shouldn’t be a deep-cover Hydra operative? Am I also of the opinion that if this is the course they intend to stay on, it’s going to require a Herculean suspension of disbelief? Yes but I also realize that these are just opinions. You are just as entitled to your opinions as anyone else, but if you are shouting from the rooftops, “this isn’t who Captain America is”, you might want to think about it and then say, “this isn’t who my Captain America is”.
Despite what you might think, Marvel and DC are not out to ruin your childhood. But they may be asking you to put away childish things.