Monday, May 22, 2017

COMICS: A Hydra Captain America is boring.

No matter how spoiler-shy you are, you already know what's up with Cap: in the hands of Nick Spencer, not only was Steve Rogers always part of Hydra, but making him a good guy was an alteration of history. We've been assured that Secret Empire will make all this nonsense okay, but I'm not holding my breath.

Now, let me lay a few things out here, and the first one is probably going to ruffle a few feathers: I'm not against a story featuring Captain America as a Hydra agent.

Before the Woke Police come to tear me down, hear me out. This doesn't apply to everyone. Like I'd have big, big problems with Magneto being a Hydra agent, for example. Mainly because there are less than zero ways you can justify that, no matter how good a writer you are.

But -- and stay with me here -- those of you who are big comic book fans could probably name at least one writer who wouldn't heck up a story with the core theme of "Captain America works for Hydra." Not Nick Spencer's exact concept, no. But you can almost certainly think of one person in the industry who could take that core conceit and make it not be a dumpster fire.

That's the thing. As a writer, I'm all about bending and breaking things. I love writing genre-breaking stuff. I love walking that bleeding edge and doing the thing you've 100% been told not to do, provided it turns out good. If I do it and it turns out bad? Then I pushed too far and I did it wrong, and I don't get try-hard points for risk-taking.

I also don't believe problematic subject matter is off limits. How can we learn about it, and learn from it, unless we engage with it? Fiction is a way for us to do that. So even for social reasons, I don't believe the topic is off-limits. I just think that, no matter how shocking the subject matter appears, you need someone guiding it who really knows what they're doing.

The thing is, people are allowed to write crappy comics. Nick Spencer is allowed to do this. He can pass it off as "encouraging a conversation," then slap on a "just kidding" ending that will totally make Nazi Cap wielding Mjolnir totally okay because oh this twist explains it all.

But here's my thing: a Hydra Captain America is boring.

So I'm going to make this really easy for you -- I'm not even gonna call Hydra "Nazis" from here on out. Because I know there are plenty of you who could quote me chapter and verse why, semantically speaking Hydra are totally not Nazis. So fine. I'll follow your goalposts. We can agree that they are the face of Smartly Uniformed Fascism in the Marvel universe, though, right? And we can agree that Hydra is the opposite of what Cap fights for (prior to all this), right? Can we be on the same page there? Hopefully so.

So look. Making Cap always having been in Hydra is just... it's Opposite Day is all it is. It's a simple, pointless writing exercise. It's not clever. At best, "What if [character] was the exact opposite of [character]" is a Saturday morning cartoon plot. As I said, you could probably think of a good writer who could make something of it... but that's because it would require a good writer since the concept of just making the character not be the character is grossly unimaginative.

That's Part 1.

Part 2: let's pretend. Let's even kind of pretend. That this was original and clever. Spencer's right to play a dangerous game doesn't make the game any less dangerous. He's turning a hero into a villain, throwing away everything he stands for, and you're doing it now, when the country is already primed to bite itself in the neck.

We need a payoff.

I'm not saying there won't be a payoff. I peeped the spoilers for issue #2 and it looks like something is going on. But look. Spencer has played this game so hard, and upped the stakes so much, that he's going to need to blow everyone's tits clean off with this ending. Every time he gives the impression of glorifying fascism or unmaking a classic character, he's just upped his own stakes a bit.

Am I saying he can't do it? Honestly... I think he's making it very, very hard for himself. If he manages to come up with an ending twist so mind-blowing that it makes everything so far pale in comparison, then fair play to him and I'll eat my words and be super happy about it. But he's thrown way, way too many chips on the table so far.

A lot has fallen in the wake of Secret Empire: comic book shop owners angry at being asked to take part in a really awkward marketing scheme, long-time Marvel writers swearing never to write for them again, Spencer himself getting called out for what sorta-kinda appear to be his low-key beliefs. You can't tell me that, in 2017, no one thought that doing something like this might cause some serious upheaval.

So I'm just wondering: what the hell does Spencer have up his sleeve that he's willing to lose face, lose marketing, and turn Marvel collaborators against the company on the road to it?

Answer: I can't even remotely think of anything. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm ready as hell to be wrong. But I'm hard pressed right now.

Do I think you're in the wrong if you're enjoying this story or see no issue with it? No. Maybe you see something I don't. Maybe you've caught some plot threads that genuinely do lead to a mind-blowing twist. But my dislike of the current turn isn't at a writer taking a risk -- it's at a writer taking a needless risk in a bad way that, all things considered, isn't all that interesting or creative.

I look forward to having to rescind this entire post. But I'm not holding my breath.