So Captain America is evil now?
When last we left the world of comics, the big brains who run Marvel were busy multiculturalizing their stable of characters not by inventing cool new heroes (like Abigail Brand, a chaotic-neutral intergalactic Nick Fury gifted to Marvel by Joss Whedon) but by turning their A-list heroes into diversity hires: Thor was suddenly a girl. The Hulk became Korean. Ms. Marvel was turned into a Muslim teenager. The list is as long as it is tedious.
But today Marvel revealed that instead of betraying their readers by sacrificing beloved characters on the altar of diversity, they were open to trying something different. They betrayed readers by turning Steve Rogers—that’s Captain America, to you—evil.
Yes, that’s right: Captain America has done a heel turn and in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Marvel reveals that not only is Cap now working for Hydra, he’s been a Hydra sleeper agent the whole time! Like, for all seventy-five years of his fictional existence.
As President Obama likes to say, let me be clear: This is a betrayal.
There’s nothing wrong with turning a hero evil. The revelation that Tara Markov was a psychotic, sinister villain was one of the most dramatically satisfying story arcs in all of 1980s comics. When Green Lantern broke bad, killed everyone on Oa, and became the super-villain Parallax, it was great because it told the story of how even a good man can crack under the strain of grief.
Sometimes it can be interesting to retcon a character as having been evil for a long while. In 2008, Marvel’s Secret Invasion mini-series posited that shape-shifting aliens (the Skrulls) had infiltrated Earth and had been impersonating various heroes for some time. So in Secret Invasion it was revealed, for instance, that Spider-Woman, Hank Pym, and the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis, had been abducted and replaced by Skrulls at some point in the near past.
But having Captain America revealed as a guy who’s been working for Hydra since he was a kid is insane. It makes no logical sense—even within the elastic boundaries of comic-book logic—that a hero who has spent the bulk of his career fighting against Hydra and thwarting their plans was really working for them. Why would Hydra need to play such a long game if it could simply have used Captain openly and achieved world domination straightaway?
It makes no political sense, either. Captain America has long been the Thomas Paine of the Marvel Universe, the true-blue, liberal patriot who cared a lot about ideas. In the late 1960s, for instance, Cap went through a SJW-phase where, after teaming up with a social worker from Harlem (Sam Wilson’s Falcon), he started Questioning Authority. Here’s Captain America from an issue in the early 1970s, monologuing about how the Hippies were right about The Man all along:
I’m like a dinosaur—in the cro-magnon age! An anachronism—who’s out-lived his time! This is the day of the anti-hero—the age of the rebel—and the dissenter! It isn’t hip—to defend the establishment!—only to tear it down! And, in a world rife with injustice, greed, and endless war—who’s to say the rebels are wrong? . . . I’ve spent a lifetime defending the flag—and the law! Perhaps I should have battled less—and questioned more!
In 1971, Captain Marvel spent several issues tangling with a sinister organization in Washington, D.C., called the “Secret Empire.” It turned out that this Secret Empire was tied to a political group called the Committee to Regain America’s Principles, or C.R.A.P. And at the head of the entire enterprise was the American president, who was rendered as a lookalike for Richard Nixon.
So consider: If Captain America was really a Hydra agent, that means that Marvel comics is admitting that, at least within their continuity, Tricky Dick was the good guy.
But the real reason people are sour on this stunt is that it’s a fundamental betrayal of the character. What makes Captain America Captain America isn’t his shield or his superhuman strength. It’s his decency. It’s why he was chosen for the Super Soldier program. It’s what makes him different from all the flawed heroes in the Marvel universe. It’s the core of the character.
You just can’t have an evil Captain America. He might be wearing the costume, but the character underneath is unrecognizable. It’s like telling people that Batman doesn’t really miss his parents and just wants to take over Gotham’s criminal underground. It’s like revealing that Magneto isn’t actually Jewish. Or a mutant. It’s like telling us that sweet, nerdy, Peter Parker has been a PUA disciple all along.
Now this shift likely isn’t permanent. It’s probably just a gimmick. In six months or a year, Cap will be Cap again. People don’t even stay dead in comics, let alone evil. But all things considered, I kind of wish they’d turned Steve Rogers into a transgendered alcoholic and left it at that.