Captain America has been revealed to be a HYDRA agent all along and doesn’t this emphasize everything wrong with superhero comics today?
When The Outhousers released the spoilers for Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 the night before its release last week, fans clamored to discredit the website citing it as “unreliable,” “the comic version of The Onion,” and “satire” in an effort to brush aside the original spoiler panel of Steve in full Captain American uniform saying, “Hail HYDRA.” Understandable, this is a huge retcon of Steve Roger’s overall character and the name of Captain America. A legacy of a name built up over 75 years — in fact, Captain America just celebrated his 75th anniversary recently — and fans feel rightly protective.
More than the feelings of fans, there’s also the history behind the Captain America legacy and ideals. Namely that the characters creation was rooted in specifically Jewish power fantasies in a similar vein as Superman. Original creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were both young Jewish men who created a character that was essentially the Aryan ideal — blond, white, and in peak physical condition — only to vehemently reject everything about Nazism.
In fact the very first Captain America comic, published in 1941, features what is now an iconic image of Captain America punching Hitler. In the face.
Something that was quite the image considering historically, America wasn’t openly opposed to Nazism, the Holocaust, and in some cases even supported Hitler’s fascist reign. It’s been reported by The Washington Post that Ford and GM were involved in supporting the Nazis by way of contributing war materials and providing them with vehicles. Though current Ford and GM deny such history. There was a strong political party known as German American Bund (German for Alliance) that promoted anti-Semitic propaganda throughout WWII. The GAB was one of hundreds of organizations that feed into the anti-Semitic sentiment that had been brewing in America since the 1930s. There was also the existence of extreme apathy towards Jewish people and the atrocities of the Holocaust from the American public.
David Wyman, writer of The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945, criticized the American and British governments increased blockage against potential Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. Wyman also criticized President Roosevelt’s lack of action when Nazi concentration camps became public knowledge.
This could have also been due to America’s strong isolationism at the time, as the American government didn’t get involved with the conflict until after Pearl Harbor in 1941. To specify, America didn’t declare war on Germany, or the Axis Powers, but on Japan in retaliation for the attack.
So there’s a history of American general apathy, closed in various outside countries borders, growing anti-Semitic organizations popping up, and reports of inhuman acts occurring against Jewish peoples (and other minority groups) overseas. This was the environment Simon and Kirby were experiencing as two Jewish men in America at the time. Their response? Captain America.
A character that not only would embody the standard idealized Nazi youth appearance but wear the American flag as a rejection of that idealized imagery. Captain America became a political power fantasy; a way to speak out against mainstream American apathy towards Jewish, Romani, Black, gay, and other marginalized individuals who were being targeted by the Nazi regime.
While HYDRA’s design, purpose, and overall history have changed over time, retcons, and with writers, HYDRA’s original imagery and purpose have always embodied Nazism. They are a fascist group, and no matter how modern-day fans or writers attempt to re-write HYDRA’s history, they are based off Nazism. As a narrative concept, HYDRA was a science-fiction allegory for Nazism, and Captain America was the hero to save us from them.
The new reveal at the end of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 undoes the core history of Captain America both as a character, a pop culture symbol, and his original design by two Jewish men. Nick Spencer, the writer, and Tom Brevoort, the editor, have stated the “Captain America is HYDRA” reveal was “organic” and done so in the name of “rejuvenating” the character. Given the timing — Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 was released the same day as DC’s new Rebirth one-shot — and the overall history of the character, the storyline feels more like narrative shock value.
Having a character such as Captain America — who is known for fighting against the fictional comic book equivalent of Nazis — actually be one himself? The suspension of disbelief required to make this “twist” appear organic would make Cap’s time frozen in ice seem like a cat-nap.
But it is shocking, isn’t it? And shock value brings in news articles; shock value gets people talking; shock value pulls focus away from competitors and back to your business. Besides, what else are you supposed to do with a character that old? What other ways are there to “rejuvenate” a 75-year old character?
Similarly, DC felt the onslaught of backlash when Wonder Woman’s “New 52” origin revealed that the Amazons raped and murdered innocent sailors so they could have babies — and then killed any male babies they produced. Much like with this recent “Captain HYDRA” storyline, the “Amazons are murderous rapists for babies” interpretation went against everything the Amazons embodied within the DCU and Wonder Woman’s story and history.
The Amazons were originally envisioned as an ideal society where women flourished because of their removal from men and the patriarchy. This was, however, tossed away in the name of reinvention — “rejuvenation,” if you will. Decades of history and strong political progression thrown away due to lack of imagination and understanding of the core aspects of that history and political importance.
Wonder Woman and the Amazons are just as old as Captain America, and like them, he’s just as bled dry. Superhero comics — especially those produced by the Big Two — are dry. They’ve been bled to death due to overexposure, and a too tiny pool of writers, editors, and creative teams that only know how to write a handful of stories.
Brevoort, editor at Marvel Comics, stated in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that, “Nobody was especially surprised that Steve got restored, but hopefully readers will be surprised by this revelation,” and surprised we are. But why is the general public surprised? Simple, because this storyline goes against everything Captain America is as a character.
Just like fans aren’t surprised when a character dies, then comes back a few years later, or when someone gets brainwashed, is a clone, a Skrull, or mind controlled by Darkseid, fans that have been reading comics for years know all the tricks. Fans are already speculating that this current storyline will eventually lead into one of those named possibilities. Steve is mind controlled (wouldn’t be the first time)! Steve is a Skrull (also not the first time)! Steve is a Doombot (might be the first time)! Steve is undercover (this might be the first time)!
What storyline will handwave away this reveal? What magical plot device will make us all love Steve Rogers again? What will make us realize he wasn’t really a bad guy after all? Or are we going to have to sit through reading a redemption arc featuring HYDRA sympathizer Captain America being guided back to the light by current Captain America Sam Wilson?
Does anyone truly believe this storyline was at all organic? That Captain America being HYDRA was a natural progression of the character? Or rather, is this just another shocking, get-fans-talking storyline that trends on Twitter, brings in high issue #1 sales, all in the name of rejuvenating a decades old character?
Is Captain America HYDRA because it makes sense? Or is Captain America HYDRA because superhero comics from the Big Two publishers haven’t a clue what else to do anymore?