Spoilers ahead for Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Superior Iron Man #1 and Batman & Robin Eternal #1
I’m not concerned with the controversy surrounding writer Nick Spencer and artist Jesus Saiz’s recent debut issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers so much as I am fascinated that there’s any controversy to speak of.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 sees the return of Steve Rogers to his strapping young self after a brief stint as an old, old man (classic Steve). The issue follows Steve as he takes on a noticeably-extremist Hydra more attuned to the terrorists of today than Nazis, and in the twist heard round the world Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 concludes with Cap throwing an ally out of a plane and saying “Hail Hydra.”
There are less interesting reasons to be surprised that the controversy surrounding Cap’s dope new catchphrase exists. It’s a comic book, a largely serialized medium that ends on a cliffhanger with a reliable enough consistency that you can set your watch to it. It’s the first issue of a comic book and the debut of a new creative team, which is pretty much a flashing neon sign that the character will be heading in some sort of new direction that upsets the status quo. And to reiterate, it’s the first issue, so the story has barely left the ground.
But what fascinates me about the Captain America backlash, and boy oh boy has there been backlash, is that this is the character that crossed the line.
Good guys have gone bad left and right and plenty of these villainous benders have taken place recently. But Captain America’s hailing of Hydra is the only one I’m aware of that got written up in the New York Times. Yes, I read.
Last year there was an entire book based on the premise of Tony Stark’s maniacal ego getting the best of him. Superior Iron Man saw Tony Stark first give away an Extremis app that let the public enhance their looks and abilities, then charge exorbitant fees on the app when everyone got addict to their new and improved lives. Nefarious. And yet Superior Iron Man #1 didn’t go flying off the stands in a whirlwind of fury and curiosity, nor did it spawn a million think pieces. It just kind of happened.
To be fair, Superior Iron Man took place after the events of Axis, a storyline that saw Tony’s personality inverted, and it also choreographed suspicion in Tony’s cognizance pretty quickly. But the first issue of Superior Iron Man also saw its protagonist be a huge dick throughout, rather than in the final panel.
Superior Iron Man isn’t a fantastic analogue for Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. But it isn’t the only instance of a beloved hero turning against everything they believe in in recent memory.
I would argue that Batman & Robin Eternal #1 is a one-for-one equivalent.
Much as CA:SR #1 showcases Steve Rogers presumably allying himself with his sworn enemy, Batman & Robin Eternal showcases Batman gunning down a boy’s parents in front of him in a dark ally.
Same character-180. Same first issue revelation. Entirely different, arguably non-existent, fan reaction.
So why can Tony Stark become a techno drug dealer and Batman can apparently murder parents in front of their children to little or no backlash, but Steve Rogers saying “Hail Hydra” lights Twitter on fire?
I have no idea. But if I had to wager a guess I’d say it’s all Chris Evans’ fault.
I’m not the first person to compare Evans’ performance as Captain America to Christopher Reeves’ Superman and I won’t be the last, because it’s a damn good comparison. There’s an inherent goodness and a deep sense of responsibility that Evans’ brings to Cap. As exciting as it is to watch him kick the shit out of pirates and terrorists and robots, what really defines Evans’ Steve Rogers is that at his core he’s a good guy. A solid bro, if you will.
Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne aren’t awful human beings by any stretch of the imagination, but where Iron Man is a smartass superhero and Batman is a brooding, vengeful, insane superhero, under Chris Evans’ stewardship Captain America has become the superhero.
Maybe the reason every other comic book reader with a Twitter account feels the need to send death threats like an eight-year-old animal-mutilator is because Captain America has replaced Superman as the very mold of what a superhero is, the foundation that is tweaked and twisted into endless variations. Maybe the twist at the end of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 is upsetting not because “THEY MADE CAPTAIN AMERICA A NAZI” or “THEY MADE CAPTAIN AMERICA A GIMMICK,” but because it’s scary. It implies that evil can’t just get to smartasses and brooding, vengeful psychos, it can get to solid bros too. And if Hydra can get to Captain America they can get to the core, the essence of modern superheroism.
Or maybe they’re just a bunch of dumbasses.