Update September 2016
From now on, all of my superhero-related posts will be published at my A Clash of Heroes Blog.
Update, September 5th, 2016
So I think that a few months is enough time to calm down and think a little more reflectively about the issue. Please see my newest post about Captain America: Steve Rogers.
(It’s hard to imagine that the book hasn’t been spoiled for every person on the planet by now, but SPOILER ALERT for Captain America: Steve Rogers #1.)
No, I’m not in denial. It is simply not the case that the current bigwigs at Marvel can rewrite the 75-year history of one of their most important characters, and especially not this character. Yes, Captain America belongs to Marvel, and they can do whatever they want with him, right? Nope. Sorry. Spencer can write whatever story he wants to write; it won’t change the work of creators like Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Mark Waid, Ed Brubaker, Mark Millar, J. Michael Straczynski, and others. Spencer and the folks at Marvel are custodians of a legacy that they have inherited, not its sole owners.
Others have argued that there has to be some kind of screwiness going on—either related to Marvel’s recent universe-scrambling, universe-mashing, universe-destroying, universe-creating Secret Wars event; or, as another writer recently suggested to me in an email, related to the Cosmic Cube at the center of the recent story Standoff.
So maybe something is eventually going to explain away the gigantic reveal in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 that Cap has secretly been a Hydra agent for his entire career. Maybe this won’t stick. (If it does, then I’m done buying new Marvel comics.) Maybe Spencer and Breevort are lying when they say that they are dead serious and that this is going to last a long time.
I’ve had half a day to vent about it and a night to sleep on it, and I’m still pissed. And I will still be pissed even when the dust settles and whatever trick Nick Spencer is playing becomes clear. Here’s why:
While I appreciate the fact that both of Spencer’s Captain America books (Sam Wilson: Captain America and Captain America: Steve Rogers) have dealt with politics, Spencer’s treatment of political opinions he disagrees with is often unfair and one-sided. In Sam Wilson: Captain America #1, for example, Sam battles a group of right-wing, anti-immigrant nationalists (called the Sons of the Serpent) who spout rhetoric that sounds a lot like some of the most unpleasant Trump supporters. As Mark White and others have noted, the controversy over that issue was overblown, but SW:CA #1 established a pattern that Spencer would repeat throughout his run: putting the words of his political opponents into the mouths of supervillains. He does it with the Sons of the Serpent; he does it with Serpent Solutions (a corporate iteration of the Serpent Society); and he does it with the Red Skull in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1.
Now I’m not complaining about politics showing up in a comic book. And I’m certainly not complaining that Spencer uses a Captain America book to critique views that he disagrees with. But simply taking the views of people you disagree with and putting them into he mouths of supervillains isn’t a reasoned critique, and it isn’t great writing (and Spencer is a good writer, so I know that he can do better).
Some people might say, But it’s a comic book! You can’t expect sophistication and subtlety in a comic book! It’s people wearing brightly-colored suits battling over good and evil! To those people who think that comics aren’t capable of sophistication, I suggest that they . . . well, I suggest they read a few comics. Try Civil War (2006), for example. Probably the greatest strength of that book is the way in which it presents a balanced and nuanced view of both sides of a political issue (government regulation). Though it isn’t as overtly political as Civil War, DC’s Kingdom Come is similarly nuanced in its presentation of the different sides in a major disagreement between superheroes. And, based on just the first issue, Marvel’s Civil War II seems like it will be a worthy successor to the original Civil War in its handling of political disagreement.
If Spencer wants to tackle politics in his Captain America books, great. If he wants to do so with a definite political stance, he’s welcome to it. But there are better ways to handle your political opponents than to depict them only as supervillains and knuckle-dragging jerks.
So what does all this have to do with the big reveal in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1? Near the end of that book, the (apparently) evil Steve Rogers throws Jack Flag out of a plane (presumably to his death). As I read Steve’s interior monologue during this scene, I couldn’t help thinking of Spencer’s habit of putting the words of his political opponents into the mouths of supervillains:
Jack Flag saw his moment. At a second’s notice, he saw someone in need and he did what he believed was right—without question or fear of consequence. That makes him a hero—and that is why he deserved so much more than this. It’s a terrible price to pay for what must be done. The road has not been easy, and I have plenty of cause to doubt it. But even still, I hold true to what I believe—and I follow in the footsteps of those who inspired me. You see, I dream of something better, too.
This sounds almost exactly like something Steve Rogers would say. Almost. It’s a dark parody of the idea that I admire most about him: his idealism, the belief that we should always stand up for our convictions. The language here recalls Steve’s famous speech from Amazing Spider-Man #537:
Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world,”No, you move.”
The fact that the monologue in CA:SR echoes the ideas from the speech in ASM—that’s what ticks me off the most. Here we have a writer who frequently has his supervillains express the political opinions that he disagrees with so that the audience will know that those opinions are wrong, and now he takes the idea that so many people admire about Steve Rogers and has him say it as he throws another hero to his death. How else should we read this than as an attack on the values that Captain America has represented for 75 years? How else are we supposed to read Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 than as Spencer and Marvel saying, “That hero you believed in for 75 years? The one whose values you wanted to aspire to? Yeah, that was all a bunch of bull.”
So let Spencer pull back the curtain and say, “Surprise! I was just kidding! It was only some shenanigans caused by the Cosmic Cube!” It can’t happen fast enough, as far as I’m concerned. But it won’t be enough to make me forgive him for the end of CA:SR #1. As another friend said to me yesterday, “The damage is done.”