Settle down, Beavis: 'Captain Hydra' will be a temporary condition

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

 

A twist ending to Marvel’s Captain America re-launch has driven a number of fans into a frenzy, some even issuing death threats to the writer. To these folks I offer four words I don’t often say: “It’s just a comic book.”

You may have heard about the controversy, which made national news. It began in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, which shipped May 25. That title is starting over, because Steve Rogers hasn’t been Captain America for the last couple of years in the  Marvel Universe. A villain named Iron Nail negated the Super-Soldier Serum in Cap’s body in 2014, reverting him to his natural age. (Very, very old.) Sam Wilson (formerly the Falcon), has been the Star-Spangled Avenger ever since, starring in Captain America: Sam Wilson and a variety of Avengers titles.

Anyway, in a recent story too long to tell, an omnipotent Cosmic Cube – what was called a “tesseract” in the movies – was used to restore Steve Rogers to the pink of health, and to the red, white and blue of clothes. So, naturally, the newly restored Cap was instantly awarded his own title, the aforementioned Captain America: Steve Rogers. Written by the talented Nick Spencer and drawn by the dazzling Jesus Saiz, it is a truly excellent display of the comic book craft.

There’s only one hitch: Throughout the issue we see heretofore unseen flashbacks to Steve’s mother Sarah Rogers in the 1930s, where she is apparently recruited by Hydra. And in the present, Cap tosses one of his allies out of a plane, turns to a hostage and says two damning words: “Hail Hydra.”

Yikes! Has Captain America been a sleeper agent for Hydra all along? Oh, the humanity!

Needless to say, the anti-Nazi Captain America being a sleeper agent for what amounts to a neo-Nazi organization upset quite a few people. Some took it a bit far, though, as a compilation of tweets by the website bleedingcool.com demonstrated. “Congratulations on destroying 75 years worth of characterization,” wrote @okitasougu. “Kill.your.self,” typed @neymarsbey. And my personal favorite, by @lapinoir: “@nickspencer die rat die rat die rat die rat die rat die rat die rat die rat die rat die rat die rat.”

Writer Spencer, taking it all in stride, tweeted back “I can’t respond to 9000 tweets per second, but if I could, I would say I admire your passion.”

And … scene. That is the perfect response. In other words: “Settle down, Beavis. It’s just a comic book.”

The purpose of any comic book story is to arouse interest and excitement, and to encourage the reader to buy the next issue. I think Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 has succeeded in that regard.

Moreover, Captain America couldn’t have been a sleeper agent since the 1930s. If so, he certainly would have shown his true colors on any number of previous occasions, where doing so would have given Hydra control of the world. So Spencer isn’t guilty of “destroying 75 years worth of characterization.”

No, this is something new. And you know what else is new? The Cosmic Cube that re-made Steve Rogers just a few issues ago. And does anyone doubt that “re-made” included a new history, one where Cap’s mother was a Hydra agent?And does anyone doubt the Cosmic Cube, a device which might as well be stamped “Deus ex Machina,” can’t un-do what it has done?

So the Reset Button is within reach. All Spencer has to do is get from point A to point B, which is what those in the biz call “a story.”

That may or may not be Spencer’s plan; some other fix may be in the works. But you don’t have to have the writing prowess of Stan Lee to guess that “Captain Hydra” is going to be a temporary condition.

And, you know, it’s not the worst that could happen. I mean, it’s not like they killed off Captain America or anything.

Because they’ve already done that. Back in 2007, at the end of the comic book version of “Civil War,” Captain America had surrendered and was in custody. Crossbones (who is obviously not dead in the comics) took a sniper shot at the Living Legend, but it was a brainwashed Sharon Carter who delivered the furtive, final shot. And Steve “Captain America” Rogers was as dead as a 75-year-old doornail.

Of course, he got better.

Which is not the only terrible thing writers have done to Captain America. When you’ve been around as long as the Living Legend of World War II, writers have to stretch to find new ways to make his life miserable (and therefore interesting).

There was that time he was turned into a werewolf, back in 1992. No kidding, a villain named Nightshade injected him with a … let’s call it a Capwolf formula, and Rogers got all furry and fang-y. So did a bunch of other people, come to think of it. And several X-Men were hanging around, for some reason.

Anyway, they all got better.

There was that time that Cap quit being Cap in 1974, because he discovered that a “high government official” (everyone thinks it was Richard Nixon) was the head of the evil Secret Empire. Disillusioned, he became “Nomad, the Man Without a Country.” And there was that time in 1987 that the government ordered Cap to follow orders or quit, so he quit, and became a character named “The Captain.”

Don’t worry, he got the shield back both times.

What about “Streets of Poison” (1990), where a meth lab blew up in Cap’s face, and he spent several issues running around New York hallucinating and beating up on whoever was handy? And there was that time Cap was exiled to “Dimension Z” for 10 years, where he spent a decade leading a revolution against Arnim Zola’s mutates while raising an adopted son. That was no picnic.

But, hey, he got better.

And, you know, Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 isn’t even the first time Cap has been a Nazi. The Red Skull brainwashed Cap back in 1965, in a story by Stan Lee and Cap co-creator Jack Kirby, which featured the Star-Spangled Avenger giving a snappy Nazi salute. Dr. Faustus turned Cap into a shield-slinging Fascist in 1997, but fortunately Daredevil was around to snap him out of it.

And speaking of Stan Lee, Newsarama.com reported what he had to say about Captain Hydra at the 2016 MegaCon:

“It's a hell of a clever idea. I don't know that I would ever have thought of it for him to be a double agent, but it's going to make you curious, it's going to make you want to read the books, they'll probably do a movie based on it. So I can't fault it; it's a good idea. I think it's crazy, but it's a good idea.”

