Captain America: Burning Down An Empire

By Josh Kamath

It was that wonderful time of the year again just recently, Free Comic Book Day. For those of you who don’t know what that is, on the first Saturday of May, comic stores and publishers come together in the spirit of friendship and community, and provide numerous free comics for both new and old fans. However, this year, there has been a great deal of controversy regarding the day and Marvel Comics in particular.

For those of you who don’t know, when Marvel rebooted the Multiverse with Secret Wars (2015), some characters were abandoned, some promoted to their own main series, and many more were revitalised with new arcs. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, is one such character. Before the AXIS (2014) event, Steve had the Super Soldier Serum that had powered him neutralised, aging rapidly and deteriorating at an accelerated rate for a second time since his creation. To keep him relevant, he was soon made the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, and reunited with Peggy Carter.

Revitalised by Kobik, a sentient Cosmic Cube, he regained his powers and reclaimed the mantle of Captain America, standing side by side with Sam Wilson, who took his place while Steve was powerless. However, something had changed. Kobik had been in the possession of Hydra when it restored Steve, taught that Hydra was supreme and good. As such, Kobik rewrote Steve’s personal history as it regenerated him, altering his life in such a way, that Hydra had reached Steve in his childhood, indoctrinating him into the fold. Though he remained Captain America, his new series revealed him to be a double agent for Hydra, as a consequence of his revival.

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Why does this matter? Well, Steve was created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, a pair of Jewish men, in the middle of World War II, as highly overt propaganda. Most of his villains are of Germanic descent or are associated with Hydra, a villainous group who are an offshoot of the Nazis, and this much is not changed within the film, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Many fans were upset by this change in the character’s biography, calling it an insult to his creators, essentially spitting on their legacy. Furthermore, Marvel’s latest event, Secret Empire (2017), is all about Steve Rogers finally overthrowing Red Skull, defeating most of the heroes in the Marvel Prime Universe, and conquering America in the name of Hydra. What this all amounts to is that Marvel is writing a story arc wherein their equivalent of the Nazis have triumphed over their enemies, and are in the process of establishing a new world order.

 

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So, how does any of this impact on Free Comic Book Day? Marvel’s contribution to the worldwide event was Secret Empire #0. Done simply to market their new event to new and old readers, it seemed like a standard move on their part. However, the end result is far from what they desired and expected. Many readers have taken to various social media platforms, personifying their distaste for the direction of the story and the content itself with a highly inflammatory response; burning the copies of Secret Empire #0 they received. Thankfully, there are more than a few fans who have hung onto their copies, promising to keep and appreciate them for the story they have placed in front of us.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. In reacting to the comic event with the act of burning their individual copy, their protest parallels the acts of most invading empires, including the Nazis themselves in a poetic irony that can’t be made up. One thing many invasions have in common is that one of the first acts upon conquering the new territory is to erase the local knowledge. Religious texts, literature and history books have all been burned so that the conquerors may start fresh with the education of their new subjects. In fact, Secret Empire #1 shows that Hydra did the same thing when they took control of the US.

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Personally, I respect their right to an opinion with regards to such a controversial subject. I can appreciate the direction Nick Spencer has taken us in with this story, especially considering that there is bound to be a return of a more traditional Steve Rogers (Captain America). I think it shows a great deal of guts, knowing where this would take him and what would be thought and said, and still going through with it. I admire the courage and ingenuity Spencer has brought to Captain America, to tell a new story that pushes the boundaries, and explores duplicity. I’m disappointed that such an interesting tale and take on such a historical and influential character has been met with such vehemence, because people have seemingly fallen into the trap of political correctness that has become the driving force behind our modern world.
At what point did we stop valuing storytelling and punish people for thinking outside the box? At what point did we say that certain stories can’t be told? When did we become a society that rejects a man’s right to free and open speech? I sure as hell missed the transition, and you better believe I’m not happy about it. Please feel free to drop a comment, if you would like to open up a discussion. I’m all ears, and more than ready.

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