So Steve Rogers is a villain. He’s not brainwashed, it’s not a clone, and it’s not all happening inside an alternate reality. Steve Rogers is a straight up fascist Hydra villain. Yes, that Hydra. The same Hydra that is synonymous with Nazis no matter how much backbending justification Marvel and Nick Spencer want to do. Even if you buy Nick Spencer and Marvel’s disingenuous assertions that Hydra and Nazis are separate things and Steve can be one and not the other, it is undeniable that he’s a bad guy now. At least, he is until the next big game-changer event from Marvel.
The Story So Far
Steve Rogers had, in the last run of comics before the Secret Wars event last summer, been depowered and turned into a regular 90 (or so)-year-old man. Sam Wilson, otherwise known as Falcon, had taken up the mantle of Captain America. After the event comics, Steve Rogers reappeared as his old (young) self again, but with a twist. He was now a secret agent of Hydra, the very enemy he had been fighting in comics since forever. Without digging too deep into the details, it’s revealed that he’s always been Hydra since the beginning.
This development has been a tough pill to swallow for a lot of fans. Hydra has always served as a stand-in for Nazis in the Marvel universe. Having Marvel’s paragon of goodness turned into a Nazi is unfathomable. More recently, Marvel has tried to distance Hydra from Nazis by revealing Hydra’s history for hundreds of years prior to 1920s Germany. Since it predated the rise of the Nazi party, Hydra couldn’t possibly be Nazis, right? Needless to say, not many readers are buying it. Or Marvel, for that matter.
It Just Keeps Getting Worse
This fascination with Hydra and fascist takeovers is happening in more than one place in the larger Marvel universe. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing this in its current episodes by putting its main players into an alternate reality where Hydra is in charge. They’ve done terrible things to beloved characters (poor Leo Fitz can’t catch a break), and it’s difficult to watch. Ultimately though, it’s a fake reality, and we presume they will find a way out of it at some point. It’s also obviously condemned.
In comics, this is THE reality. There is no way out.
If you follow pop culture (if you don’t what are you doing here?), you’ve probably already heard about Hydra Cap. You’ve probably already heard about Captain America’s writer Nick Spencer being awful on Twitter. You’ve probably already heard about Marvel doubling and even tripling down on Hydra Cap by pushing their promotion of Secret Empire (the event comic wherein Steve Rogers sets his plan in motion to put Hydra in place as a world power). Currently, their extended marketing plan involves Hydra takeovers of partnered websites, along with having comic store runners wear exclusive Hydra t-shirts and decorate their stores with Hydra paraphernalia. You might have even heard about Hydra Cap lifting a certain magic hammer in an upcoming free promotional issue, which seems to be an attempt to validate everything Spencer and Marvel has done with him to this point.
It’s truly upsetting what’s happened to this beloved character. I personally don’t feel like Spencer understands what he is doing to Captain America’s legacy. Cap has stood for years as a symbol of what’s good and right. He’s always been the hero who stands up for the little guy, who was willing to sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reasons, but never at the cost of his own convictions. In a way, he is Marvel’s Superman.
I don’t feel like I’m alone in this. Multitudes of fans are mad at Marvel and at Nick Spencer in particular. The more upset and argumentative fans get, the more Marvel and Spencer seems to dig in and assure us that we just don’t get it. This is a smart story and is about more than Nazis, and we aren’t seeing the big picture.
The problem with that argument is that it just doesn’t matter. The author’s intent doesn’t matter, it’s all about how the story speaks to its audience. Right now a lot of the audience is angry. Marvel’s tone-deafness has fans whipped into a frenzy to the degree that many are calling for a boycott of Marvel altogether. Movies, comics, toys, everything. Don’t go see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, don’t buy comics, don’t give them anything until they see the error of their ways.
I can certainly understand this reaction. I myself have been reviewing Mighty Captain Marvel for the Fandomentals, and I feel like I don’t even want to buy the Secret Empire tie-in issues. I want to support Carol Danvers and Margaret Stohl, who is new to comics and to the character, but Marvel is making it so hard to be on their side. Their recent pleas to have patience and wait for the story to play out aren’t helping either.
As creatively and morally bankrupt as the Captain America story might be, and the Secret Empire event is in particular, I don’t think boycotting Marvel completely is the way to go.
Marvel isn’t all Nick Spencer and Nazis and Captain America being awful. Marvel is also Kamala Kahn, the Pakistani Muslim teenager who became Ms. Marvel, and quickly became a fan favorite. Marvel is also Squirrel Girl, a hilarious and fun hero who can beat literally anyone. Marvel is the X-Men, who for all their faults over the years, are still finding new ways to tell stories about being different and about alienation and discrimination. A boycott of Marvel is a boycott of Black Panther. It’s a boycott of the upcoming Iceman solo book. Jean Grey. Spider-Gwen. Unstoppable Wasp. The Black Panther Movie! Star Wars comics! STAR WARS!!! How far do we go with this? Disney is the parent company. BOYCOTT DISNEY!!
A complete and total break from Marvel as a media provider is not the way to go and it won’t teach anyone a lesson. Let me take that back. It will teach Marvel a lesson. When those of us who care about good stories and good characters and refuse to buy their Secret Empire hype tell Marvel to shove it, you know who will still buy comics? Secret Empire fans. Hydra Cap fans. They will still buy Captain America, and Secret Empire and all the tie-ins. Marvel will learn a lesson alright. They will learn that diversity doesn’t sell, that “those dang SJWs” don’t buy comics. They will learn that they can continue to get away with tired event after tired event and that is the only way they can make any money. They will learn a lesson: the wrong one.
My advice? Keep buying your favorite Marvel comics. Shout loudly on Twitter about how much you love them. Tag the writers and artists and tell them how much their work means to you. Make sure you put them on your pre-order list with your comics shop. Tell the store owners what you love and why you love it. Subscribe to series on ComiXology. Keep picking up Ms. Marvel, and Squirrel Girl, and Black Panther, and pre-order Iceman, and Jean Grey. (Or any of the many other books you love that don’t involve Nazis). Champion everything that is good and right with Marvel, however insignificant you think your contribution may be.
What is the Point of All This?
The point is, Marvel is a business, and the most powerful language the people at the top understand is money. A wholesale boycott of Marvel isn’t the answer; it will only reassure them that comic readers don’t want change. They’ll think readers want the same old heroes and the same old summer events and the same old plot twists.
So let Secret Empire rot on the racks. Let back issues of Captain America Steve Rogers sit in their polybags until they show up in bargain bins, and then don’t buy them even then. Buy what you love and tell Marvel THIS is what we want. THESE are the heroes for us. THIS story MEANS something. It’s the only way they will learn. Tell them with your wallets.
I’ll put my money where my mouth is and support the characters I love. I urge you to do the same.