And, needless to say, a temporary one. So strap on your shields and enjoy the ride, fellow readers, without sending death threats to the writer. At least Cap’s not a werewolf this time.

 

Reach Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), the Internet (captaincomics.ning.com), Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or Twitter (@CaptainComics).

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John Dunbar, Moderator, reporting for duty.

Spoiler headings added to the 3 posts previous to Jeff's post.

This feels like a good time to remind everyone that we ask you all not to spoil contents of a comic that is new, or in this case, not out yet, please put a SPOILER!!! alert in your posts.

Also, to Ronald Morgan, Detective 445, and Wandering Sensei, I added spoiler headlines to your posts from yesterday.


Jeff of Earth-J said:

Dammit, Ron... SPOILERS!

That post should have been preceded by a warning: "SPOILERS FOR CAPTAIN AMERICA #2"... which won't even go on sale until later today!

  Well I'm not stepping into this tar pit again.  Let the comic rot for all I care anymore.

I'm surprised at how quickly they showed their hand. I mean even The Guy on That Show was dead over the season break and for almost two episodes in! And That Other Guy on That Walking Show was thought (by someone somewhere) to be dead for about a month before they felt like going back to him so we could see what really happened. 

This seems like drumming up a lot of outrage (and distorting the truth) to get one month's worth of attention.

I thought it was funny that they've been saying, "We were taken by surprise by the extent of the response," after saying that they knew it was "a slap in the face" to readers. They should go slap a few of their friends' in the face and see how many say, "Wow, I can't wait to see what you do next!"

Ah well. When does Ghostbusters open? I need to have my picket sign ready.

-- MSA 

The week it came out, Nick Spencer was interviewed on Word Balloon. He pretty much said the reason behind the premise (what happened in issue 2) isn't really the story he's interested in telling. What he's interested in is the suspense he can build by making the most trusted man in the Marvel Universe a traitor. I'm really glad he didn't drag out the explanation -- especially because the explanation, while appropriate and story-based, comes from one of the biggest deus ex machinas in comics. Making it the endpoint of a big mystery is just asking for disappointment.  

Anyway, I decided to buy issue 1 on Comixology now that issue 2 came out, since I didn't want to be spoiled on issue 2's explanation. 

Which, well, might've worked.

Anyway, at least no one spoiled the absolute best thing is issue 1: Hydra's black-hat hacker's handle, "BATTLESTAR JOHNGALTICA." That is so pitch-perfect it hurts.

“I'm really glad he didn't drag out the explanation -- especially because the explanation, while appropriate and story-based, comes from one of the biggest deus ex machinas in comics.”

I agree. I’m pleased with the pacing and pleased with the reveal overall. Issue #2 reads like a missing chapter from “Assault on Pleasant Hill.”

“This seems like drumming up a lot of outrage (and distorting the truth) to get one month's worth of attention.”

The way I see it is that #1 captured my attention. Now it’s up to Nick Spencer to keep it. I, for one, still want to know what happens next. This issue’s reveal if the beginning of the story, not the end.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

The way I see it is that #1 captured my attention. Now it’s up to Nick Spencer to keep it. I, for one, still want to know what happens next. This issue’s reveal if the beginning of the story, not the end.

That's the way it worked for me, too. But then again, I wasn't one of the people who got mad.



Jeff of Earth-J said:


“This seems like drumming up a lot of outrage (and distorting the truth) to get one month's worth of attention.”

The way I see it is that #1 captured my attention. Now it’s up to Nick Spencer to keep it. I, for one, still want to know what happens next. This issue’s reveal if the beginning of the story, not the end.


I read somewhere that there has been a shift in the audience over the years to a point where readers decide after a page or two if they are going to invest any time in reading a comic. Credit it to short attention spans and a plethora of other options across all media. In that sense, Spencer was going against the grain in waiting until the end of the comic to be provacative.

I think Brian K. Vaughan really changed what we expect out of first issues. All of his first issues tell a really satisfying chunk of story, but then leave the reader with a last-page grabber that puts the whole thing in a different perspective. Recently he did that with Paper Girls (the item from the future!), but it was the last page of Ex Machina that stands out as his best. But I think the Hail Hydra development at the end of Cap #1 falls right in line with that tradition -- after a few very satisfying sequences of Captain America action to make sure the comic isn't all cliffhanger, no cliff.

  I think there is less content on the pages than there used to be.

Detective 445 said:



Jeff of Earth-J said:


“This seems like drumming up a lot of outrage (and distorting the truth) to get one month's worth of attention.”

The way I see it is that #1 captured my attention. Now it’s up to Nick Spencer to keep it. I, for one, still want to know what happens next. This issue’s reveal if the beginning of the story, not the end.


I read somewhere that there has been a shift in the audience over the years to a point where readers decide after a page or two if they are going to invest any time in reading a comic. Credit it to short attention spans and a plethora of other options across all media. In that sense, Spencer was going against the grain in waiting until the end of the comic to be provacative.

Less than the silver and bronze ages, certainly -- but most comics have a lot more content on the page than there was 10-20 years ago. These Cap issues are pretty packed.

You know, I remember when reading Captain America #1 how much I loved the train sequence. And the reason why is that we don't often get to see our heroes be really competent at their jobs. Story after story, issue after issue, it's nothing but failure or plot twists. I really think, if I was a comic book writer, I'd have a "win" in at least every other issue, to remind readers that these guys are really good at what they do. Sure, they need the occasional failure, but not every issue, and not every villain. If nothing else, the constant failure or plot twist raises the issue of how they've survived this long. And we should be reminded once in a while that being a superhero would be fun. It's supposed to be wish fulfillment, after all.

That being said, Captain America #1 (2nd printing) is due July 6.

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