‘Captain America’ Twist Is a Good Lesson in Storytelling

Yesterday was new comic book day, and it was a spoiler-heavy one. Big moments in DC: Rebirth, Transformers, and of course Captain America. The DC spoilers went out on Monday thanks to rumor sites and had died down by the time Wednesday hit. Cap, however, created a news surge. Enough people were talking about the story that Facebook’s Trending function picked it up (spoiling the reveal in the headline – thanks, Mark!) and causing non-comic book readers to issue death threats to the writer.

What was the big reveal? I’m not a big fan of spoilers, but in case you want to know, check back after the image below.

This and all images from Marvel comics.
This and all images from Marvel comics.

All the way on the last page of the comic, we learn that Captain America is a Hydra agent. This is not a replacement, not a robot, but the same Steve Rogers as we have seen throughout the decades. This is very carefully established via a series of black-and-white flashbacks.

My Facebook feed is full of my fellow Jews, decrying that it is horrible that a character created by two Jews is suddenly a Nazi sleeper agent (because another thing this issue does is continue Marvel’s back-dating of Hydra’s foundation – it used to be a group made by ex-Nazis in the ’60s, now it was always part of the Reich). It’s full of people yelling that Marvel is trying to show white supremacy as cool, somehow. It’s also full of people saying “At the end of the story.”

No. Stop. Please.

Yes, it’s revealed on the last page of the comic, page 40. But while this is the last page of the comic book, it is hardly the end of the story. Comic books are largely serial fiction. Stories continue from one month to the next. Assuming a short story-arc, there are still 120 pages to go (although I suspect this will be a six-issue story, not four). This is the equivalent of reading one chapter of a book, seeing that the antagonist is one up on the heroes, and throwing it down. There is a lot more going on here.

So before you freak out, keep that in mind?

Also, for the thousands of non-comics readers reacting to this, here are some quick notes on this.

  1. The writer here, Nick Spenser, is far from an evil hack. He’s one of the best writers at Marvel right now. His Avengers issues are great “action movie” style comics, Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a brilliant heist comedy, and his current Ant-Man book is a unique look at a struggling, ex-con superhero that very much matches the tone of the movie. Also? His Secret Avengers comic is one of my favorites. As someone familiar with his work, I can tell you that he builds complex, layered stories. He’s not a “done in one” kind of guy.
  2. One of the big things about this issue is the involvement of the Red Skull. I already know one person who was turned off from this comic by the Red Skull using typical conservative talking points to recruit neo-Nazis. This, by the way, is nothing new. Marvel’s Hatemonger, Sons of the Serpent, Watchdogs, and Friends of Humanity have always used handy conservative talking points.
    Evil master planner, or Trump rally?
    Evil master planner, or Trump rally?

    But that’s not the key bit. The key bit is that for the last few years, Marvel has been teasing the Red Skull as a big menace again. You see, they spliced his brain with that of the world’s most powerful telepath, so he is now a telepathic menace. Which leads to my next point.

  3.  Look at the flashbacks. LOOK AT THEM.
    Every flashback has this theme.
    Every flashback has this theme.

    Notice something?  How everything is black and white except for tones of red? I wonder if that might be because the Red Skull is implanting memories in Steve? I am so confident in this that I am willing to put money on it. Not a lot; I’m broke. Let’s say $10 to charity. And if I’m right? I’ll still give to charity, but I’ll feel smug.

  4.  Please keep in mind that comic books, as serial fiction, are about the illusion of change. None of the decried changes ever stick. Remember when the world was going to end because Doctor Octopus was now Spider-Man forever? No? Despite that crud-storm, it turned out to be a really good story about what makes a hero, and it gave us back Peter Parker in a really big way. Captain America has had some pretty major changes through the years. He’s quit and taken on another identity (twice), he’s been hooked on drugs, he’s been de-powered, aged, died twice, been lost in time, has been a werewolf (don’t ask), and so on. Some of those stories were good, some of them were terrible, but at the end the writers put all the characters back in the box for someone else to play with. That’s the nature of comics. Heck, even the current longest-standing shock-value move by Marvel (Spider-Man selling his marriage to Mephisto) is starting to get push-back.

So really, relax. Either sit back and enjoy the work of a talented writer, or ignore it. It’s true that “no story is just a story,” but the story isn’t finished.

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