Yesterday morning I was mad about a thing that is becoming way too common in the comic book world: mainstream media and social media ganging up to spoil the hell out of new comics before they even hit the stores. Not one, but two books that were released yesterday, DC: Rebirth and Steve Rogers Captain America #1 were liberally spoiled all over the place well before I had a chance to read either. I hate it when publishers send press releases to the media about their “events” because it means the surprise becomes a headline, and people who don’t read comics can complain loudly about it, and people who do read comics don’t get to discover the surprise they have devoted months, probably years, earning by reading the longer story leading up to it.
I know people have no respect for comic book readers. I know, to most people, I may as well say I really enjoy reading take-out menus. But the truth is I love comics more than any other entertainment medium. I buy lots of them every week. I spend probably twice on comics what I do on cable, movies and “real” books combined each month. The stories matter to me, and sometimes I kind of resent that the non-readers get the pay-off without the...well, I don’t want to say work, because reading comics is not (usually) a chore, but y’know.
It just sucks.
So that’s what I was mad about yesterday morning. But then something much, much worse happened.
As everyone on Earth, and probably on the space station, knows by now, the big final panel twist in Steve Rogers Captain America #1 is that he seems to now be an agent of Hydra. This reveal is many things: upsetting, shocking, intriguing, daring, confusing, and, dare I say, exciting? Because it is exciting. It’s exciting because it’s interesting. Do you know how many comics I read every month where almost nothing of note happens? A bunch, guys. A BUNCH!
It’s a shocking revelation because Steve Rogers is (obviously) the LAST person on Earth who should be Hydra! It’s the opposite of everything we know about Steve! How can this be?!
I have no idea. No one does except the creators, Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz, the editors, the higher-ups at Marvel and a few other people who understand and love the character of Steve Rogers. It is their actual jobs to protect this character’s integrity while also using him to tell an interesting story that people will enjoy reading. If you think Marvel as a company has no interest in preserving the legacy of Steve Rogers, you are not thinking straight.
The reveal, by the way, is not the much, much worse thing that happened.
When these sorts of things happen in comics, it usually sparks fun debates and discussions about how this crazy thing could possibly have happened. I expected people yesterday to offer their theories as to what was going on, to predict what would happen next, how the other characters will react to this shocking revelation, and to go back and try to find clues in past issues that may have tipped us off. That’s the sort of thing you usually do when a big crazy twist happens in your comics (or show, or book, or radio serial). It’s what makes being a fan of fiction fun!
That is not what happened yesterday (and today, and probably for a while after today). What happened was many, many fans went, for lack of a better word, berserk. I could not believe what I was seeing yesterday on Twitter. It was the kind of hateful, ignorant flaming that is typically reserved for a creator who dares to make a hero anything other than a straight, white male. The kind of hatred you might aim at, say, a black Captain America, a female Thor, a gay Iceman, or a team of female Ghostbusters. Just insane, ignorant (and I do mean ignorant because I would say a lot of these people were lacking good information) and, in some cases, threatening bile being spewed over a story that hasn’t even happened yet. Guys, we have NO IDEA what this story is going to be about.
Here are some things I saw.
1. Nick Spencer, Marvel, and anyone who defended Nick Spencer or Marvel (myself included) being accused of being anti-Semitic, racist, misogynist, or a white supremacist.
Guys. Come on. I shouldn’t even have to explain this, but you know we’re not supposed to be rooting for evil Hydra Steve Rogers, right? He’s a villain in this story. He works for Hydra (a fictional allegory for Nazis in the Marvel universe). Or does he? We don’t even know! But I lost count of the number of people who were outraged that Marvel would bastardize the creation of two Jewish creators and make him an evil Nazi (Hydra). I saw people tweeting at Disney, demanding that they fire the anti-Semitic writers at Marvel. Accusing Nick Spencer of being anti-Semitic, or racist or a misogynist, because he is writing a story where Hydra are the bad guys and somehow they have their greatest opponent on their side is JUST AWFUL. And DUMB.
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the Jewish creators of Captain America who are being pointed to as the real victims in all of this, were not afraid of sensationalist storytelling. No comic book creators are. Because that’s what superhero comics are. They are cliff hangers and crazy twists and upsetting revelations and an unending battle between good and evil. You are making a LOT of assumptions here, fans, if you think Simon and Kirby would be in any way offended by this story.
