It has been an interesting week of news for Marvel. Earlier in the week, Bleeding Cool reported that because of fan frustration over the politicization of their comics, Marvel plans to revamp its line after Secret Empire wraps up in the fall, dispensing with the overt political themes that have characterized several of their books recently and returning many of their most important characters to their old status quo (Bleeding Cool specifically mentions Thor and Iron Man).
In addition, ABC News gave us a preview today of Secret Empire, which promises to be the culmination of the story that Nick Spencer started with Standoff and Captain America: Steve Rogers.
By the time issue #1 of Secret Empire begins, the Marvel Universe will know that Steve Rogers is leading a Hydra takeover of America. Those of us who have been reading comics for a long time are pretty tired of promises that “this will change everything forever,” but it is hard to imagine a more earth-shattering event in the Marvel Universe than Steve Rogers being outed as a Hydra agent. As Tom Brevoort told ABC News: “If you are going into this story not knowing how it’s going to go, yeah you should have some misgiving about [a happy ending], because it’s a really ridiculously awful situation he is in. It might not all be fine.”
Dammit, Tom. You’re killing me here.
Even though I was pretty angry last May when Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 came out, I have come to not only have a grudging respect for Spencer’s work on Cap; I’ve been downright riveted by it. It’s damn good comics—maybe as good as Ed Brubaker’s run in the 2000’s, which I think is the gold standard for Captain America comics.
But as much as I’ve enjoyed what Spencer has been doing, I worry about the lasting impact of the Hydra Cap story. What effect will it have on public perception of Captain America in the long run? That might seem like a silly question to some people. It’s just a comic book character! But no, superheroes—especially the ones whose stories are deeply ingrained in our culture—are more than just comic book characters.
I’m certainly not the first to point out that superheroes are America’s mythology, but the point bears repeating. Captain America, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and others—these characters embody our society’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, beliefs, and fears. They represent the best and the worst of us; they tell us the truth about ourselves; they nudge us toward excellence; they allow us to explore our fears; they teach us about moral, political, and social possibilities. And even though those heroes are trademarked and sold by the Big Two, they have transcended their merely commercial existence to become a much deeper part of our culture.
As Mark D. White and others have argued, those who are responsible for continuing superhero mythology ought to remember that they are custodians, not owners, of that mythology. Tell us radical stories. Allow the characters to grow. Shock us. Change them or kill them if there’s a good reason for it. But remember that superheroes are not toys for you to play with, and remember that these characters don’t exist merely for you to sell a product or to score political points.
(Secret Empire #1 cover art by Mark Brooks)
In spite of what many (myself included) said after the release of CA:SR #1, Spencer seems to have a high respect for who Steve Rogers is, for his history, and for what he represents to many people. But I can’t help worrying, when I look at the cover to Secret Empire #1, that Steve’s legacy is about to be damaged. Maybe I’m a sucker. Maybe Secret Empire will be yet another This-Will-Change-Everything-Forever-Until-Everything-Goes-Back-To-The-Way-It-Was-Before kind of event. The Bleeding Cool article certainly seems to suggest that. If so, fine. I’ll be a sucker as long as it means that Steve Rogers’s legacy isn’t ruined in the process.
I hope you know what you’re doing, Nick.