By now, you have probably heard the news that “Captain America #1” completely rewrote 75 years of Captain America’s history in a single comic. If you haven’t, leave now and continue hiding under a rock where it’s safe and everything is still holy, or go do a quick Google search. It won’t be hard, either way.
Obviously Cap fans are upset, but what some people still have failed to realize is that we are upset because of how irresponsible this writing is for Captain America as a war hero, his political influence and his history. (And I’m not the first one to write this, by the way. I’m just finally finding the angle I need to post this here.)
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America, our Steve Rogers, during World War II – our precious, frozen ’40s artifact.
In March of 1941, America wasn’t quite in WWII full time. In fact, we had totally isolated ourselves until our involvement with the United Nations. Objectively, it might be best to say that US civilians were spectators, perhaps, but everyone was fully aware that the war was happening. By 1941 it was getting harder for Americans to ignore the feud overseas; but this wasn’t just some war, it was one that was sweeping globally, and infecting many European countries with bigoted genocide towards Jewish communities, primarily, and several other minorities. Kirby, a Jewish man born of Austrian Jewish immigrants, felt this hate and mass murder during his time in America in a haunting, familial way. Knowing that,it shouldn’t be hard to imagine that when Kirby and Simon teamed up and created our hero, what they did was revolutionary for comics: They introduced an All-American war hero punching the lights out of German dictator Adolf Hitler. That was March 1941. Japan hadn’t even made its way to our doorstep, but Kirby and Simon were sending a clear message in plot and illustration:
Steve Rogers did more than just become some national symbol of American values or whatever morals ran rampant culturally during that time in the US. Steve Rogers was an emblem of America’s determination to keep Hitler’s gruesome vision and rule out of America and wipe the dictator off the map entirely. In a time when there was devastation and propaganda, Kirby and Simon were taking a huge risk by their own accord plastering this on news stands. They weren’t gutsy news reporters. They were content creators with a purpose. It just wasn’t your typical 10-cent piece. They could have been ripped off of the shelves immediately, for fear of creating a stir during this bit of peace before unexpected wartime. Thankfully, they weren’t. Thankfully, we have Cap.
Today it might not seem so terribly big of a risk. Emphatic hatred towards bigotry, particularly Nazism, is an obvious stance to take. When you hear “WWII”, the first two things you might think about are the Holocaust and Hitler. But that’s a retrospective look that education has afforded us. During WWII, before America was even in it, genocide was very real, and political stances like Kirby and Simon’s came from the desperate cries of people who needed to know that the spirit to fight for what was right still existed. Imagine the freight overwhelming Americans as they knew the rest of the world was burning, heard stories of the shipping of Jews out of their homes, wondered if their homes might be next. Captain America was a necessity.
So let’s look at what Cap did for 75 years for America.
In the Marvel comics and cinematic universes, Hydra is a global terrorist group, subversive and bent on world domination. They are the ultimate enemy. Hydra is crafted by Baron Strucker, a Prussian Nazi. As such, Hydra’s and the Nazi’s ploys often overlapped. And in the beginning of Captain America Comics, Hitler was seen or heard commanding and scheming – ordering Hydra and Nazi men to pervert society with their message of purity and get rid of anyone standing in their way. Steve Rogers went into this war and took out these enemies piece by piece. For 75 years (with or without the period of frozen, suspended animation poor Cap endured), Captain America helped fight off and win the war on this terrorism, and then continued to take out – once again with the help of the American people and government – any uprisings of Hydra or like-minded organizations that threatened American soil or were birthed from it.
As the years went by, Captain America’s enemies expanded to more than just Hydra, however. Captain America has always had writers who were topical. They made sure that the content was relate-able. Just look at this war that Captain America fought on drugs:
Sure, some of it had its own government agenda and could border on campy – it is a comic book universe, after all. This is what happens. We have seen comic book writers do some strange things with characters and plots. DC fans often detest the New-52 writers for some of the changes they have made and then quickly retracted since its rebirth. (And this isn’t about Marvel vs DC, at all.) But every incarnation has been a very Steve Rogers-driven and character-appropriate plot. This is a man who became a man in the ’40s and carries those sensibilities with him wherever he goes. Campy or not, of course he is going to fight drugs with the same morals and bicep-wielding girth that he did Hitler on his very first cover. Of course. That at least makes sense, if you’ve met anyone over the age of 70. Steve is an old man, and one who sincerely cares about keeping America and its civilians safe.
But let’s talk about what “Captain America #1” did in May 2016.
