Tuesday, May 31, 2016

About that Steve Rogers: Captain America thing


I was honestly trying to avoid a commentary on this topic. But people keep asking. Because of things I wear in public, my kids wear, things I look at in stores, purchase, etc., it keeps coming up. Because my social media feeds are a cavalcade of comic-related things, it keeps coming up. And people keep asking me. Why do people keep asking ME? If you've been here before, I hold Superman in very high regard. If you didn't know that about me... read this.

That same regard, possibly even higher, is held for Captain America. That title of course belonging to one fictional character, Steve Rogers. I love Cap.

I've also loved Cap for a very long time. At one point my dream was to write (and even star!) in a Captain America movie - something I actually made known in the offices of Marvel Studios when I was just a mere intern making trips to the Coffee Bean on Santa Monica Boulevard. That was 2004. But that kind of admiration for a character was birthed in reading all his comics, all his stories and seeing the type of character I really like - the ultimate good guy. The ultimate pinnacle of what America is and can be.

I've always been fascinated with, but never served in the military. My marquee character, Patriot-1, is modeled after Captain America. A modernized version of Cap. Those ideals of doing the right thing no matter what thrown into the muddiness of today's wars and politics. Politically and ideologically, I'm not a hawk. I'm not conservative. I'm very liberal and I abhor war, but I do quite understand that some things, no matter how disgraceful they may seem, are necessary. This is the world we live in.

What Captain America embodies, what he represents is what America is supposed to be. It's what a lot of people think we are as a nation, but we're really a long way from it.

What is it you ask? It's the perfected image - real or not - of the men and women who literally dropped everything, even in the face of economic ruin, to fight a war. The embodiment of what America was always meant to be - the good guys fighting against tyranny and oppression - after all, there's one thing Cap hates and that's bullies.

Steve Rogers is representative of that generation - the Golden Age of comics, unwavering in their righteousness and ability to do good. Steve Rogers is representative of a different time and a different place in American history. That time we actually did rise up and fight the bad guys, fight evil and liberate the world. It wasn't pretty, we did some things that were necessary but we got the job done. There were men who went and fought simply because it was the right thing to do. The Nazis represented - and still represent -  clear evil unlike the world has ever seen. This is also why whenever we get these stories about Steve Rogers "passing on the shield," and someone else taking up the mantle, they all end the same - with Steve Rogers as Captain America.

It's because Captain America doesn't work without Steve Rogers. Sorry, it's true.

I have read just about every issue of Captain America there is to read dating back to the 1940s. If I don't own them, I've read them in some collected form or online. Back when I used to do reviews for Comics Bulletin, I reviewed almost every issue of Ed Brubaker's incredible run. There's even one of my pull quotes on the back of one of the trades. There are multiple long boxes between my garage and my basement devoted solely to Captain America comics. Cap is also on my "writing bucket list." So I'm not saying I'm some kind of expert on Cap, but I've read a few stories.

And yes, I LOVE the movies. First Avenger is a very special movie to me because it's the love child of what I consider the greatest film ever made - Raiders of the Lost Ark - and the phenomenal film adaptation of a comic that has had great influence on me - The Rocketeer. The Winter Soldier and Civil War are also "top shelf" films. The Winter Soldier ranks near Raiders on my top films of all-time, and they perfectly represent who Steve Rogers is. On that same token, Chris Evans is PERFECT as Cap. He is to Cap what Christopher Reeve is to Superman, and it will be hard for someone to eventually fill those boots.

This of course, isn't about that stupid "make Cap and Bucky lovers" nonsense. Want to know why they are close pals? Watch or read Band of Brothers.

What this is about is that twist in Steve Rogers: Captain America #1. You know, the one where he says "Hail Hydra" at the end, and the book possibly reveals that he's been always secretly been a Hydra agent?

So this book has caused quite an uproar. Writers and editors have received death threats (seriously), some weirdo burned his copy (could've donated it to a library), the final page became a really funny meme and some people have been shouting that it's anti-semitism (it's not).

You now know how I feel about Captain America. This was my honest to Zeus reaction to the reveal: "Well, this is interesting."

As far as first issues go, this was phenomenal. It gave readers a solid recap of how we got to this point, it featured Captain America in action, his supporting cast in their roles, the artwork was jaw-dropping (seriously, just buy this issue and look at the pretty pictures) and the shock was exactly that - the shock.

For some ridiculous reason, people feel betrayed. Like this is Hulk Hogan is the third man, nWo-style betrayal. Hulkamania is dead! I'm using a pro-wrestling reference not because of my day job, but because the parallels here are pretty obvious. What is the most shocking thing that can be done to drum up interest in our product? Take our paragon of righteousness and make him go bad!

But here's what people missed. This issue was so brilliantly crafted by a very talented and smart writer in Nick Spencer, that about halfway through I realized something was amiss. I went in with no spoilers other than "there's a big twist," and by the end of it I was hooked. I've read a lot Captain America, I know how these stories end, what I want to know is how we get there. What has caused this sudden change.

