First off, there will be spoilers in this piece, so if you still plan to read Captain America: Steve Rogers and want to do so unspoiled don’t read this first. Second, I know I am coming late to the party on this one, but as I explain below there’s a reason for it. Now, on with the show…
Normally when I pick up a new comic, especially the first issue of a new series, I do so with a mix of optimism and excitement. Not so in the case of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. By now you’ve likely heard the news from a hundred other sources, and if not, well, spoiler alert, it ends with Captain America, champion of all things good and great about America (and I’d argue humanity) turning out to be a secret Nazi. Well, actually a member of Hydra, but in the Marvel universe that’s pretty much the same thing.
I loved issue #0 when it came out on Free Comic Book Day and I had planned on picking up Issue #1 when it came out, but I was a little slow in heading out to the comic store and so the headlines hit me first, “Cap is a Nazi”, WTF? I was like a lot of people, outraged at the idea of what surely had to be another Marvel publicity stunt. As a result, I didn’t pick up the issue that day and figured I was better off for not doing so. In fact, I was so mad, without even glancing at a single page of it, that I wondered what Marvel titles I could drop from my pull list; I was ready to vote with my wallet and show Marvel what they were doing to Cap was not okay. After all, despite not being American, Cap was one of my favourite heroes and what made him that was his goodness. Who didn’t look at Cap and deep down feel the urge to be a bit better as a person? I know I did.
Still, despite my outrage and after a few weeks of mental debate, my curiosity got the better of me and I bought the issue online. Even after forking over my hard-earned cash, I was sure I was going to hate it. In fact, I told myself, just get through it and then you can go online and tell the world with authority how much it sucked.
Except, it didn’t suck.
I wanted it to suck, but it steadfastly refused to do so. Indeed, it had the temerity to weave an engaging and thought-provoking story. I was shocked. I had assumed, having read others pieces on this issue that the storylines begun in issue #0 had been jettisoned to make room for the big twist ending. I’d enjoyed those storylines; they had Captain America and SHIELD battling a resurgent Hydra, a Hydra that had seemed to have dispensed with their typical yellow and green costumes and doomsday plots for very real, very nasty terrorist acts and the swelling of their numbers by an appeal to the fears and frustrations of the disenfranchised. In essence they had become something, which in 2016, you’d be more likely to find in the headlines rather than on a comic book page.
Those stories continued in Captain America #1 and went on to show us an inside view of how someone could be seduced by organizations such as Hydra, who prey on fears, insecurities and needs in order to get what they want from their disciples. As well they add to the debate on what to do to combat these groups. In the comic the debate plays out between Maria Hill the Director of Marvel’s premier intelligence agency, SHIELD and her presumptive replacement and Cap’s long-time lover, Sharon Carter. Hill takes the pragmatic view believing the people who are involved in Hydra are criminals and should be treated as such, while Carter takes the view that they are in part victims and the better strategy is to attack the social ills that make their potential recruits desperate enough to join Hydra. The debate isn’t settled in the pages of Issue #1, but it along with the story of how good people can be seduced into bad organizations, does set up Cap’s twist ending, even if Cap himself doesn’t telegraph it by his own actions.
When I turned the final page (or whatever you call getting to the end of a digital comic) I was blown away. It was not because of the big twist at the end, since that had been well and truly spoiled by that point, but because what I’d read about this issue had left out so much of what it was trying to say. Even Marvel’s own press about it focused more on ‘OMG Cap’s a Nazi’ rather than to talk up the deeper issues the comic covers. I mean I get it, controversy sells, but in this case I think it sells this issue short. I think the story Nick Spencer is trying to tell is important, even if it isn’t always comfortable, and by focusing on the twist alone, Marvel has made a lot of people give the issue a pass and miss out on what was being said.
That said. am I happy that Cap’s a member of Hydra? No. Of course not, but I am willing to go along with the ride for the sake of the story. Do I think this change is permanent? No. Despite what Marvel has said I think Cap will be back on the side of the angels before long. Marvel has done this in the past with other big name characters but has too much invested in them to make them go bad forever. My hope is though, unlike some of their previous forays into major character changes,that they don’t retcon it entirely, leaving no growth for the character or the world when all the hype has gone away. As for the comic disrespecting the character or his Jewish-America creators, I don’t agree. Captain America was written in World War II and his first appearance had him punching Hitler, he’s always been a character rooted in the real world and dealing with real problems. Nick Spencer hasn’t done anything different here, except that Captain America isn’t currently on our side and his story is dealing with the murkier issues of our day. I think his creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon would definitely be on board with that.
In all, I think all the “Cap is a Nazi” hype has probably done more harm than good and has cheated some fans out of a good read, as it almost did me. Is this a comic for everyone? Probably not. A lot of people don’t like politics with their comics but I enjoy it and as with Ta-Nehisi Coate’s Black Panther Captain America, Steve Rogers gives us a break from the good guys in costumes beating up the bad guys in costumes trap comic books can sometimes fall into. In all though, I think if nothing else this issue has taught me one thing and that’s sometimes you need to disregard the hype about an issue and just read the book. You never know what you’re going to find.