On May 25, 2016, Cap fans were met with a surprising end twist to their beloved war hero. Two words: “Hail Hydra.” Straight from the mouth of one babe, Steve Rogers. We were told, and expected to believe and receive well that Captain America has been working with Hydra all along. Unfortunately, this meant that these new writers would also expect us to not be invested in Captain America’s character or history, I presume. But we are both, and that’s why so many of us are mad. I read an article, but I can’t find it now, where Marvel said it was all about being topical – sure, we hit on that above. But what exactly is topical about this?
Given the fraction of wealthy information on Steve’s history that I’ve already provided, I hope a few things come to mind when you read that Captain America is now hailing Hydra from the highest heights, but I’d prefer to break it down, anyway. Because this is a complete show of irresponsible writing for shock factor.
Overall lapse in judgment of character:
It’s unfortunate that it has come to this – that we have to see a person who has been staunchly in his morals and ethics for so long, a man who believes in equality (i.e. civil rights and LGBTQ) and freedom, suddenly try to convince us that as a teen he was recruited by Hydra and has been working a second agenda this whole time. Imagine every interaction that Captain America and Steve Rogers – both personifying one honest character – have had with anyone. Suddenly there is a dark second layer of complete contradictory sentiment with every word he has spoken. It means a betrayal for an entire generation, and generations after, who trusted him when they truly needed him.
It’s disrespectful to his historical significance in origin, and to Jack Kirby:
So you mean to tell me that a man who is born of Austrian Jewish immigrants, wrote a character who “all along” has been working to annihilate an entire community, alongside Hitler, that was already taking care of that horrific path on their own? Not likely. Kirby created Steve Rogers because the comic book industry was booming, wartime was soon upon America again, and his Jewish bloodline was likely getting shorter as he and his parents stayed in America with jobs and the security of freedom. Kirby understood the significance of the Nazi movement, and he created a character who would always stand up for what was right for humanity.
It’s borderline anti-Semitic:
This one is a little bit harder of a truth for even me to swallow, because it feels extreme when you say it out loud, but we’re already there, folks – check the above bullet if you don’t believe me. Due to his historical significance, having Steve Rogers completely take blame for at least some of what the Nazis (and Hydra) did in the 1940s completely erases what he was meant to be for those families wondering if the Holocaust is real, knowing that genocide was out there, and knowing that it was very heavily targeted at them. He’s suddenly a genocidal, anti-Semite willing to kill just based on blood and terrorist agenda. He’s no longer our defender, our pride.
To add to the damage that toying with history can do, Jessica Plummer puts it best in her post with Panels.net (“On Steve Rogers #1, Antisemitism, and Publicity Stunts“):
It’s easy, especially if you’re not Jewish, to think that anti-semitism is a thing of the past. It’s not. It flies under the radar, mostly, until suddenly it doesn’t: with graffiti in Spain,hateful party games in American high schools, vicious threats being flung at Jewish journalists for criticizing Trump. With physical attacks—with deaths—in France. Nor is neo-Nazi rhetoric, which hews closer to 616 Hydra’s shtick, a goofy make-believe thing. Not when the Republican presidential nominee spouts fascist ideology that echoes Hitler’s rise to power and spurs a literal rise in hate crimes against Muslims. But writer Nick Spencer and editor Tom Brevoort are more concerned with making this “something new and unexpected”; with having “fun” and getting readers “invested in Hydra characters.” Because what’s more fun than downplaying genocide?
Jessica Plummer is an example of a fan and writer who is so vehemently angry, and rightfully so. So much so that it’s worth asking: What would Kirby think to see this happen, had he lived another 12 years? What would he really say?
We all get it. Plummer gets it. You get it. This is not the first time that a comic book has shifted gears simply to get the comics off the shelves. This is not the first time that writers have effectively erased a part of history, a character’s character or even just completely started over. But when you are a writer, you have a responsibility. You have to take into consideration continuity, characters, environment and significance. A good writer does. These are factors that Nick Spencer did not take into consideration before sending “Captain America #1” to his editor. And unfortunately his editor didn’t seem to stop it, either. Does the idea of a double agent or sleeper agent sound interesting? Naturally. But Cap is not that hero. If you write it in, you don’t erase his significance while doing it. There has to be a better catch, and an obvious one, before you do that. There’s a huge chance, that due to response, they will make this magically go away in only the way comics can one or two issues from now, but it doesn’t erase the fact that it happened.
Just remember, when you’re writing, you have a responsibility to your sources and to your audience. Jack Kirby knew the weight he carried with each word when the very first issue of some soldier named Captain America was released. He didn’t just create a character, he created a piece of history, he created hope. That’s what we do as writers – whether our characters are completely of our own making or they are connected to the real world in some way, they matter. And their histories matter. Forgetting that can be detrimental.
Abraham Erskine: […] The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great; bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because the strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows… compassion. Steve Rogers: Thanks. I think. Abraham Erskine: […] Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man. –Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011