Why #CaptainAmerica’s Latest Plot Twist Matters
Spoilers for Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
So by now you’ve probably heard all about the new Nick Spencer/Jesus Saiz issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. You’ve heard how Captain America is a secret Hydra (read: Nazi) operative, and apparently has been all along. You’ve probably also heard that “It’s just a marketing stunt, and that’s what comic books do! It’s just temporary to lure new readers!” After all, “Comic books are a business, too! They need to make money!” And of course, no story about comic books would be complete without blaming the outcry on “Twitter Outrage” from overly-sensitive social justice warriors. While I appreciate the media’s condescending reminders that comic books have to make money in order to be successful (thank you for explaining how business works to us lowly comic geeks), I don’t buy the excuse. To understand why, here is a brief reminder of Captain America’s origins and his creators:
- Captain America Comics #1 debuted in December 1940 (pre-Pearl Harbor), from creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby – both Jewish.
- On the cover of Captain America Comics #1, Steve Rogers is depicted punching Adolf Hitler in the face. This seems uncontroversial now, but Hitler wasn’t quite as polarizing a figure in America in 1940.
- Both Simon & Kirby were part of the military during WWII, with Simon enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard and Kirby drafted in the U.S. Army.
Captain America’s creators weren’t just using Adolf Hitler’s likeness to sell books – this was a deeply personal fight for them. Both Simon & Kirby had parents who were European Jewish immigrants, and it’s safe to assume they had family and friends who were directly affected by the Hitler’s actions. Captain America’s origin story wasn’t just a flashy plot point, it was as much a part of Simon & Kirby’s fight against the Nazi regime as their military experience was. “It doesn’t makes sense” is one of the hardly the worst aspect of this particular gimmick. Does it matter that this is completely nonsensical and out of character for one of comic’s most beloved characters? Sure. In the long run, will it make any difference to the story? Of course not – this isn’t going to be a permanent facet of Rogers’ persona. Captain America will not be a Hydra agent forever. Writer Nick Spencer’s insistence that this is “not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve” holds about as much water as Kit Harington’s claims that Jon Snow was for really-real dead. But Spencer has books to sell and pretending this is a lasting piece of Roger’s lore is part of that of the marketing. But “It sells!” should not a be considered a viable reason to dishonor and invalidate a creator’s vision and intent – no matter how temporary the plot point is. That this is a cheap marketing gimmick (and it is, no matter how Tom Brevoort doth protest) does not make this less offensive. I am not Jewish, and cannot fully comprehend the agony of seeing such a horrific piece of your history used as a shitty marketing ploy. So instead I will leave you with a quote from Jessica Plummer at Panels (though you should read her whole piece):
How little must we matter. The people who created Captain America, and Superman, and countless other heroes like them. The people who need him. The people whose history and suffering and hope, as we stood on the brink of annihilation, gave you your weekly entertainment and your fun thought experiment, 75 years later. I hope it was worth it, Marvel.