2. Nick Spencer being accused simultaneously of “ruining Captain America forever” and of being a hack writer who was using recycled storytelling methods designed to “trick” readers.
Which is it? Either he’s just telling another dumb comic story that won’t matter at all, or he is a horrible monster who hates Steve Rogers and just wants to ruin him for everyone forever. OR...wait! I have thought of a third option! Nick Spencer is a very good writer who wants to tell an epic story he has been planning for over two years. Maybe he...loves the character of Steve Rogers? Maybe with this story, as Spencer says himself, “our intention and our hope is that in its own unique way, it reinforces what everybody already knows about Captain America, which is his power as a symbol and what that means. We are approaching it from a different angle, but I think it illuminates the character in a way that we’ve never seen before.” (source)
And this whole argument about Hydra Cap being a “trick.” A trick is a weird word for it. I saw a lot of people who were using this word, as in, “we KNOW it’s just going to be a trick and he won’t be evil forever. That’s not the POINT.” By “a trick” they mean the story will eventually bring us back to the Steve Rogers we all know and love. That’s not a trick. That is storytelling. That is a journey that a writer takes readers on. That is the very reason to read comics.
3. Other comic book creators and fans being harassed because they dared to defend Nick Spencer (or at least suggest that people wait a few issues before getting angry).
This was really hard to watch yesterday.
People were tweeting at Ed Brubaker, begging him to return to writing Captain America. Flattering, sure, but also very, very weird. Brubaker has not written for Marvel, or written a superhero book, in five years. Yesterday on Twitter, in a desperate attempt to get people to please stop barraging him with hate tweets about his pal Nick Spencer, he said he doesn’t even read superhero comics anymore.
Also...you guys know...that Ed Brubaker...reintroduced a beloved WWII Marvel hero as an evil assassin right? It was pretty controversial at the time. A lot of hate was directed at Brubaker over it. But it turned out to be a pretty excellent story told over several years. A really fascinating read with lots of twists and turns! Good stuff!
People were tweeting at other Marvel creators, informing them that they are dropping their (unrelated) books as an act of protest over this Captain America comic. That’s like not watching television anymore because Arrow sucked this season (note: it really sucked this season).
People were tweeting at Chris Evans for chrissakes! CHRIS. EVANS. As if he gives a shit! That guy does not read comics. This is mortifying behaviour, guys!
I love comics and the people who create them. I do not love all comics or all of the people who create them. There are a LOT of characters I love whose comics I, at various times, wasn’t reading because they didn’t interest me for one reason or another. These characters include Superman, Batman, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, WINTER SOLDIER, the Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, The Flash, Green Arrow, the X-Men, and, yes, Captain America. And every other character. I really can’t think of a character where I have bought every issue of their comics uninterrupted. Still love those characters, though!
There are plenty of comics for everyone! It’s ok to not be into a storyline. It’s not ok to harass the writer/artist/editor of a story you don’t like, especially if the story has only just begun. It’s also not ok to harass people who liked the comic, or at least don’t like people harassing the people who made the comic. And it’s not ok to liberally label people as racists or misogynists. There are plenty of actual racists and misogynists out there who are just waiting for your hate!
4. #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend being somehow linked to this whole Hydra thing
This was maybe the most puzzling thing? The argument seemed to be that Marvel has insulted the fans by dismissing the idea, which had been trending on Twitter the day before this comic was released, that Steve Rogers should have a boyfriend (in the movies, I think, is mostly what people were looking for).
I was an active participant in that hashtag two days ago. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to learn that I think Steve and Bucky are crazy in love and should make out all over each other on screen. I have also long believed that comic book Steve is a self-loathing closeted homosexual and there is a lot of evidence to support this belief. So when people heard there was a big change coming for Steve Rogers in the comics, they started a fun hashtag. But, I mean...people know that comics aren’t made the day before they come out, right?
I saw people imply that “Marvel” had told fans that Steve Rogers couldn’t be gay or bisexual because that would tarnish his character (or something). “But he can be a NAZI (Hydra)??!!!” fans cried.
I don’t think Marvel said anything like this, by the way. Not two days ago while that hashtag was trending. Homophobic comic fans on Twitter? Sure. Yeah. Probably. Lots of them. But not Marvel. And anyway, there is no actual link between that hashtag, or the very real problem that there is almost no queer representation in mainstream superhero comics, movies, television shows, etc., and Nick Spencer’s Captain America comic. This Captain America story has nothing to do with any of that. It also has nothing to do with the movies, but that’s a whole other thing.
