Steve Rogers: Secret Nazi (SPOILERS)

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Captain America: Steve Rogers no. 1 (2016)
Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz

Oy vey.

I don’t want to say too much about this because I feel like it’s already a tempest in a teacup, but this is the reason why part-two of the Civil War essay series is not going up tonight, so…

Captain America: Steve Rogers no. 1 was released today, and it’s already ignited a firestorm. At issue (no pun intended) is the fact that Steve Rogers has seemingly been revealed to be a double agent, working secretly for HYDRA since his childhood. Of course, that is probably not the case (and certainly not the whole story), but the vague intimations of the series’ writer, Nick Spencer, and editor, Tom Brevoort, have muddied the waters—making an unbiased interpretation of the text extremely difficult.

“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,” says Spencer. And Brevoort describes the situation in the same way.

It’s an admission that, on its face, seems to suggest that this story is operating completely above board and that Steve Rogers has secretly been a Nazi all his life and through decades of comics continuity. It’s highly unlikely, of course. I personally give ‘Steve Rogers: Secret Nazi’ a maximum of two years before the game is up or the entire thread is retconned (although, in reality, this plot twist will likely have played out before then). But in the meantime, it’s a story that many people are unhappy about (or at the very least unimpressed with), and it’s a PR approach that seems to suggest a startling lack of cultural sensitivity.

Steve Rogers was created 75 years old by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two Jewish men who intended their creation to be a symbol of the fight against fascism and antisemitic hate. To throw in a plot twist where that symbol turns out to actually be an advocate for fascism and antisemitic hate—even temporarily or as a red herring in a larger narrative—without discussing the history leading up to, and the implications of, such a move is either grossly ignorant or appallingly insensitive. Yes, it is true that Captain America is a fictional character, but it is not true that he is nothing more than a fictional character. And I find it infuriating when people who make their living on the cultural relevance of their product attempt to dismiss that cultural relevance whenever critical analysis rears its ugly head. Too often the narrative surrounding consumer outrage is that everyone is too invested in something that—at the end of the day—doesn’t really mean anything. Well if it doesn’t mean anything, why are we throwing our money away on it?

In this case, I think Spencer and Brevoort would have done well to take a page out of Brian Michael Bendis’ playbook. Bendis, a prolific writer for Marvel, is regularly called out for this or that “offensive” thing. I sometimes think the criticism is warranted and sometimes far-fetched, but I admire the fact that Bendis always asks that readers wait until they have a full understanding of the text from start to finish. Such a stance shows an appreciation for the way that comic book cliffhangers can get people wound up in ways that the completed story ultimately won’t. By fanning the flames of shock value, Spencer and Brevoort have—for better or worse—hoisted themselves on their own petard. They absolutely don’t deserve to be getting death threats over this, but they really have no one to blame for the uproar but themselves.

In fact, they practically demanded it.

There’s a lot more to be said about the myriad ways in which the retconning of Steve Rogers in this way (temporary though it may be) is very potentially problematic, but I don’t have the spoons for it. And ‘tennyrate, I prefer to take the Bendis route and see where the story ends before offering judgment. I’m extremely skeptical of the notion that this is the game changer the Marvel talking heads are contractually obligated to pretend it is, but we’ll see. In the meantime, here’s some additional reading (from a variety of perspectives) on the comic and the brouhaha surrounding it:

TL;DR? Most folks either see the story as having some interesting potential or as being a complete gimmick. And almost no one thinks the change is here to stay. YMMV

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