DC and Marvel, under normal circumstances, are competitors. The Big Two American comics publishers. Where DC normally likes to tell stories about titans, manifestations of ideologies that we aspire to be—truth for Wonder Woman, justice for Batman, and hope for Superman—Marvel has historically taken the more down-to-earth approach. Heroes you see outside your window; people you can be. People you often already know, or sometimes are.
Those are the normal circumstances. So what does it say about the state of the push-and-pull between these two companies when the “heroes outside your window” are all too real? When everything everyone has read in the Marvel Universe, technically since 1940, was the result of a mass involuntary brainwashing/reality altering event? When the truth becomes buried under what people choose to believe? When facts are labeled as subjective rather than objective?
Bluntly: something is very, very wrong. But let’s back up about a year before we dig into this. I’ve no doubt the vast majority of our readership knows, in a general sense, what’s going on. However, we need specifics to understand the full scope of what I’m getting at.
Fair warning, this isn’t gonna be a fun read. Not for me, not for you, and certainly not for my editors.
Agent of HYDRA Full-Blown Nazi
Almost a year ago, ironically the same day that DC Rebirth launched, Marvel published Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, revealing that the titular “hero” had secretly been a Hydra sleeper agent all along.
Now, obviously, anybody who reads comics knows that it’s clearly a fake-out of some kind. Mind control, brainwashing, body doubles, shape shifters, clones, alternate universe counterparts, altered memories—sky’s the limit. Sure, it’s not as if I enjoyed—like so many others—seeing the creation of two Jewish men whose sole original purpose was to punch Hitler in the face being turned into a Nazi—and yes Hydra are Nazis; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Even the MCU thinks so! But that was a few years ago.
What do they think right now? As in, a few weeks prior to this posting?
Oh, it’s the same thing. Glad we got some consistency. Anyway, I understood that nothing was as it appeared to be. Other authors have pulled this stunt before for a lark, or a zany story here or there. There’d be some hackneyed reveal, and then this’d get swept under the rug as some edgy publicity stunt that sold a ton of #1’s.
An incredibly distasteful and disrespectful stunt, but ultimately a drop in the bucket. Except that’s not what happened. For an entire month, Nick Spencer, the author and mastermind behind Captain America: Steve Rogers (along with the upcoming massive Secret Empire crossover-event), spoke out as loudly and as often as possible that this was the real deal. Even the MCU’s Captain America, Chris Evans himself, didn’t seem too pleased with this development.
And yet, not one of those cop-outs I listed above came to fruition. Steve “America Met Me When I Punched Hitler” Rogers is, and always has been, a Nazi. Over and over again, this was repeated. Marvel Editorial said it, defending Spencer and his team, multiple times. It was all “hyperbole” and “a big misunderstanding” because fans were blowing it out of proportion.
Which is partially true; nobody should be sending death threats to Nick Spencer for writing what he writes. And yet, as we’ll soon see, fans weren’t, aside from said death threats, overreacting in the long run. In truth, they weren’t nearly as galvanized as they would eventually be.
Turned out that Kobik, a living Cosmic Cube who can alter reality itself at will (it’s complicated), changed Steve’s personal history so that he would be “happier”. Because Steve’s happiest and most fulfilled is him being a Nazi.
But this, well, this is just the set-up. That’s abhorrent, empirically, but that’s something we all thought would just sort of resolve itself and get retconned after about four issues. Except, again, that’s not what happened. You know how I said it wasn’t a publicity stunt, and how they said it wasn’t a stunt? They weren’t kidding. In a disgusting subversion of this tired cliche, it wasn’t a publicity stunt.
Secret Empire #0, which will be published, in glorious irony, alongside Batwoman #2 on April 19th, reveals that Kobik did something far more revolting to Steve. She didn’t just change his reality. She changed it back. And that’s the twist.
The Marvel Universe as we know it is one giant lie created by the Allies using the same reality-altering mechanism as Kobik after Nazi Germany won in a last ditch attempt to save the world from being ruled by tyranny and evil.
