Back Issues

I’m Genuinely Baffled by the Freakout Surrounding Captain America

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I don’t really review the weekly comics here on the site. I read pretty much everything that comes out, but for whatever reason I’ve never really been spurred to write a weekly recap of the stuff going on in the world of comics. Everyone talks about the comics coming out that week, I kind of prefer focusing on the crazy older stories that I look at in Marvel Madness and Bat Signal, because they can be more often than not forgotten and not getting the attention they deserve. But this week something happened that finally made me need to talk about a new comic. Because this week saw the release of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1, the new comic written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Jesus Saiz that features the triumphant return of Steve Rogers to the world of superheroics. For the last couple years Steve’s supersoldier serum has been neutralized, causing him to become an old man with no powers. But a couple weeks ago in the fun mini-even Standoff, Steve was blasted with energy from Kobik, a sentient Cosmic Cube that has taken the form of a little girl (comics are weird folks) which resulted in him regaining his youth and abilities. So our traditional Cap is back everyone! Yay! And Sam Wilson is still running around as Captain America as well in his own book from Spencer and Saiz. Yay! But what’s the problem? Well, the first issue ends with a bit of a twist, and it’s pissing off a lot of stupid people who don’t understand how comics work.

There’s a lot going on in this story. I’ll say right here and now that I really love the work of Nick Spencer. His crazy creator-owned book Morning Glories over at Image is one of my favorite books, and me and some friends have an ongoing group-text that gets dusted off any time a new issue comes out so we can wildly speculate on what’s going on in the book. I’ve also been a huge fan of his superhero work at Marvel, which can vascilate between the utterly hilarious Superior Foe’s of Spider-Man and the Astonishing Ant-Man, to more serious and twisty stuff like his work on Secret Avengers. He does good work, and I’ve been really loving his ultra-political take on Sam Wilson’s Cap book. So I was excited to pick up this new Captain America book, and wasn’t disappointed at all. The plot is twisty, and does a lot of legwork setting up the various plots that are going to be working during this run. We see Steve and his mother in the 20s, fleeing from his abusive father and meeting a modern and self-reliant woman, Steve in the present getting used to his powers and new shield while stopping a Hydra suicide-bomber, we see Red Skull setting up his new Hydra around racism, xenophobia, and other Conservative ideals, the new status quo at SHIELD where Maria Hill may be on the out and Sharon Carter on the in, the return of Jack Flag and Free Spirit as Cap sidekicks, the return of Rick Jones and his new place at SHIELD, and probably most hilariously, Baron Zemo’s pathetic attempts to create a more supervillain oriented Hydra and a new Masters of Evil. And all of these plots converge at the end when Cap, Jack, and Free Spirit attack Zemo and his new gang of losers. They have a fight, and Zemo escapes. Cap gets on board his escape plane, and so does Jack Flag, unbeknownst to Cap. And this is where the issue people are having occurs. Because we suddenly learn that that woman from the 20s was a member of Hydra, recruited Steve and his mom, and we cut to the present to see Cap throw Jack from the plane, turn to the camera and say:

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Cap’s in Hydra! He’s joined up with a group of villains that’s a thinly veiled ripoff of SPECTRE! Or are they Nazis? Or a centuries-old cabal of evil magic worshipers? It’s hard to tell, Hydra has meant so many things over the years, and changes rapidly. Kind of like how Red Skull and Zemo are each running independent organizations called Hydra in this issue? Yeah, Hydra is confusing. But one thing is for sure, THIS IS AN ABOMINATION, AND IT MAKES ME SO MAD, AND I’M NEVER GOING TO BY MARVEL COMICS AGAIN! Or, at least that’s what I would be saying if I was one of the legions of morons tweeting Nick Spencer death threats for this twist. Because let me tell you, people are pissed.