And let's be clear, this isn't a "status quo" change. This is a storyline. Just like Operation Rebirth, just like Death of Captain America, just like The Iron Nail de-aging him and making him old. All of these things were touted as permanent. Why? Because that's the job of creators, editors, publishers... to tell stories, to keep you buying their books. Relax.

As a lifelong reader, a retailer and a creator, I see something a little different surrounding the outrage. People are really upset because suddenly their T-shirt or Funko Pop means something different in their mind... when in reality it doesn't. Why would I say that? Because people who are upset aren't real comic book readers, they are "comic book fans" in trend only, collecting the latest trinkets but ignoring the comics and not reading them. They are the movie fans who occasionally buy a comic or a collected edition of a popular or adapted storyline. What's my proof? It's all in the sales numbers, kids. Real readers wouldn't be (and aren't) outraged because it's one issue. The first issue of a storyline. They keep reading, knowing how these stories go.

Nick Spencer is a very good writer. He's also a very smart guy and he gets some flak for his politically-charged Twitter. Many of my views align with his, so I really enjoy following and interacting with him. He's also a very layered storyteller and that was on display in the first issue of Steve Rogers: Captain America. It's blatantly stated in the dialogue that something isn't right. It's blatantly stated that the Red Skull and Baron Zemo are at war with each other within Hydra, trying to get an edge up on each other. It's clear as day, both in the story and in interviews with Thunderbolts writer Jim Zub (who has said the Cap book and Thunderbolts are connected), that the sentient cosmic cube in the form of little girl Kobik - who gave Steve Rogers his age back - is far from finished with this storyline. The evidence is all in front of you. My analysis may be wrong, but the point is that there is enough evidence and foreshadowing that this story can go six different ways before reaching the outcome. That's what's so great about it.

As a seasoned Cap reader - and I could be wrong - but it seems as though Kobik (the cosmic cube) has altered reality and Steve's past to implant these Hydra memories - this idea he's always been Hydra. This is likely manipulated by Skull of Zemo... the best weapon is your greatest enemy. What's the tell? Elsa Sinclar, the Hydra recruiter in the flashbacks. The red she wears is the only real color in the muted flashbacks. In fact, the only prominent color in the flashbacks is red. It's a tell. That's your first clue.

What do I think happens? Steve Rogers - or one of his supporting cast members - eventually figures out that something is wrong and Rogers pulls through - his true identity, that stalwart, unwavering pinnacle of hope we know and love, and he never was a member of Hydra. Because these types of stories are meant to challenge his resolve, to prove he is incorruptible. And what of the young hero he supposedly kills in the first issue? 1) we don't see him actually die and 2) again, cosmic cube, reality-altering.

Could that actually be the endgame here? Maybe? Not just sales and publicity, but an actual story that strengthens Steve Rogers' resolve? That even in the face of reality being altered, he cuts through the shit and stands tall, shield raised high in the air? You know, I think that may be exactly what's happening here. Why doesn't he have is original shield right now? What's with the new outfit? It's because he's not himself and subconsciously he knows it. Now his resolve is to be tested in a new and different way. I read these books religiously, these are the best kind of Captain America stories, the ones where even the cosmic cube can't win in the end.

If the cosmic cube sounds too crazy and far-fetched to you, clearly you've never read a Captain America comic. And trust me, your childhood isn't ruined. Shut up.

Cap comics are also often classified in the spy genre and as political thrillers. That's exactly what Nick Spencer has established in this first issue. I mean really, the twist is shocking - sure - but this isn't that far off from some of Cap's most classic stories.

The uproar over the issue - again, literally the first issue - is insane. Like really insane. I can understand some people not liking the twist or criticizing it for being nothing but a publicity stunt - especially to off-set the buzz surrounding DC Comics Rebirth. Hell, I don't like every Cap story. I wasn't a huge fan of Rick Remender's run. Cap in overly science-fiction settings just isn't my thing. And that's fine.

Though if every single person expressing outrage over this issue actually bought it - it would be one of the best-selling books of all-time. But half of the people outraged have no idea what's really going on. They use social media - Twitter, specifically - to attack creators, say horrible things they likely wouldn't say in person, and generally hide behind a firewall of anonymity. Seriously, if you have Twitter and there is something in the news or something like this Cap storyline, odds are you're going to hate it. Social media can be exceptionally negative and really bring out the worst in people without fear of consequence, and that plays a role in things like this. 

All of this for the first 30 pages of a serialized comic book. I mean, seriously. The outrage is honestly overblown and petulant. And that goes for ALL OF IT. And the death threats... anyone who threatened anyone's life over this is a complete ass.

Of course Marvel is going to hit the media circuits and tout this as some big change. They do it all the time. When Cap died, when Sam Wilson "took over" as Cap... etc. That's the purpose of publicity and PR - to sell the product. That's all they want to do is sell their product and drum up interest.

