I woke up this morning expecting the big comics news to be the fallout from DC Universe Rebirth #1, ably summed up here by Biff Bam Pop’s own JP Fallavollita, and reviewed by me here, but it wasn’t. Marvel Comics managed to trump DC’s big universal reboot with a shattering revelation, one that has destroyed almost any joy I might ever have reading another Marvel Comic. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
The Real Captain America
Since DC Comics corrupted Superman and Captain Marvel, there are very few real heroes left in comics. Good guys, who you always now will do the right thing, that’s what I’m talking about. In Steve Rogers’ first appearance as Captain America, what is he doing? He’s punching Hitler in the mouth. One of the alternate covers for Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 even recreates that cover of the original Captain America Comics #1. He stands for America, what’s right, and defends us all. That’s Captain America, and that’s all you really need to know, period.
Poor Steve tried to enlist during World War II to fight the Axis but was too scrawny, so he volunteered for an experiment, a double effect of chemicals and radiation, and became a super soldier, a living weapon against the enemy forces. With his partner Bucky, the Invaders, and later the Avengers, he continued his war against America’s enemies and defending the innocent. Biff Bam Pop! columnist Ensley F. Guffey recently wrote two fantastic articles about this hero here and here that tell the tale much better than I ever could. The bottom line is Captain America is the last great hero… until now…
For reasons too confusing to explain, the super soldier formula was ripped from Steve Rogers’ body a while back, and he returned to his pseudo-appropriate age. At that point he handed the shield and his identity over to his friend Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon. From what I’ve been able to see, Sam is doing a hell of a job as Cap, bringing a new attitude, technique, and style to the gig, and I’ve been digging it. Of course, as with other substitute superheroes like John Walker, Guy Gardner, Eric Masterson, Azrael, Doctor Octopus, Artemis, and dozens of others, it’s good, but it ain’t the original. I may be loving Sam in the role, but the real Captain America will always be Steve Rogers.
In the recent Avengers: Standoff series, the Cosmic Cube returned Steve Rogers’ youth and power to him. So with a new shield and a streamlined costume (not digging the wingless cowl though), the original Captain America (or at least the one we all think of) was back in business. Most of us couldn’t wait for this issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers to come out.
Right out of the gate, Captain America is back to work, with S.H.I.E.L.D. at his back, as he goes after the underlings of the Red Skull who are trying to blow up Penn Station. It’s business as usual, and writer Nick Spencer does have an excellent handle on the characters – Cap, Sharon Carter, Maria Hill, Rick Jones, even Red Skull and Baron Zemo, are all on point. The art however, is another story. Jesus Saiz does an amazing Captain America, but other characters are odd, and in some cases, ugly. I’m not holding back when I say I hate both his Rick Jones and Sharon Carter, the latter looks sooo old. Is she supposed to be that old? If I missed a continuity point, I apologize.
The story is told in dual timelines, one in the present day and one in 1926. In the past, young Steve Rogers is in the background of his mother’s tale as she makes a new friend who eventually invites her to a secret meeting of a group bearing the symbol of Hydra. In the present, the Red Skull and Baron Zemo vie for control of the new Hydra, an organization more similar in tactics to Isis than their old school fascist soldiers for hire of the Silver Age. There are great moments here, like Rick Jones bragging with later Cap partners Jack Flag and Free Spirit, with acknowledgement of the hero’s long history even since the ice; quiet time with Steve and Sharon on a porch swing on the deck of the helicarrier; and even the villain monologues by Zemo and the Skull. Spencer is damn good. That’s why it’s so upsetting what happens next.
In the final moments of the fight with Zemo and his ridiculous new amateur Masters to save Dr. Erik Selvig (yep, the guy from the Thor movies), Captain America throws Jack Flag out of Zemo’s aircraft to his death. Afterward Cap says, “Hail Hydra.” This alone is troubling, upsetting, shocking, disturbing, but, in the back of my mind, there’s that little Bat-Mite-shaped gremlin who says, “It’s comics, it’s a gimmick, it’ll all be back to status quo in a year or so, just like Cap getting his powers back…”
So I take a deep breath, relax, and wonder how many months will go by before the real Captain America is back. And then I see all the hype. CNN, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and the Washington Post, all just at the top of the pack, and all quoting editor Tom Brevoort as he added details to the comic, which alone was not that infuriating. This is notably not the first time Brevoort has stirred up a PR dust storm. He has said that Cap has always been a Hydra agent, and that is what breaks my back, and lower parts.
Captain America has always been a Hydra agent, always. Usually when something like this comes up, us old school comic readers can always go back to the old comics and enjoy them again, and again. When Superman stops wearing his underwear outside his pants and starts killing people left and right, I can always go back and read fifty years worth of adventures that I prefer and that make me happy. Green Lantern becomes Parallax and tries to kill everyone, I got lots of comics to read where he’s good old Hal. But this. He has always been a Hydra agent… this is more dangerous…
So was Captain America a Hydra agent during Civil War? Yes. During Operation: Galactic Storm? Yes. During the Kree/Skrull War? Yes. When he fought the Secret Empire? Yes. Against Kang, Thanos, the Masters of Evil? Yes. When he punched Hitler in the mouth?? Yes. I can’t go back to the old comics now, seventy-five years of comics. How can I enjoy another Captain America story without wondering if he went out for drinks with the Red Skull afterwards? Thanks, Marvel.
Calm down, Glenn. Calm down, world. Let’s all just back off from crucifying Marvel, the storytelling of Nick Spencer and this admittedly shocking development in the world of a the fictional character. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see how it all plays out.
I discovered the change in Captain America thanks to a post from our own Ensley Guffey before I read this new issue, so I knew what was coming. That didn’t prevent me from appreciating Spencer’s work leading up to the big reveal. I’m a Nick Spencer fan. Read his Morning Glories with Joe Eisma. I enjoyed the back and forth between the two time periods, the latter of which helped shed light on why a young Steve Rogers might actually be inclined to at least hear from a group of radicals wanting to change the world – his mother was strong but at the mercy of a horrible husband, Steve’s dad. How can he help her? How can he save her? We’ll find out.
But the big reveal that Cap has always been a Hydra agent is ripe for storytelling. And you know what, it could stink. Or it could be absolutely brilliant. Look at Superior Spider-Man, one of those watershed storylines that upset everyone and their aunt when Dan Slott had Doc Ock take over Peter Parker’s mind and body, essentially killing him. But once people started reading, it became clear Slott was crafting a story for the ages, one that actually became a critical and commercial success. And Peter eventually made it back. And no matter how bad Cap will go, he’ll be back. This is comics.
Did I like Steve Rogers: Captain America? Yes, quite a bit. Does it diminish what came before it in my view? Not in the slightest. Genre fans can be so reactionary – we’re seeing it across the web. Hell, we’re seeing it in Glenn’s reaction (and Glenn knows I love him – we cansargue this stuff for hours). Let’s see how the story plays out. I know I’ll be picking up Issue 2. How about you?