13 QUICK THOUGHTS on a brilliant comic book.
I would have jumped on this a lot sooner but sometimes real life gets in the way of comics and unlike thousands of others, I wanted to make sure I actually read Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 before I judged it.
Now, I’ve read it. Here are 13 QUICK THOUGHTS:
1. Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 is nothing short of a modern comics masterpiece. It’s smart, suspenseful and beautifully illustrated by Jesus Saiz. From a pure storytelling standpoint, it’s superb.
2. Anyone who thinks Steve Rogers is actually a Hydra agent — and always has been — has never read a comic book or, if they have, do not understand how comic books actually work. Status Quo A becomes Shocking Status Quo B and returns to Status Quo A, with maybe cosmetic differences.
3. I have been reading comics for more than 40 years. I was raised on Silver and Bronze Age comics and embrace a lot of the Modern Age. I do not like comics that are needlessly “grim and gritty.” I want my heroes to be heroic. I’ve gone out on a limb and have been highly critical of The Killing Joke. (Click here, if you dare.) Cinematically, I believe Captain America has eclipsed Superman as our greatest hero. (Click here, if you dare.)
I bring this all up because I’ve read a lot of comments online that say making Cap a Hydra agent is why they don’t read modern comics. I can’t abide that thinking. Story and context are everything and Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 reads very much like a classic comic book with a well-built twist ending.
4. Read this piece by Steve Englehart about his own Secret Empire, a highly regarded classic. (Click here.) Just imagine how the Internet would have reacted in Watergate-soaked 1974 when Rogers, for highly politically charged reasons, disavowed his Captain America identity and chose to become Nomad — a man without a country.
5. Nick Spencer is a talented writer who wears his politics on his sleeve. The Red Skull here is not just scary because he’s the Red Skull. He’s scary because he’s espousing much of the hate speech we’re hearing today that’s been disguised as political discourse. His vision of Hydra is a white-supremacist ISIS. Spencer makes it very clear why disenfranchised, suspicious, resentful, angry people will follow a despot with a message that empowers them.
6. Balance that against Zemo’s vision of Hydra, which reads like a cracked-mirror version of Spencer’s own Superior Foes of Spider-Man. There’s a very clear message about cartoonish villainy and real-world villainy — which is much, much more frightening.
7. And that brings us to one of the major — and bizarre — criticisms of what Spencer and Marvel have done here: That somehow making Captain America a Hydra agent is politically insensitive at best or anti-Semitic at worst because his creators — Joe Simon and Jack Kirby — were Jewish. I don’t even know where to start with this. So I’ll just say this: I’m Jewish. I’m OK with this. You should be too.
8. I never met Jack Kirby or Joe Simon and most of you haven’t either. To say they’d be appalled by this story is a facile argument with no evidence to support it, one way or the other.
9. Because you know as well as I do that when Steve Rogers “wakes up” or “gets better” or whatever — there’s a Cosmic Cube in play here, folks — he will stand tall over the Red Skull and make a speech about freedom and the dangers of hate, how the core American ideals of equality, when not perverted for nefarious means, must be preserved to have a just society. How even well-meaning people can be seduced under certain circumstances and how we have to stand vigilant against those who would undermine us all.
10. On this very point, people can disagree all they want about what Spencer and Marvel have done. But death threats and boycotts and supposed threats to burn copies of the comic all smack of the kind of fringe behavior that Captain America stands against.
11. The inclusion of a Greek chorus of sidekicks, which makes reference to Cap’s old armor and that time he was a werewolf — is so obviously an Easter egg that things will change back that I still can’t believe people don’t understand what’s going on here. Even the fact that Jack Flag, Free Spirit and the ever-evolving Rick Jones are around is part of that very message. Same goes for Sharon Carter’s aged appearance. This is all meta commentary.
Even Cap’s new costume is a dead giveaway. Because once he returns to the side of the angels, he’ll be wearing the classic red, white and blue outfit, or something very close to it, and the current uniform will become known as the Hydra Cap costume. Just like we’ve seen many other Cap costumes emblemize other stories or concepts.
12. Yes, Marvel is trying to sell comics. That’s what they do. Sell comics.
13. If you still don’t like what’s happened, do what I do. Create your own continuity. But don’t judge this book by the headlines. Read it and then decide.