As for anti-semitism... no. Let's clear up one bit of fiction. Hydra were not outright heavily associated with the Nazis until the first Captain America movie. In the movies, Hydra is the Nazis' deep science division. This was an adaptation and a decision made to tell a larger story that didn't have to rely on Nazis. And even then, Hydra is bigger than the Nazis were, that was the point of contention between Hitler and The Red Skull... Skull took the occult belief structure further than Hitler did in the movie.

In the comics, Hydra is not a Nazi organization. There are former Nazis in their ranks, and Red Skull and Baron Zemo are often closely associated with them (especially in Steve Rogers: Captain America #1), but they are not Nazis. They are a terrorist organization hell-bent on order and ruling the world, yes - Nazis, no. They were formed in 1965 as a rival spy organization to S.H.I.E.L.D. So you can take that ridiculous "this is anti-semitism" argument and throw it out the window. Seriously, it's a thin argument and a load of bullshit.

While thinking about this post, I saw two friends post on Facebook in regards to Captain America. One of them was referring to the "No, you move" speech that has been floating around political memes as of late. My friend - an Army Vet and all-around good dude - said this: 

"I've seen the comic book pages from which this came shared frequently of late. There are times in our history when this sentiment would have been very patriotic, unfortunately now isn't one of them. With politics so radicalized these days, I feel this sends completely the wrong message. Apply these words to racists and homophobes; should they stand by these words right now? Religious extremists who want no Muslims in America: should they stand by these words? People who prefer Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton: should they stand by these words right now? We've tipped so far out of wack with any kind of balance in this country, these words are the worst possible words we could use to inspire us right now. Just because they came from the mouth of Captain America doesn't mean they are right."

And then another friend - a Navy Vet I greatly respect - posted his distaste for the Cap twist, saying:

"I get the story idea and what they want to explore, but this was the wrong character at the wrong time.

With the bitterness of this election year and our extraordinary lack of faith in our political leaders, to turn a character which is to many the symbol of what is great in America into a villain is a poor choice.

America has always had its symbols, and Captain America has been an almost unwavering constant of American values. Even to his "detriment" at times. 

While he has feigned changes to go undercover in the past, we all knew he was faking. But these announcements from Marvel staff are telling us otherwise - and it makes me sad. Even more so on Memorial Day."

But maybe that's what Nick Spencer is trying to tell us - that we as Americans aren't who we pretend to be. With all the political vitriol, the madness of the election cycle, the racism and disrespect toward the President, Donald Trump being a Presidential candidate - that America has lost it's way. Somewhere along the line our history was altered and the end product is the social, cultural and political divides that clearly exist today. How do we pull through this? How do we find our way back to being like those men and women who stood up to evil by storming beaches and just generally doing the right thing?

Maybe we should all pay closer attention to this Steve Rogers: Captain America storyline. Either everything you've ever known was a lie and a gross distortion of reality, or you step back, re-center yourself and who you are, and throw your shield in the air.

At the end of the day, this is a comic book. It's a storyline and believe me, Marvel - and more importantly, Disney - is not going to suddenly change the status quo of one of it's most popular characters in such a manner. So buy the books, enjoy the storyline and see where it goes. Remember, nothing in comics is absolute - not death, not de-aging, not the timeline and certainly not reality.

If you're really upset and want a good story with a good guy doing the right thing... I don't know... buy Patriot-1 here.

Oh, and Hail Hydra.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I thought Hydra was not formed in 1965?Hydra has roots that are very old, but was reformed during WWII by Baron Stucker in the 1940s, not the 1960s. At least as I understand its history.

    Which begs the question, how does someone recruit Steve Roger's mother to Hydra when he was a child, long before the reformation. That is another sign there is something wrong with reality and the timeline. I definitely agree it seems like some tampering is going on.

    Cosmic Cube Shenanigans!!

    While no, it is not antisemetic, this arc does essentially put Steve working for an organization that, while perhaps not actively causing the holocaust, still agrees with it and has many Nazi's and later former Nazi's working in it. Meaning Captain America is serving a group that doesn't have a problem with the Holocaust, who probably see it as making their goals easier to attain. I still find that insensitive. I don't want to read that, regardless of how it will be changed. But that is just me personally, I don't expect Marvel to change for my personal benefit. I will not personally spend money on this, but I'm not going to demand others boycott it either. Each fan can make their own decisions, and Marvel can either respond to the majority response of the fans or ignore (both options have merit, not judging either one as better.)

    As a Marine Vet, I have to agree with your Navy friend, although I think I also agree with the ultimate point of your Army friend. I do love that speech though.

    If sending us a message about the state of U.S. politics, I feel it misses its mark. Having Steve Rogers hear the rhetoric of a charismatic Hydra leader, after being disenfranchised, and then turn would make that point more clearly. Having him changed since childhood by cosmic forces doesn't really carry a message.

    I am upset about this plot arc, and I feel its a very bad choice in the story. My life is not altered, I don't think anything bad of Nick Spencer or Tom Breevort, and I think issuing threats of violence over a comic book insults what Captain America stands for more than making him temporarily Hydra.