And I really can’t figure out why. I have noticed a strange correlation where most of the people who are being so loud about their hatred are also people who have recently been trying to convince Marvel to make Steve Rogers gay, for no real reason other than they like their Stucky fan-art on Tumblr. I have no problem with Steve Rogers being gay. I personally think it’s a little strange to randomly decide a character who has 75 years of being straight is now gay, but whatever. It feels like Marvel would be saying that Steve just “decided to be gay,” which is 100% not how that works. But whatever, if they made it a good story and it didn’t feel shoehorned in, I would be fine with it. But I get the feeling most of these people who are mad are more mad that Marvel didn’t bow down to fan entitlement, and change the sexual orientation of a character because they want it for their movies.  My best guess is that these are all people who have either a) never read a comic book before in their lives and are only familiar with the character from the MCU movies, or b) have maybe read a handful of comics after the movies were released, but have never read anything pre-2008. And either way, I would assume that most of these people have not actually read the issue, and are just mad about the last page, because otherwise I can’t wrap my mind around why people are mad. Yeah, Captain America is evil, and may have always been a Hydra sleeper cell. That’s not good, but it’s also the first issue in a new storyline. We know nothing. Anything can happen in the next few issues to reveal what’s actually going on. Because Steve Rogers isn’t evil. C’mon people. He’s been around for almost 75 years as a hero. This story isn’t claiming that he always was and always will be a Nazi. That’s ridiculous. We’re talking about Captain America here. This is a character who has been a werewolf, a Skrull, has traded places with the Red Skull through Cosmic Cube magic, and who has been dead. Yeah, remember, Steve Rogers died a while back! Things like this happen in comics all the time. Hell, a couple years ago during the Axis event, everyone’s alignments changed and all of the heroes briefly became villains. This stuff happens. This is Captain America, a character who has recently been bathed in reality-warping energy that regained his youth and powers. And you’re telling me he’s acting weird? After getting his reality warped? Odd. Oh, how about how his greatest enemy, the Red Skull, has recently weaponized the brain of Charles Xavier, and is using it to brain-wash people? Or how another of his villains, Doctor Faustus, routinely brainwashes people and plants false memories? Or how time travel happens all the damn time in the Marvel Universe, and maybe that woman who recruited them is a Hydra member from the present, gone back to mess with Steve’s past? I don’t know, just spitballing her, like people who actually are familiar with comics are doing.

And listen, I don’t want to be one of those assholes who are trying to discount your passion because you’re only into the movies, and have no interest in the comics. That’s cool, I’m glad you’re liking these characters. But the movies are very different from the comics. No matter how close they get, there’s always the fact that things don’t get as crazy for the movie characters as they do the comics book ones. Heroes rarely die in the movies, they don’t get imprisoned, they don’t get mind-swapped, nothing too crazy has happened in an MCU movie. Consequences don’t really stick. So if you’re only access point to these characters revolve around this notion, where Captain America has only been portrayed as this paragon of virtue and strength, and who has never really had a dark or twisted story, I suppose I can understand the idea of you being mad about this. To a layman, Captain America saying he’s a member of Hydra must seem like the truth. There’s no other explanation, because the MCU has never really lied to you before. But I’m someone who has read an unhealthy amount of comic books. I don’t trust this for a second. We’re pretty close to the 75th anniversary of Captain America, and Nick Spencer clearly loves the character. I’m sure we’re in for a story where one, if not most, of his villains are in on some scheme to rewrite his history. And just in time for the big anniversary he’ll snap out of it, through the strength of his character, and write the wrongs that have occurred to him. He’ll have some issues of course, I’m sure the other heroes will learn of the Hydra thing, and not trust him for a while, similar to what Peter Parker has had to go through since Doc Ock mind-swapped him, but in the end of the day, Steve Rogers will be back to the good old Captain America we know and love. Because that’s how comics work. People tell stories with these characters, and to tell a story you need conflict. Spencer doesn’t want to write just another Captain America story where he fights some random bad guy. It’s been done. The classic stories for these characters always revolve around something more important and crazy happening. Like Captain America thinking he’s in Hydra. So don’t freak out about this people. Nick Spencer is a good writer. We’re in good hands. This story will end up alright. But you need to give it a chance. Just don’t write it off without reading it, and assume you know everything because you’ve seen the last panel. That’s ridiculous. And don’t give creators death threats because they wanted to do something bold and weird with a character you love instead of giving him a male love-interest like you wanted. So give the book a read. It’s actually really good. It has drama, romance, humor, and action, really everything you need from a comic. So grow up, and enjoy a good story that’s only beginning.

Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 was written by Nick Spencer, drawn by Jesus Saiz, and lettered by VC’s Joe Caramanga, 2016

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