5. Quotes and scenes from the movies being used as evidence that this comic is ALL WRONG.
The movies are not the comics. The movies are separate from the comics. The comics have their own arcs. The comic characters are very different from the movie characters and have their own histories. Movies are self-contained stories. An issue of a comic book is one tiny part of an epic, serialized story.
It doesn’t really matter to me if this is the first comic you’ve ever read, or if you have been reading comics your whole life. I saw a lot of people on “my side” of the argument yelling about dumb new comic fans not knowing how comics work. That was maybe my own knee jerk reaction, sure, but I’m not an elitist who thinks people should read comics from birth or shut their dumb mouths with their uninformed opinions, and it would be very hypocritical if I was.
I don’t think people should come to a medium that we all love and explain how things should be done. I likened it yesterday to someone buying a condo next to a loud rock club and then complaining about the noise. Welcome to the cool neighborhood! We are happy to have you! But things get crazy here sometimes and we like it that way!
And this brings me to the thing that really broke my heart yesterday.
I love that the popularity of these movies has created so many new comic fans, and fans of the characters. I love that a LOT of these new fans are female. I’ve been pretty vocal about how exciting this is. I joined Tumblr last year and have been having a really nice time hanging out in the Captain America/MCU/Stucky fandom. I had found my tribe! If you’d told me ten years ago that one day I would be able to share my love of Winter Soldier with hundreds (thousands?) of (mostly) women on the internet in the near future I would have started building a time machine because that sounds awesome!
And I have been greatly enjoying the fanfic and the art and the gifs and the photos and the delightful nitpicking of every detail of the Captain America movies. I could talk about those movies all day! Sometimes I do! I understand the importance of fictional characters! I really, really do! These characters matter to me. Probably more than they should. You can ask my poor, exhausted husband.
And this is what was really heartbreaking about yesterday. What I saw was GamerGate levels of flaming and harassment, MRA style ignorance and blind hatred...and it was mostly coming from women.
I’ve been asking myself why this whole situation is bothering me so much. I’m good at ignoring drama on the internet. I’m used to comic fans being jerks online, quickly forming into an angry mob. But this time it was my people. My fandom. My gender. My tribe.
It was not a good feeling. I felt like Steve in Captain America: The Winter Soldier! I thought I had found a nice, supportive, loving fandom but it turns out a lot of them are not very nice people at all. I do not get in bed with belligerent, hateful people who spew threats at human beings. I am getting the hell out of this bed.
Nick Spencer has earned my trust. Sam Wilson Captain America, Standoff, The Fix, Superior Foes of Spider-Man (I haven’t read his Ant-Man comics yet. I should. I will). These are all great comics. If a writer I didn’t like had announced they were going to make Steve Rogers a villain for awhile, I might not be as thrilled. But I also probably wouldn’t buy the comic. And I would probably just be quiet about it. Because that’s what I do. ALL THE TIME. But usually I try things first, unless I just hate the writer based on their past work or personal behaviour.
Which brings me to my final point: Nick Spencer seems like a good dude. If you follow him on Twitter, you will see that he is very informed and vocal when it comes to American politics and current events. This makes him a pretty excellent fit for a Captain America series (or two). He also is not, I am pretty sure, a racist, a misogynist, an anti-semite, a homophobe, a right wing bigot, or a guy who hates Steve Rogers as a character and just wants to take him down. Here he is answering a question about Hydra as an allegory of some of the more current hate groups that exist in America today:
“We’ve obviously seen a lot of growth in white supremacist organizations and extreme nationalist groups in the U.S., certainly over the last eight years. And so I had to do the ugly research of what’s drawing folks into those groups. What’s driving recruitment?” (source)
What. A. Monster.
All I’m saying is, you have a choice to trust in Marvel and Nick Spencer and everyone else who is excited to bring readers this story and come along for the ride, or you can choose to ignore it and read something else. But the choice to loudly suggest that the creators of this book, or anyone who likes it, are advancing a white supremacist agenda (actual argument I saw repeatedly yesterday), or hate women (still trying to figure that one out...I mean, there is a lot of very real misogyny in comics. I’m not seeing it in this particular comic), or don’t love or understand Steve Rogers as a character (look, you can call me a racist or a misogynist, but do NOT come in here and suggest I don’t love Steve Rogers)...that is not the right choice.
That is being a bully. And Steve Rogers hates bullies.