Please note this is an opinion piece, I do not wish to annoy or anger anyone by putting my view on this subject forward.
So this evening, I finished reading the first issue of the new Captain America: Steve Rogers ongoing series. The reason I am so late to this is due to the fact that living in the UK I only receive a comic delivery a few times a month due to the store I subscribe through, and so have had to wait a little while to catch up. Unfortunately due to the reaction to this issue on social media, the overall plot of this comic was largely known to me before I opened the page, or so I thought…
WARNING: From here on in I will be discussing the issue in detail, so this is a SPOILER ALERT to all who choose to read past this.
Now I am aware that, like myself, most people reading this may well have had the ending of this issue revealed to them prior to reading the issue. For those who have not, but are still reading, this issue sees the reveal that Steve Rogers has been a secret member of Hydra from a very young age. This was subject to quite an outpouring of anger at Marvel Comics and the writer of the issue, Nick Spencer, who believed that this sullied Steve’s name and saw many people accusing Nick of ruining a character, being unsympathetic to the Jewish origins of the characters creators and early writers (Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and Stan Lee) and, rather upsettingly, Nick Spencer was also the recipient of a number of death threats over this storyline.
For the record, I want to say that I personally am a fan of the potential this storyline has. I will not say I am a fan of the story now, as this is only the first chapter in what may be quite a long running plotline. However, the social media reaction does upset me somewhat. That some people believe that threating behaviour is acceptable in this circumstance is, to my mind, inexcusable and downright unjustified. I also want to have a look at the other accusations levelled towards Nick Spencer in a form of defence.
Firstly, to say that this ruins a character ignores several things in the history of Marvel Comics. It ignores the fantastic work Nick has done writing for other series, including the highly successful Captain America: Sam Wilson series that many were initially dubious about. It also overlooks many plots that have initially been disliked by fans and gone on to have a fantastic reception by the end, including such runs as ‘The Winter Soldier’ storyline in Captain America and the Superior Spider-Man comic from more recent memory. To judge this entire storyline, most of which is still yet to unfold, upon the first chapter is an impossible task, as anything could occur in the next issue alone, especially if issue #1 is anything to go by.
Next, I want to look at the numerous claims I have seen that making Cap support Hydra is anti-Semitic and disrespectful to the creators of the character, and to Stan Lee. Let’s put this later claim to bed by pointing out that Stan Lee has already come out and said he is in favour of this storyline, and interested to see where it goes, while also admitting that he would not have thought to do this with the character. While the latter point might seem to suggest a slight upset, the fact he is in favour of it clearly outweighs this.
Secondly, there seems to be a misconception that Hydra is one and the same in beliefs as the Nazi party during the Second World War, a belief that seems to stem from the recent Captain America: The First Avenger film in which they are depicted as a rogue Nazi scientific organisation. In the comics, there is a tie between some of its major leaders (Baron Strucker and the Red Skull) and the Nazi party, however the group has been presented more as a fascist group determined to build a New World Order. However to assume from this that anti-Semitism is a main component of Hydra would be wrong, as there have been numerous offshoot groups in the comics, not to mention numerous changes in heads of the organisation. Furthermore, there is currently a leadership battle ongoing between Baron Zemo and the Red Skull to try and lead HYDRA in different directions, clearly showing the organisation has evolved.
In this issue, none of Steve Rogers actions can even be construed as anti-Semitic, in fact they have not yet been seen to have originated from any sort of racist viewpoint. The interesting thing here is that seemingly Steve was recruited to Hydra by a newly introduced character by the name of Elisa Sinclair, whose first appearance shows her defending Steve’s mother against being abused by his father. This largely seems to go against a large amount of Hydra’s viewpoints of strength being the key to survive, as Elisa here clearly defends the weaker party. As such, I personally am interested to see whether she is from yet another offshoot or division of Hydra that is yet to be seen in the comics.
What I also find interesting though, is what the social media backlash seems to have ignored in this issue. While attention has been focussed on the revelation that Steve is a member of Hydra, very few people seem to have commented on the fact that he threw Jack Flag out the back of a plane, an act that may, or may not, have killed him, and either way will have interesting results in the coming issues.
Yet what grabbed my attention most about this issue was the depiction of radicalisation of youth. The issue opens with Steve and his small band of heroes attempting to stop a young man from carrying out a suicide bombing. Most of this sequence takes place on a train, but there is a brilliantly written flashback piece detailing the decent of this character, Robbie Tomlin, on a life that led from a poor home life, to a decent into crime, involvement with drugs and a white supremacist prison gang, and eventually being led to a Hydra rally where the Red Skull convinces many people to join his organisation. He does so through a speech filled with discussions on the current refugee crisis in Europe, on whom he blames terrorist attacks in this continent, through to discussing the siege of American culture in the name of ‘tolerance’. What strikes me most about this is how frighteningly similar this speech is to many political figures today. After this Robbie signs up to Hydra for the feeling of belonging, but quickly finds his views challenged as he is forced to watch a man be beaten to death purely for his skin colour, which he struggles with, to finally agreeing to a bombing with a sense of relief that his life would be ending. This is an amazingly emotional piece, later hit on by Steve who observes there was no feeling at all behind Robbie’s eyes as he chooses to detonate the bomb than be taken in by Steve. I feel this sequence should be the real talking point of the issue, for the depiction of radicalisation as much as the disturbingly similar sounding rhetoric that the Red Skull uses to convince people that only he can lead them to safety from this turbulent time.
While this issue should clearly be a talking point, I can’t help but feel that people have focussed on the wrong point. Instead of looking at some of the brilliant writing, the public fixation on the last page has caused a large portion of this book to be overlooked. Steve’s allegiance to Hydra, for all we know, could be a side effect of his recent rejuvenation by the cosmic cube, but instead people have focussed in on this like it is a life altering revelation. I find it amazing that people would rather focus on the notion that a character may not be who he appeared to be, than look at the portrayal of the current political situation in many countries today that is brought to life through the speech of the Red Skull at his Hydra rally.