May 7, 2017

Why Is Hydra Cap Such a Big Deal?

I've been reading comics for almost 30 years and have run this website for seven. One of the traps I want to avoid is complaining about something a modern comic does that I completely gave a pass to when I was younger. So I have to ask...

What's the Big Deal With Hydra Cap?
by Duy Tano

It's an honest question. As someone who has read superhero comics for as long as I can remember reading, I've come to know a few things that make the outrage for this make little sense to me. Namely:

We Only Really Appreciate Steve Rogers When He Isn't Captain America

Icons have repeated stories, cliches if you will. Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man. Superman loses his powers. Daredevil's life falls apart. In Steve Rogers' case, he gets replaced. This is a twist on that. It's still him, but his personality has been replaced. Did we want another replacement Cap to come along?

These Things Never Last

When I was nine years old, Superman died. Then they had these four guys replacing him.

Your options were that he was one of the four, or he was dead. I still remember when they brought him back as a fifth Superman, and some people actually believed they changed plans midflight, believing they had fully intended him for be to one of the four. (Incidentally, the one he was actually most like is Steel — and I'd bet anything he'd have gotten the most backlash if that was revealed to be the case.) I knew he wasn't dead. Just like a year later, I knew Batman's back wasn't going to stay broken. Just like I knew Ben Reilly wasn't going to be the real Spider-Man, and how I know Man-Thor is going to get Mjolnir back eventually and that Bucky wasn't going to stay as Captain America.

Steve Rogers isn't Hydra. He will overcome it by force of will, and if you've read superhero comics habitually for any significant length of time, you should know that.

Now I've heard the criticism that it's because no one wants Steve to be evil, but...

Superheroes Turn Evil All the Time

Look, here's Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, one of DC Comics' centerpieces of the last 10 years, back when he was evil.

Here's Superman, trying to take over the world.

Here's Spider-Man, working for Dr. Octopus in a classic Stan Lee/John Romita story.

Annnnnd here's Captain America, written by Stan Lee and drawn by his co-creator Jack Kirby, mind-controlled into being a Nazi. Let's not pretend to assume that we know for a fact Kirby would be offended by this when he literally drew this.

So, you may say, those are all short stories and they didn't last this long, which, okay, but...

Comics Are More Decompressed Now

In 1987, Kraven the Hunter took over as Spider-Man in the critically acclaimed "Kraven's Last Hunt." It lasted four issues.

Just a few years ago, Dr. Octopus took over as Spider-Man in the critically acclaimed and commercially loved Superior Spider-Man. It lasted over two years.

Comics are so much more decompressed now. A plot point that would have lasted an issue back in the day is explored in six. A four-issue storyarc then is whole reams of hardcovers now. That's the way of things now. And if that's your criticism, then that's not isolated to Captain America. That's the entire comics industry as a whole. And that's a whole separate discussion altogether. (Spoiler: decompression isn't inherently bad, and a lot of compressed comics from back in the day could have used more decompression.)

So in general, it's strange to me that we're criticizing a comic book for doing old plot points in a way that modern comics do things. And if you're complaining about the way modern comics do things, well, guess what? They're probably not written for you. They're probably written for the younger audience who will read these comics with the same wonder that you read your beloved comics when they were your age. When I see people praise Walt Simonson for creating Beta Ray Bill while disparaging Jane Foster as Thor because it's cheap storytelling, or when I see people complaining about Riri Williams while at the same time praising the time James Rhodes became Iron Man, it just boggles my mind, and the only reason I can really think of is the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia blinding us to what wasn't itself well-done in the past as well as how much of a pass we gave things before we realize how the mechanism worked.

I can only think of three reasons this has gotten the backlash it has, beyond "We praise things when we're younger that we don't when we're older." Let's go through them.

The Execution Sucks for the Expense

It's one thing to decompress—some of the most successful writers in history are decompressed. But it's been over a year, over 12 issues at $3.99 an issue (so you've spent over 50 bucks if you're following this), and until Secret Empire launched a couple weeks ago, it's basically been an extended prologue.

That is too much to ask in terms of expense. And while we can say that about any event that DC and Marvel have put out in the last couple of decades, it was always bound to reach a breaking point.

(Insert here whatever you think of Nick Spencer as a writer in a vacuum.)

We Actually Haven't Had Steve Rogers as Captain America for a While

The most acclaimed Captain America run in the 21st Century, Ed Brubaker's, had Steve Rogers as Captain America for 25 issues, then replaced by Bucky for longer than that. Then they brought Steve back as Cap for a few years and then aged him so he couldn't be Cap, and then Falcon became Cap. There are only two people Cap would ever ask to replace him, and that's those two. But now that Steve was Cap again, maybe we just needed some old fashion.

Breaking points, folks. Breaking points.

Now Was the Wrong Time to Do It

First, Captain America's more popular than he's been since 1941, and kids and adults alike look up to him. Chris Evans' franchise is the most well-crafted of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so Hydra Cap isn't exactly a good gateway for new fans.

More importantly, politically speaking, America and the world are in such turmoil, that hell yes, maybe we actually do need some old fashion. We need Captain America who isn't a Nazi, because America is better than that. Maybe this is the Captain America we need right now.

Roger Stern and Frank Miller, Marvel Fanfare #18, 1985

Which then begs the question, if we're all so insistent that Captain America isn't a Nazi, then why is Donald Trump president?

I have no answer for that. I have no real answer for this. Maybe the only real reason we're pissed off at what is a standard comic book trope is because it's happening to Captain America, and as a result it's striking too close to home.

For some awesome Captain America stories, here are some links:

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