WARNING: If you haven't read Captain America: Steve Rogers Issue 1 yet and you plan to, there is a major spoiler below.
Who would have thought that, of all characters, it would be Captain America that would be causing a firestorm on social media two days in a row for completely different reasons? Yesterday, it was thanks to #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trending on Twitter.
Today, the controversy is stemming not from the movie end of Marvel, but from its comics. If you don't keep up with them, let me catch you up to speed with the story: After supposedly being killed in the aftermath of Marvel's Civil War event, Steve Rogers has since come back to life. However, he was an old man and without powers, while other allies have taken up Cap's shield — first Bucky Barnes, then Sam Wilson. But on Free Comic Book Day yesterday, he was officially reinvigorated, once again a young man with his powers restored, thanks to Captain America: Steve Rogers Issue 1 by Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz. It was a triumphant return for Marvel's most iconic hero, next to Spider-Man...
...except for the fact that Marvel threw a plot twist into the story that no one saw coming.
That's right. Steve Rogers — Captain America — has been an agent for Hydra all along. All along. In an interview with EW, Spencer confirmed this is not a trick:
"The one thing we can say unequivocally is: This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself."
To say fans were upset with this big reveal is an understatement. Already, #SayNoToHYDRACap is trending on Twitter. The general sentiment is not merely mild upset, but unbridled anger.
For the record, I have faith that Marvel is smart enough to know that there is one character you don't mess with for a cheap gimmick or for shock value, and that's Cap. I hadn't been as angry while reading a comic as I was when I read that reveal last night. But Spencer knows the character and I trust that this is but the start of what might very well come to be known as an iconic Captain America story, and one that will ultimately find Steve Rogers' integrity remaining intact.
Still, the negative reaction is understandable. The decision to make Steve a Hydra plant undermines everything that Captain America has ever stood for in his 75 long years of existence and, in doing so, makes us question our unwavering belief in him. It's a violation of the fundamental essence of not just a man, or a character, but an ideal. In a way that no other character in the Marvel pantheon does, Captain America — Steve Rogers — stands for something more. He is a symbol, quite literally draped in the flag of the United States of America. He is America, or at least, the ideal of what it could be at its best.
It wasn't always like that, though. He hasn't always been popular or even well-liked throughout his history. What Marvel has done in the last few years, thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been rather remarkable: It's made Captain America become the most revered character in its universe, not just to old-school fans, but to a new generation. Since [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](tag:254973), it's not a stretch to say that Captain America has outpaced all other MCU characters in terms of fan adoration. Winter Soldier managed to do something that has never been done before in the character's history (aside from his initial appearance in the 1940s). It made Captain America cool. While his stories have always centered on the zeitgeist of the time like few other comic books have, the marriage of that with the live-action movies has made him relevant and timely in a way that resonates with both longtime fans and a younger generation that very likely had its first introduction to Marvel post-2008, through the movies rather than the comic books.
That fans are so outraged by this new wrinkle in Steve Rogers' story is actually a good thing. Perhaps not when they reach "burn everything to the ground" levels of irrational anger, but the fact that so many understand that this twist has violated the fundamental nature of Captain America means that Marvel has done something right. It's managed to convey the fundamental goodness of the character to a new audience and gotten that audience to both understand and embrace him.
At a time in which pessimism is rampant and our pop culture is rife with antiheroes and villains, getting new fans to buy into the purity and innate nobility of Steve Rogers is no easy feat. He's the antithesis of everything that is popular in entertainment at the moment, and maybe that's why he has been so wholly embraced. We need him, need what he represents. He is the optimism that counters cynicism, an unwavering moral compass that stands in direct opposition to the moral lassitude in which we find ourselves mired.
I'm not sure the wholehearted embrace of Captain America would have happened had it not been for the Russo brothers and what they've done with the character on screen. In fact, I'm sure it wouldn't have. If Nick Spencer can show fans, by the end of this story, that he understands the character as well as the Russos, then he very well might do for Captain America in the comics what the Russos have done for him in the movies. Fans just need to have a little faith and trust that Steve Rogers is, and will always be, the man we believe him to be.