In short, Captain America is, and always was, a Nazi. Literally.
Why? To show how far a hero can fall, perhaps. Or maybe the “appeal” of fascism. An historical analogue to the rise of Nazi Germany is another possibility. And that’s not even getting into all of the explicit parallels between the “new” grassroots HYDRA and the surge in white supremacist activity and recruitment.
“Maybe it’s a deconstruction of how insane it is that Captain America is a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed straight man in an America where that no longer makes sense?” is something I’d say if Secret Empire was setting up the other Captain America, Sam Wilson (whose book is also penned by Spencer and features the titular hero beating up “millennial snowflakes” actually called “Bombshells” while Spencer himself advocates for allowing Nazis free speech despite all of his copious research on how fascism spreads would have informed him the exact opposite is true) to kill Steve and cement himself as the one true Captain America.
But that’s probably not happening, because Nick Spencer wants us to question where the Steve Rogers story is in this event, since he is in no uncertain terms the villain. If it’s possible to redeem him, and that sort of malarkey. Anyway, all of those options and many others would be viable if all of those things weren’t actively happening in the real world right now. So, if not for those reasons, why?
I don’t know. At least, not yet. Ultimately, though? It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter why Marvel and Spencer decided to do this. It doesn’t matter their rationale for perpetuating the very real fear and dread and terror that continues to sweep through America, among many other nations, like a plague. The kind of thing that, just as it always has, makes fascism look safe to a great deal of people. It doesn’t matter that Marvel Editorial seems to be under the false assumption that its diversity of characters caused their sales to slump—when the reality is magnitudes more complicated than that—mere weeks before Secret Empire begins as there couldn’t possibly be a connection there.
It doesn’t matter why Magneto, a holocaust survivor, will probably be joining up with Hydra. It doesn’t matter why they thought making Steve Rogers into Emperor Palpatine, as he recently became both Director of SHIELD and leader of Hydra (he killed the Red Skull), was the right move.
And it definitely doesn’t matter what the editorial logic was behind Steve trying to orchestrate a mass population culling of billions using a forced alien invasion—what would be a literal act of genocide—in order to solidify Hydra’s control and power over the world.
It doesn’t matter that when their brand should, by all logic, be pumping out page after page of heroes fighting the horrors outside of our windows, Marvel chose to do the opposite.
So what you’re saying is that none of this has anything to do with the Nazis? You sure?
It. Doesn’t. Matter.
It doesn’t matter anymore than the difference between Nazi fascism and “generic” fascism matters. Outside of academia, what distinguishes one from the other is irrelevant. Fascism is fascism. Evil is evil. Genocide is genocide. Nazis are Nazis, and I think these are basic things we can all agree on.
With that in mind, isn’t it so many levels of messed up that Marvel wants to throw parties and Hydra-fy their media partner’s websites along with as many comics retailers as possible? Or that they’re going to be partnering with ABC’s Good Morning America for a special Free Comic Book Day announcement about how fun Secret Empire is? I mean, I—you saw those images above from Civil War II: The Oath. Sure, it’s not a swastika, but can you honestly tell me that pictures of concentration camps and population suppression don’t call the Nazis to mind?
No, of course you can’t. Because it does.
Now, to be clear: I don’t believe, even for a moment, that Marvel is trying to spread Nazi propaganda on a mass scale, but it’s that tone deafness that makes this whole ordeal all the more dangerous. And it’s a trend we’ve noticed before.
Alternate Universes/Parallel Earths
On the other side of the table, we have DC Bombshells, not to be confused with the previously mentioned “millennial” terrorist organization featured in Captain America: Sam Wilson of basically-the-same-name, a phenomenal series that I centered my first article for the Fandometals on. Jewish reclamation, and all that jazz.
