This past Friday, Marvel Comics announced their next upcoming big comic event that will “change everything.” Marvel, still fresh off the much-delayed finale of their Civil War II event, has declared that they will lay out the full scope of Steve Rogers’ HYDRA takeover. Written by Nick Spencer, the mastermind behind the current incarnation of evil Captain America, Secret Empire is expected to kick off in April and run for nine issues, culminating in August.
So to recap. Marvel let Nick Spencer turn Steve Rogers into a Nazi. They let him tease that Captain America has been a secret Nazi double agent this entire time (though it was revealed that Rogers is mentally brainwashed by a cosmic cube), they released a promo video plugging Spencer’s run with Nazi Captain America, and they’ve doubled down on a full blown event.
Where do we even start to unpack this?
Here’s a little history on Steve Rogers/Captain America for those of you who might not know. One of the co-creators of Captain America was Jack Kirby. While celebrated as a godfather of comics, Kirby was also the son of Austrian Jewish immigrants. Born in New York City, he wanted to escape the Lower East side and turned to art. Together with Joe Simon, Kirby created Captain America as a very political statement about World War II. They created a cover of Captain America punching Hitler, something they received hate mail for.
And then Kirby was drafted to fight in Europe. Because of his artistic talent, he was sent to German-occupied territories as a scout to map out the areas for Allied troops. Kirby hated Nazis. Contemporaries recall Kirby discussing his war stories, stating they would always end with the recounting of his killing of four Nazis. To a person, it was a consensus that he loathed the Nazi regime.
Kirby in his own words explicitly stated that Captain America
“was not a cop; he was created to destroy this evil, to wipe it off the face of this Earth. Cap did not debate the morality of an eye for an eye, or worry about the philosophical ramifications of his actions, his job was to affect an almost Biblical retribution on those who would destroy us. Captain America was an elemental remedy to a primal malevolence. He was Patton in a tri-colored costume.”
So you have Jack Kirby, the King of Comics, also infamously known for how Marvel effectively screwed him out of royalties and ownership of the very characters he created that help found modern comics as we know them. On top of that infamy, Marvel is now putting all of their eggs in an event basket about making Kirby’s ultimate stand against Nazism, Captain America, a Nazi mastermind who wants to take over the world. If we thought Marvel actually gave a damn about Kirby, we’d say they were effectively pissing on his grave to spite him. The problem is, this seems completely divorced from Kirby and entirely cemented in Marvel’s well-publicized on-going struggles.
Many words and column inches have been written about the slump the current comics industry is in today. The industry stagnated after pulling from major newsstands to move exclusively to comic stores to focus on their then core demographic. Sure, there were lauded titles in the 1990’s and 2000’s. The rise of grimdark fully settled in, and the next generation of artists came to the fore in the form of Rob Liefeld. Art became about big breasts and butts, impossibly tiny waists, too many lines, overly bulging muscles, thigh pouches, and never drawing feet.
Stories focused on antiheroes and seeing how dark and edgy the comic medium could go. A medium that had once sold gangbusters to boys and girls alike had become something of an adult/teenage male club. And eventually, that core demographic could no longer support the industry. New blood wasn’t trickling in at a sustainable rate as older readers began to age out.
We saw at the beginning of the 2010’s a new focus from both DC Comics (who also faced this problem) and Marvel in trying to reach out to a new audience. Younger, more female, less white, less straight, etc. Some of the new creations have been a resounding success, such as Marvel’s new Ms. Marvel, aka Kamala Khan. Squirrel Girl finally received her own comic and has been met with critical praise. Gwen Stacy was reintroduced and has taken on an entire little niche of existence all for herself between Spider-Gwen and Gwenpool.
Over at DC Comics, an executive decision was made to move away from the darker and edgier (and admittedly very convoluted) New 52, with a soft reboot in Rebirth. Headed by Geoff Johns, Rebirth has seen a return to the hope and sense of wonder that many DC characters lost in the last decade.
