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WARNING: This article is going to discuss the fallout from revelations in Marvel’s Steve Rogers – Captain America #1, so please read the issue before continuing any further. Seriously.
So, that was a twist, huh? At the end of Steve Rogers – Captain America #1, writer Nick Spencer and artist Jesus Saiz reveal that Steve Rogers, the Sentinel of Liberty himself, is a HYDRA plant. And not only is Steve working for Hydra right now, but he’s been working for Hydra since long before he became Captain America. That Steve Rogers, essentially, has been the enemy he was created to fight.
It’s an intriguing twist, made all the more so because I personally never thought Marvel would do something this genuinely inventive with a flagship character like Steve. Kill him yes. Retire him. Make him half-frog for a while, sure. But imply he’s always been a villain? And props to Nick Spencer for taking it on and committing to it. But that wasn’t my only surprise.
Because the Internet went absolutely insane.
#SayNoToHYDRACap because completely erasing a beloved character’s 75 year legacy for “shock value” is not edgy, it’s just bad writing.
— Lucia Camille (@luliebee) May 25, 2016
CAP WAS CREATED BY TWO JEWS AS A SYMBOL OF HOPE AGAINST THE NAZIS WHAT THEY’VE DONE IS BEYOND DISGUSTING #SayNoToHYDRACap
— aly | saw cw (@WlNTERASSASSIN) May 25, 2016
“We haven’t read the whole story.”
Stop giving mediocre writers the benefit of the doubt, that they do not deserve!#SayNoToHYDRACap
— Fangirl Jeanne (@fangirlJeanne) May 25, 2016
#SayNoToHYDRACap because you just threw away 75 years of characterization for money and that’s against everything cap would stand for
— Kenneth Royce (@earthtokenny) May 25, 2016
Okay, let me first say that anyone can react to a piece of art in any way they please. No one has a right or wrong opinion, and no one’s reaction is wrong. I will say you should have actually read the issue in question at a bare minimum, but hey, who’s got time for that?
But, allow me to explain why I not only have no problem with this story, why I think it offers something of value, why I think it will not tarnish Steve Rogers and furthermore why I think it reflects both a problem facing writers of serialized fiction in this age of instant online reaction, and also a huge benefit.
First off, there’s no denying that this is a gimmick. Of course it’s a gimmick. This is comics. This is super-hero comics. Gimmicks are what they do. Not only that, gimmicks are often what they have to do and what can produce classics. They’ve been using them for a hell of a long time, and if you don’t believe me, check out “Robin Dies at Dawn” a Batman story from 1963. A classic, and also pure 100% gimmick. Gimmicks sell books, and selling books are what comics have to do, because if they don’t sell, they don’t exist.
Gimmicks come in all shapes and sizes, and some wind up becoming classic stories with long-lasting effects on a character and their mythos (such as when Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back from the dead, a move long considered absolutely taboo), others become cautionary tales of marketing run amok (hello, Spider-Man’s Clone Saga). As with all storytelling, the execution of an idea means everything. A great story resulting from a gimmicky concept is still a great story, and I’m all for great stories.
Look, does anyone really believe that Marvel is seriously going establish Steve Rogers, linchpin of a multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, flagship hero for 75 years, as a nasty double agent for a terrorist organization and leave him that way? Of course they’re not going to do that. There is literally no way that’s going to happen. But this is a character that has been having stories told about him each month, every month, in multiple books, in uninterrupted publication since the 1960s. A character who was created in the 1940s. From time to time, a new creative team is going to come on board and be faced with the question of what to do with a character we know so well. How do you keep that character fresh? How do you keep surprising readers? How do you keep a character vital after all this time? This twist is a perfectly acceptable way to generate energy around the series, to bring in curious readers, to generate buzz.
And then it’s up to the creative team to tell a good story, and only that will decide if the gimmick remains a gimmick or becomes something more. I’m going to say right here and now that Steve Rogers will be back to being the Cap we know and love, origin intact, before Chris Evans appears in his next Marvel movie. But let’s look at what this twist gives us as comic reader for the next little while.
We continue to get Sam Wilson as Captain America, a person of color who can fight the good fight and be the Cap we want to see. And we get a series of stories in which we get to look at Steve Rogers in a different way, with a different set of ideals driving him, with no idea what he’ll do or how this happened. It allows for a period of Steve Rogers stories completely unlike any we’ve seen before. And this is a huge strength of comics to me, the fact that they are elastic enough to allow diversions and bizarre developments like this to happen for a while, and they don’t threaten the overall integrity of the character because the creators are inventive enough (and the universes allow for the fantastic enough) to find a path to have them snap right back into their core concepts. Steve Rogers alone has been retired, aged, disavowed, dead and a damn werewolf, and yet there he is, still Captain America. And he will be after this. The same Captain America he’s always been. No one has to worry that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby have been disrespected, because these kinds of stories almost always end with the character reiterating the core ideals that made them resonate with audiences in the first place.
Some of the twitter reactions talk about not caring that the story isn’t done yet, that it doesn’t matter that we’ve only seen the barest of details about this revelation. This reaction presents to me the fascinating part about writing a serialized story in the modern age. A twist like this, the opening salvo in a longer storyline, comes out and everyone just reacts to it, arriving at a judgement before having any idea where the story is going to go. On the one hand, it’s pretty unfair to be so vocally decrying a story that you know virtually nothing about, but at the same time, generating this level of buzz will probably help sales. It must be an odd feeling for Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz to know that their book will have greater success due to people on the internet reading a newspaper article and calling their story a travesty and implying that they are anti-semitic.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Spencer stated, “The one thing we can say unequivocally is: This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.” That seems like a pretty clear statement, but I’m willing to bet that it’s only technically true. Steve was recently restored to youthful age and vigor by a sentient Cosmic Cube, whose powers center around the ability to warp reality. So, perhaps reality got warped in such a way, either deliberately or accidentally, that Steve’s past was drastically altered? And it’ll get altered back to the true reality right around the time the next Avengers movie comes out? And did I mention that this was done by a reality-warping sentient cube, so maybe we can all take comfort in the fact that this is a universe where anything can happen, including all of this being reversed.
I love comics. And I love Captain America. And because I love both of those things I can comfortably look forward to the story Spencer and Saiz are about to tell, wait until it finishes, and then see if it’s the Winter Soldier or the Clone Saga. Taking chances like this, going big and bold and unexpected, these kinds of moves are more likely to give us a great story than playing it safe year after year, especially if, at the end of the day, our heroes will always return when we need them most.
Do yourself a favor, #SayYestoHydraCap.