It’s this little digital-first comic, penned by Marguerite Bennett and drawn by a handful of rotating artists, based on a series of fun little 1940s-style pin-up statues of DC’s female characters designed by Ant Lucia. Basically, it could not have come from a more humble beginning. Kinda like how the first Pirates of the Caribbean was based off of a theme park ride, and yet somehow managed to be great. This is the comics equivalent of that, except it didn’t get stupid after the first “volume”. It only got more culturally relevant.
DC Bombshells takes place on one of the DCU’s 52 parallel Earths—I don’t think they’ve assigned a number yet—and is thus more or less completely self-contained. It’s centered around an alternate World War II where the Allies, thanks to some prodding by Amanda Waller, decided to use the world’s greatest untapped and underutilized resource to help turn the tide of the war: women. And not just any women, oh no. In this universe, almost every hero is one or all of these things: queer, non-white, and Jewish. Yes, that does mean quite a few things were changed in the adaptation process, but the core traits of each and every character remain intact.
It’s a story that communicates the horrors of war, and the era, through the lens of historical reclamation and at least a dozen genre mash-ups. Romance, pulp, newsreels, serial adventures, slapstick cartoons, mysteries—everything you can think of. It works, it’s fantastic, y’all should buy it. I’ve already written on its importance a little under a year ago, so I’ll do my best to recap the the most relevant bits here on a broader scale.
“[DC Bombshells is] not time travel. No one’s going back in time to kill Hitler but inevitably fails thanks to 96th century Time Police (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, MIDNIGHTER). There is no hindsight involved. It’s just heroes, many of them Jewish, defeating the evil right in front of them. Batwoman and the Bombshells wouldn’t be preventing the single most meticulous ethnic cleansing in human history from ever happening; they’d be stopping it from going any further. And that is far better.
Changing history so that the Holocaust never happened is all well and good, but there’s real no heart to that. There’s no real depth of meaning or inspiration one can gain from such an act. A bad thing happened, that you regret allowing, so you undid it. But turning those victims into heroes, more than they already were, and having them dismantle the very thing that threatened them.
There’s real strength to be found in that. A lot of pride, too. Being the heroes of our own story can have that effect, since that way we get to write our own ending.”
For those of you who may not have read the article in its entirety, which is perfectly understandable, the long-term effect of rescuing the 75,000 Jews still living in the Berlin ghettos in 1941, taking into account typical generational population growth, results in an additional 2.025 million Jews living in the present day. DC Bombshells is filled to the brim with these changes in causality, and as I stated above the best part about them is that they aren’t retroactive or proactive: they’re reactive.
Additionally, there is a completely separate parallel Earth, Earth-10, as part of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity series, where the Nazis won World War II and most of DC’s iconic heroes are part of the Third Reich. Of course, even though that reality’s Superman was raised by Adolf Hitler, he realized that his adoptive father’s intentions were pure evil and set to work creating a utopia to mask that everything was built on the bones of the dead.
That may seem a strange thing to mention, but consider how inconsequential it is. That is the story of Earth-10, not Prime Earth/New Earth. It isn’t the main continuity. It’s just a side story. It does not affect, in any way shape or form, the “real” DCU. It’s not exactly fiction-within-fiction, but it’s a big “What If?”, or Elseworlds tale if you’re a giant DC nerd.
And there’s no harm in “What If?” People love alternate history narratives, and we here at the Fandomentals recently had a conversation that, if Secret Empire were a “What If?” storyline published perhaps four years earlier or at a point in the future where it wasn’t a direct reflection of current events, we’d probably really enjoy it!
But that’s not what Secret Empire and the Marvel Universe is.
It’s not alternate. It’s the truth. Hell, it’s barely fiction.
Reboots, Relaunches and Retcons
There’s another common theme that divides DC and Marvel, though I’ve never really seen the legitimacy to it. Ever since 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC has gotten the reputation of rebooting everything on a regular basis to streamline continuity. That is, of course, a gross exaggeration. The subsequent events that many claim are reboots, such as Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis simply aren’t. If they are to be classified as anything, they’d be soft relaunches though even that is a stretch.