And yet Marvel’s approach, while introducing diverse new characters, has been confusing, frustrating, and sometimes downright infuriating. Instead of keeping with the title continuity as DC decided to return to with their titles of Rebirth, Marvel reboots their titles with every event. Secret Wars, Civil War II, and now again with the rumored “return to basics” reboot after Secret Empire.
For store owners, this approach has been frustrating as fans are confused at what happens to their titles being randomly renewed or even dropped. For fans, it means shelling out extra money every year for the $4.99 “first issue” of a title that only ran for maybe eleven issues in the last reboot before cycling back to #0 again. Favorite characters exist less to explore their own stories than to repeat a stop and start cycle of personal arcs and then having to work in and around an event.
This isn’t even taking into account the widespread criticism of how certain characters are treated in events. Carol Danvers’ treatment in Civil War II was highly criticized, with some fans calling it wholesale character assassination. One has to wonder why Marvel, with a Captain Marvel movie on the way and wanting to start luring new fans in to read about her, would devote an entire event arc to portraying her as a Big Brother police state enforcer.
Then there’s the matter of logistics. Civil War II was delayed for months. It was pushed back so far, that their new line of titles had to launch before the event was actually finished. So readers were picking up Avengers, Captain Marvel, etc. and more or less already learning what had happened at the end of Civil War II, rendering the need to buy the title moot. Don’t misunderstand us. Event comics, when done right, are amazing tools to launch an entire publisher’s line forward. Crisis on Infinite Earths had decades-long ramifications for DC characters. However, it’s hard to care when there’s a new event rolling out every year boasting that it will “change everything forever!!!”
Finally, there’s the supposed “back to basics” launch this fall, which reeks of trying to play off DC’s Rebirth. The main issue here is that it seems to confirm to several long time readers that yes, it was pointless to invest in the new characters. They were just stand-ins for their original counterparts. In the end, they don’t matter. Granted, this could change, and their “back to basics” idea could be something entirely new. But it’s not hard to see where these fans are coming from based on the current Gordian knot Marvel titles are trapped in.
So we’ve covered why making Captain America is a slap in the face to his creator? Check. Marvel’s convoluted business strategy? Check.
Now let’s briefly discuss the man writing Secret Empire.
Look. You’re a grade A asshole to even tease that Captain America was a Nazi the entire time. Nick Spencer’s idea of drumming up anticipation was apparently stepping all over everyone who had spent a lifetime admiring the ideals Captain America stood for.
This isn’t even taking into account the rise of fans who currently worship Nazi!Steve. (Hint: this isn’t a good thing.)
Spencer seems to be on a one-man crusade to halt the clock for more diverse, more open-minded comics, with a return to the 2000’s grimdark reign. Not only has he turned Steve into a Nazi, but also his work on Sam Wilson has been appalling, cutting off Wilson at the knees and setting the work up for Sam to “deserve” to have the shield revoked (implied to be “rightfully returned to the actual Nazi, Steve Rogers).
It doesn’t stop with Sam Wilson. Spencer’s more recent work also wholesale mocks what he considers to be the young, online, “special snowflake” millennial generation.
Moreover, unlike Kirby, Spencer is not okay with punching Nazis.
Today is difficult, but cheering violence against speech, even of the most detestable, disgusting variety, is not a look that will age well.
— Nick Spencer (@nickspencer) January 20, 2017
We haven’t even touched the firestorm he started last week when he decided to take potshots about DC’s Rebirth sales numbers (conveniently skewing the data to either fit his argument or ignoring other data like digital sales altogether.)
Jesus, Nick. https://t.co/kBKzQB1YVY
— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) February 10, 2017
This is the man who will be leading the charge with Marvel’s newest event.
It’s not exactly a stretch too, when all of this is taken into consideration, think that if Jack Kirby were alive, faces would be punched.
And who could blame him?