Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 has been released, and as a direct consequence, users of the internet have collectively lost their minds. Spoilers (that you’ve already seen everywhere on twitter) follow the jump.
It’s true what you’ve read: the final panel of Steve Rogers #1 features Steve Rogers muttering “Hail Hydra” to a bound-and-gagged Dr. Selvig. Unfortunately, most people haven’t read it in the context of the story, reacting to a single page of the story at best, or at worst, simply parroting the potentially uninformed opinions of random denizens of the internet.
Before tackling the most recent Captain America revelation, one would be well advised to consider Marvel’s history of traitorous twists. One example can be found in West Coast Avengers #42, “One of Our Androids is Missing!” In this issue, released in 1988, the West Coast Avengers attempt to determine who has kidnapped fellow teammate Vision – only to have it revealed in the final panel: Vision had been betrayed by Mockingbird! The reader is left incredulous and clamoring for the next issue. While the story goes on to better explain Mockingbird’s motivation, the end of the first chapter leaves the audience reeling from the shocking revelation and questioning whether or not a beloved superhero might not actually be a villain.
Furthermore, it should be noted that Marvel is certainly not above misrepresenting the nature of the story in order to get readers more interested. During The Superior Spider-Man, writer Dan Slott took to social media to very vocally announce that Parker was officially dead, and would never return. Often, he would cackle and make Mr. Burns gestures with his hands during these videos. Nevertheless, in the climactic final issue of The Superior Spider-Man, Parker returns to reclaim his mind and body from Doctor Octopus. While the controversy surrounding Parker’s apparent death was very real, some of Slott’s information turned out to be less than legitimate.
As a reader, I find this to be entirely acceptable, if not desirable – the story becomes more immersive when you aren’t constantly reminding yourself that a stable situation is bound to reassert itself by the end of an issue. Furthermore, the struggles of the characters are all the more interesting when you’re right alongside them, fearful that the challenges they face may prove to be insurmountable.
In addition to considering historic examples from Marvel Comics as a whole, outraged readers would do well to consider more recent stories as well, particularly those penned by Spencer himself. As Spencer stated on twitter, Captain America: Steve Rogers picks up a narrative that has already begun in the pages of Captain America: Sam Wilson and the Avengers Standoff event, and in order to get the full story, those books will have to be read as well – and maybe even take a look at the new Thunderbolts series, to boot.
Given the nature of Steve’s de-aging at the hands of Kobik, there are a plethora of comics-style explanations for the revelation that Captain America is a secret Hydra agent. Kobik, a Cosmic Cube that has become sentient and taken the form of a little girl, possesses the ability to “re-write” reality, and the primary narrative of Avengers Standoff involved S.H.I.E.L.D. using Kobik to alter the identity of supervillains by “re-writing” them. The primary villain for the Standoff event, Baron Zemo, frequently monologues about his desire to use a Cosmic Cube to recreate the world, and the Red Skull, who has historically been associated with the more dubious elements of titular Cube, is once again at large after the events at Pleasant Hill. Indeed, the color-coded flashbacks in Steve Rogers #1 suggest that there may be more than meets the eye to Cap’s Hydra allegiance.
Beyond the narrative groundwork already laid by Spencer’s work on Sam Wilson and Avengers Standoff, readers savvy to Spencer’s writing will already see a plethora of distinctive elements to the narrative. Spencer, a former politician, is especially interested in political themes – especially presenting them in superhero form after running them through the 616 filter, and frequently uses both Captain Americas as stand-ins for political figures.
In Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1, we see Sam Wilson face a crowd of protestors with signs that directly reflect signs that protest President Obama; while the arch-nemesis of Steve Rogers is the Nazi-inspired Red Skull, Sam Wilson faces the Green Skull, a pro-environmental terrorist. In Steve Rogers #1, the Red Skull uses rhetoric directly lifted from GOP candidate Donald Trump’s speeches, possibly suggesting how the thematic concerns of the narrative will be explored as the series continues.
In addition to Spencer’s fascination with politics, he also has a preoccupation with villains. If the title of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man isn’t convincing enough, consider the overabundance of supervillains in Avengers Standoff, or Spencer’s current (and excellent) creator-owned comic, The Fix, which focuses on a pair of corrupt cops (as well as the drug-detection dog they’re trying to outsmart). Exploring Steve Rogers through the lens of a villain not only falls directly into Spencer’s wheelhouse, it will also force readers to look at Marvel’s greatest boy scout from an entirely new angle – which often leads to a much deeper understanding of the character, both for the creators and the readers.
Revealing Steve Rogers to be a Hydra agent may have pissed off a lot of people on twitter, but Spencer is used to pissing people off on twitter multiple times before lunch. Spending just a few minutes on Spencer’s twitter feed (@nickspencer) will reveal that the author is not afraid to voice divisive political opinions or make statements that garner a considerable reaction.
While many people have voiced a knee-jerk reaction to the apparent revelation that Cap is Hydra, a surprising and apparently inexplicable final panel is a long-held tradition in comics. How could Captain America be Hydra? You’ll just have to buy the next issue to find out – and with the extremely loud reaction, it’s hard to argue with Marvel’s decision here. I, for one, look forward to seeing how Spencer untangles this mess.
Until Red Skull headlines the Avengers, make mine Marvel!