Honestly, the only other reboot they’ve ever done was Flashpoint in 2011, and they are now in the process of undoing it, but that’s another conversation. Anyway, the truth behind this assumption is a bit more simple. When something doesn’t work, DC goes out of their way to fix it until it does…to varying success.
The important thing to note here is that they try to fix it. Marvel, on the other hand, doesn’t do this. If something doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense, they ignore it and let the next creative team disregard continuity as much as they want in most cases. That’s not a criticism, it’s just simply how they do things and sometimes it’s not a bad idea.
However, that’s been made even more true in recent years due to the fact that Marvel has been repeatedly going out of their way to soft-reboot pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. And also the kitchen sink. As it turns out, this is because the vast majority of Marvel ongoings are just mini/maxi limited series in disguise that are designed to be cancelled after a certain amount of issues. What does this have to do with Nazi Cap?
It’s rather simple, really. DC and Marvel are different, yes. They are supposed to be competitors, as I’ve said. They should not act as polar opposites by any measure. The fact that both Secret Empire—which by extension includes Captain America: Steve Rogers—and DC Bombshells have been published concurrently since May of last year is a situation that shouldn’t happen. This specific sequence of events disrupting a natural teeter totter of balance between DC and Marvel is completely insane.
DC is not perfect, and they really don’t have enough women working there at the moment, but this disparity is simply unprecedented. Except, it’s even deeper than that. It’s not just about how crazy it is that there’s this massive Nazi-filled gap.
It’s that, right now, Marvel is showing a fundamental lack of understanding of their own medium. Unless they’re planning on killing off every single incarnation of Steve Rogers for good—which seems all but impossible considering the upcoming Generations event that pairs “classic” Steve with Sam Wilson and that’s without getting into his brand recognition—the only way “out” of this madness is to…reboot him. Relaunch him. “Redeem him”.
And therein lies the problem. You can’t. Sure, yes, you can, on a purely technical and semantics level, but in every other sense you simply cannot come back from this. Steve Rogers is irredeemable. There are about a dozen or so more horrific things he’s done, or been indirectly responsible for both in-universe and on an editorial level, that it’s beyond excessive.
But maybe you think I’m being a little too extreme and dismissive. I argue that I’m not. Do you understand what the long term consequence of this is? All of this? Aside from an asterisk next to the legacy of Captain America and Marvel as a company?
That’s not official art, thankfully, but a deviantart user by the name of Neetsfagging322297 (who was not the original artist) shared this on September 11th, 2016. Yeah, not only was it posted a few months after the Nazi Cap reveal, making it more than a little impossible to claim that its sudden circulation wasn’t inspired by that, but on September 11th. It’s been making the internet rounds a bit lately, mostly on twitter, and our fellow Fanfinite Ian brought it to our attention.
This exists and it will always exist.
And there’s no amount of reboots or PR damage control that anyone can do to wipe any of this away. Because in real life, there are no relaunches. There are no reboots. There are no retcons. Things happen. You don’t get to go back and change things if they don’t work or people don’t like it. You are stuck with your decisions and the consequences forever. That is life and time and history. Just because there’s a mass of Holocaust deniers doesn’t mean there’s any truth to what they say.
And this is the narrative that Marvel has chosen for itself. The one where they attempt to dismiss and diminish the real-world impact of turning on their own brand to shine a light on the already far too bright nightmare of the current geopolitical climate. When they try to sweep it all under the rug for the next round of reboots and relaunches and new #1’s. Assuming, or perhaps expecting, that everyone will just forget about it and get over it. But I don’t see the vast majority of people buying into that.
Then again, since there’s that exponentially growing trend of individuals picking and choosing what truth they want to believe, maybe they will.
Editor’s note 4/13/2017: an alteration was made to clarify that the fanart was not created by the mentioned deviantart user themself.