Marvel, you’re a Bastard.
I just wanted to get that out of the way, in case anyone was wondering where I came down on the whole “Captain America has always been a secret Nazi supporter” bullshit issue.
Let me be clear: I think it is good to challenge readers. Good writing requires that characters be complex, multifaceted, and be a mixture of the good and the bad. The best, most compelling characters will always be the ones who struggle with weakness, who are striving to overcome past mistakes, or who face morally complex choices and do the best they can while still wavering about which path to choose. All of these things are a part of good writing. Sometimes they make readers cry. Sometimes they make a story heartbreaking and damn-near traumatizing to read. But we see ourselves in those characters, and we explore our own moral dilemmas while they confront theirs, and as we read we learn about the complexities of the world and become better prepared to face the tough choices we constantly face in our own lives.
Marvel’s betrayal of all of its readers does none of those things.
The recent decision to completely undermine the compelling narrative that has touched literally millions of readers and inspired millions of fans has nothing to do with being honest about how tough life is. It has everything to do with a cheap attempt to get shock-value attention, and to reboot something because writers have simply run out of ideas. It is what happens when people are making money, and want to keep producing material, no matter how shitty the quality, in order to keep raking it in. It isn’t playing fair with the readers because it has absolutely nothing to do with the Cap we have always known and loved. It is bad writing because it isn’t true to what has come before it, and is a complete betrayal of the original vision of what this character was and who he was meant to be to the fans.
Let’s make a comparison. In the first book of George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, Game of Thrones, there is a central character who meets a sudden and tragic end. (I will avoid use of a name here, in a half-hearted attempt to avoid spoilers, but I think pretty much the whole world knows about this now anyway.) It is a devastating blow to readers who admired that character, and a terrible shock, as it is so unusual to kill off central characters in such a sudden, brutal way. In these ways, it bears some surface resemblance to Marvel’s recent reveal. But the similarity is only surface deep. Why? In GoT, the character is doomed by his own noble characteristics. He doesn’t understand what it means to rule. He thinks that he can be uncompromising, noble, and fair to everyone around him. By failing to understand that brutality and scheming are a part of surviving as a ruler, he is destined to die. It is tragic, and heartbreaking. It is also TRUE – we learn something about what it means to be a good man, and by reading it we explore how goodness can sometimes make us vulnerable. We weep for this character as he dies – but we also understand. It makes sense. It is sad, but it is also deeply satisfying.
Making Captain America a Nazi just doesn’t make any sense. This is not something that they have been building up to over the years, subtly laying a foundation upon which to build a deep and thoughtful plot twist. It is so shocking precisely because it has no foundation, and has nothing to do with the stories that we have been reading for years. If they thought we wouldn’t notice that they’ve just started making shit up, they were wrong. It is also the worst kind of betrayal. Cap has always been such a powerful symbol of what it is to be a good person – a true hero. Taking that away from us readers is just mean. The world needs heroes, dammit. We already have plenty of villains.
And also, I just want to say this: the current writers don’t actually own this story. The original writers – the people who first dreamed Cap up and brought him to life – were two Jewish guys trying to help the world believe that we could fight the Nazis. They wanted to give people hope and inspiration – and they did. The legacy they left behind has to be treated with respect. The darkness is real, people. We can say “Hydra” all we want – but that is just another word for Nazis. And it is not clever, or creative, or edgy, to take something created by people who were fighting that darkness, and whose families were victims of that darkness, and turn it into exactly what those writers were fighting against. It literally makes me sick to my stomach.
Marvel has gone too far. They should apologize for their betrayal of their readers and the creators of this world. They should take it back as hard and as fast as they can, in any way that they can. If they don’t, they risk losing any legitimacy as inheritors of the legacy that Captain America’s creators left behind.