So the big reveal from last week’s Captain America: Steve Rogers first issue is that Captain America – Sentinel of Liberty and all-around nice guy – is actually a Nazi.
Okay, not a Nazi exactly – a Hydra sleeper agent. But Hydra, no matter how many times it’s been retconned over the years, has always been Marvel shorthand for Nazi. That means Captain America is a Nazi. And always has been, according to the story. And this is wrong, but not for the reason you think.
(Oh spoilers by the way – guess it’s a bit late for that – but this story has been all over Twitter and FOX News so I don’t feel as if I’m giving too much away here.)
In the new run, a re-powered Steve Rogers takes back the mantle (or rather becomes co-mantle user along with Sam Wilson) and starts a new team to fight for truth and justice only to reveal in a big cliffhanger that – gasp! – he’s been a Hydra agent all along.
As you can imagine the Internet has not taken this well.
And to be fair I haven’t taken this well either. Only not in the way most have. See the prevailing sentiment is that the character has been “ruined” or “tainted” beyond repair. The reputation of Captain America – nay, America itself! – has been destroyed and the values of god-fearing folk irreparably scarred and an entire generation will be raised in depravity. Won’t anyone think of the children?
The writer of the issue – Nick Spencer – has even received death threats. This is…extreme.
All of this outrage is a bit misguided (especially the death threats – seriously people its a comic book!) and it misses the point. Because – no matter what the creative team or Marvel says – this will be resolved satisfactorily and Cap will go back to being a good guy again eventually. This is, after all, only the first issue in a decompressed, serialized story that will probably take about a year to play out.
“This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.” – Nick Spencer, writer
In the end, through brainwashing or time travel or the Cosmic Cube or some other convenient plot device, it will be like it never happened. Why? Because that’s why. This will be a year-long experiment in the tedious and unnecessary deconstruction of the “dark side” of our hero. Yawn.
This is the real issue: a failure to tell interesting stories with a great character.
There are critics and fans who decry characters like Captain America as being too pure-hearted. Someone who is that good and always strives to do the right thing is boring, they say. Well yes, if told poorly they are. But if told well it takes a good character and makes them not only interesting but fascinating to read.
In the past, I’ve talked about how hard it is to tell a good Captain America story. It can easily fall into self-parody if not handled well. So the tendency is to go dark. Make it gritty, tear down your heroes. You see it with other characters as well, Superman for instance. Just watch Man of Steel or Batman v Superman to see how a good character can be misused.
But just making your character evil is so damned easy. It’s black and white. And in the end the story always – always – has to come back to the status quo. That’s how a “dark and gritty” story has to resolve itself because there is no other way to end it. Is Captain America going to be a bad guy forever? No, of course not. So a way to erase the dark side will be contrived and nothing will actually be said.
But the thing most people miss is that by always attempting to do “the right thing” a noble character will find more conflict than just being the bad guy. The conflict comes when a character like Captain America – or Superman, whomever – falls into a situation where there is not a clear, defined “right” solution. And then the character must experience doubt and must make decisions where not everyone can be saved. And for a character that needs – and is defined by the need – to save everyone, this can be devastating. And can have physiological repercussions that can grow and shape that character in ways that can last for years throughout many stories.
It’s subtle, it’s nuanced. It’s very hard to do. But it is so much more rewarding that a “and now I’m evil” cliffhanger.
I’m not mad that Captain America is a Nazi – that’s a distraction and a cliche plot device. I’m upset that there are good stories to be told that can’t be because no one is willing to tell them.
The real disrespect to Captain America is a lack of creativity.