June 7, 2016
Most of us are probably more acquainted with Marvel’s cinematic universe. After all, they’ve been releasing a slew of blockbuster movies over the years, and whether you prefer Chris Pratt’s nerdy-yet-adorable Star-Lord or James McAvoy’s devastatingly charming Charles Xavier, you’ve probably seen at least one Marvel superhero saving the world, or even, the universe. But Marvel, as you probably know, is Marvel Comics before anything else, which is why the recent twist in Issue #1 of Captain America: Steve Rogers has caused decades of Marvel fans to go “wait, WHAT?!”.
Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Captain America: Steve Rogers.
But first, a quick history lesson. Marvel Comics began as Timely Publications in 1939. The company’s founder, Martin Goodman, brought on writer-artist Joe Simon – who would become the company’s first true editor – and now-icon of comic book artists, Jack Kirby, and the two created Captain America with the release of Captain America Comics #1 in 1941. Needless to say, Cap quickly gained massive popularity as one of the first patriotically themed superheroes. On the edge of America’s plunge into World War II, Cap was a symbol of hope and strength, fighting against the Axis Powers and standing up for what was right. What’s also particularly crucial to the story is that both Jack Kirby and Joe Simon – born Jacob Kurtzberg and Hymie Simon – are of Jewish heritage. As Panels writer Jessica Plummer points out:
“In early 1941, a significant percentage of the American population was still staunchly isolationist. Yet more Americans were pro-Axis. The Nazi Party was not the unquestionably evil cartoon villains we’re familiar with today; coming out in strong opposition to them was not a given. It was a risky choice (…) (Kirby and Simon) had family and friends back in Europe who were losing their homes, their freedom, and eventually their lives to the Holocaust.”
Jump forward to the present 2016 and the political undertones – are they even ‘under’ anything? – are evident, even in Marvel’s cinematic verse. There’s no denying that the German terrorist organisation known as Hydra are undoubtedly meant to represent the Nazi regime and the horrors of the Holocaust. The scars of World War II are still felt today, and there are still people fighting their own battles, particularly in the Middle East. Cap’s position as a beacon of light, leading troops into battle and taking down the “bad guys”, is probably going to be one that is relevant and needed for a long, long time.
Enter the mess that is Captain America: Steve Rogers issue #1, written by Nick Spencer and edited by Tom Brevoort. Everything seems to be going pretty smoothly until you reach the last page and – brave yourselves for this – it turns out, Steve Rogers has been a Hydra agent all along, recruited from his youth. A double agent, but for the bad guys, and not just any bad guys, but Hydra, the stand-in for the Nazi organisation.
As a writer, I don’t want to be the one dictating what others should or should not write about, particularly if it’s set in a fictional world. But it’s difficult for me to follow Spencer and Brevoort’s approach to something so strongly-rooted in politics – especially if those roots are associated with a nation as old as America. Spencer has even had a number of death threats tweeted his way as a result of his decision, and while I can’t say there’s ever a justification for death threats, it makes you wonder what kind of reaction they were expecting in the first place. “Well, he’s just a comic book character,” you might say, “they can always write themselves out of it.” But fictitious characters have moved people for generations, and still continue to. Why do you think there are weekly tributes to the fallen Game of Thrones characters? People resonate with who they read about and/or see on-screen. Any change of a character – however fleeting or drastic – will undeniably affect those emotionally invested in them, particularly fans of Cap, a superhero who has been around for decades.
Spencer and Brevoort have all the power, and talent, to change the current course of Captain America: Steve Rogers. In fact, there’s no telling that this isn’t all just part of a large (albeit publicity stunt-like) scheme, and Cap might be a triple agent or something. But betraying one’s fellow countrymen and aligning yourself with a Nazi-organisation cuts a wound too deep to be healed by speech bubbles and well-shaded figures. Like Cap, people lost their loved ones, and became rootless. Like Cap, people faced years of trauma, even after the war had ended. Captain America is very much by the people, for the people, and amongst the people. Changing his story for the sake of higher sales and greater publicity doesn’t sit well simply because it seems to trivialise the lives of those who made it out of the battle, shaken and broken, but still wanting to survive. The world doesn’t need another Nazi super-villain, we already had one.
Featured Image: Marvel’s Official Instagram account