Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 (ongoing)
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Jesus Saiz
Around the middle of last week, in the collection of randomness that is my Facebook timeline, the news broke that Captain America is now and always has been a Hydra agent. The Sentinel of Liberty, revealed as a tool of that nefarious organisation dedicated to imposing its own brand of order upon the world? (Shock. Horror. Soak your comic collection in kerosene and put a match to it.)
Also on my timeline at around that, er, time was one of those big postcard/placard/Reddit shares that proclaimed: “Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.”
Which is kind of appropriate, given the way people on assorted platforms and channels were going ballistic about this twist. Clearly, they needed to calm down. And just as clearly, they weren’t about to, considering the move was akin to “slapping people in the face” – in Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort’s words to USA Today.
But really, folks … just calm down.
Whatever Marvel’s ultimate game plan is for the good (?) Captain, it’s really difficult for us grizzled, calloused and slapped-in-the-face-too-often reviewers at Worlds Of Wonder to dignify comic-book publishers’ shameless sales gambits by getting our spandex outerwear in a twist.
And that’s all this really is, barring an act of divine proclamation to the contrary, or Donald Trump becoming president and peeling off his face to reveal a red skull underneath on Inauguration Day.
It’s a gimmick with agitprop aspirations, aiming to shock readers into paying attention to the topsy-turvy global social and political climate (to which the story itself draws attention), and maybe get them to join the conversation in a constructive and productive way. After all, that’s what we have social media for, right (cough)?
To be honest, I’ve lost track of Marvel’s comics continuity, so I’m just winging it based on the recap at the beginning of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. Somewhere over the last few years, Rogers got real old; so Sam Wilson/The Falcon replaced him as Cap; and now some kind of “living Cosmic Cube” rejuvenated him and made him young again.
So he’s back as Cap, with his own little team of operatives including lesser-known patriotic figures Jack Flag and Free Spirit (yeah, I went “who?” too until a memory check/Google search reminded me they are 1990s Mark Gruenwald creations). Everyone’s still fighting Hydra, because the Red Skull is on the loose again, this time recruiting members from the legion of disillusioned persons who have lost faith in their government and the system.
The Skull’s hate-filled recruitment speech disturbingly mirrors the spewings of a certain presidential wannabe who may have been mentioned earlier in this review, only written in a more articulate and almost convincing manner.
Kudos to writer Nick Spencer for making us feel even more alarmed about the uncertain state of the world today from reading a comic than from reading the news. And I mean that in … kind of a good way. Because he reminds us that even larger-than-life fictional characters can’t be anywhere near as chilling as the real-life goons and extremists they are meant to reflect.
Spencer scores again in the “downtime banter” department, filling the pages separating the action sequences with exchanges between characters that are by turns heartwarming (Steve and Sharon Carter) and funny (the sidekicks talking about the “good old days”, and an unexpected discussion about benefits and compensation among supervillains).
And then we come to that Big Shocker. After turning on a fellow hero and justifying the deed – mostly to himself, in some vaguely worded captions – Captain America utters those two damning words: “Hail Hydra.”
Tie this in with the flashback to the 1920s that’s interwoven with present-day events, showing Steve Rogers’ mother approached by a Hydra member with an invitation to attend a secret meeting of a “civil league” … and the notion that Cap is a card-carrying, slogan-chanting Hydra agent doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
From another perspective, it could also be a way for Marvel to further develop a character whose fundamentally black-and-white worldview has limited storytelling possibilities (fifty shades of Cap!).
Maybe – if the last three decades or so of misleading developments, backpedalling and exploitative angles in comics had not hardened our hearts to such attempts and made us see everything through cynical eyes.
Would a corporate entity like Marvel/Disney actually want an established character like Captain America, nominal star of its current box-office sensation, to become a reviled turncoat and enemy operative?
Does it really want thousands of Cap action figures to end up in landfills, and little children everywhere returning their Captain America costumes and Underoos to the store? Probably not, right?
My gut feeling is that this “traitor Cap” angle will go on for as long as the reading public will tolerate it (read: when sales start to drop off), until it is revealed that Cap is actually a triple agent who is using that long-ago 1920s Hydra link to really get in deep and destroy it from within, given how insidious and far-reaching it seems to have grown.
Or it could just be the result of the Cube’s reality-altering powers. For that to work, though. they’d need to erase years of bad memories from the comics-reading public, too.