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Friday, July 06, 2018 

Marvel still won't let go of Captain America's Hydra atrocity

Ta-Nehisi Coates is beginning his run on Captain America. And as revealed by leftist Polygon, they're still stuck on referencing one of the worst recent storylines - Cap as a Nazi in Secret Empire - instead of dropping it down the memory hole, and worse, there's assaults on Americans in almost plain view turning up in the new volume's premiere issue:
Secret Empire concluded not with any of its many threads tied up in neat little bows, but with the consequences still very much on the table. The people who had died were still dead, the cities that had been destroyed were still destroyed, the world still remembered and understood Steve Rogers as a fascist terrorist, despite the fact he had been “returned” to his normal, heroic self.

But in the year following the final issue, Steve’s stories went out of their way to not acknowledge those facts. He was sent on pulp-flavored sci-fi adventures in alternate futures, matched back up with his Avengers teammates and otherwise pivoted away from the fallout of his unwitting turn to villainy.
IIRC, one of those recent storylines, written by Mark Waid, contained metaphorical attacks on Donald Trump and conservatives, so it's not like they stepped away from an anti-conservative stance at all. Not that you could expect them to dwell on any of that, let alone acknowledge it. In retrospect, it's certainly bad if they didn't reverse all the destruction left in the wake of the time warp that turned Steve Rogers into a villain, and also bad if, after supposedly dropping all that atrocity quietly down the memory hole, they still kept the anti-conservative sentiments firmly in place.
Broaching the topic of a fascist Steve Rogers is, unsurprisingly, a sticky situation. The criticism Secret Empire drew wasn’t just because fans were sad to see their favorite hero break bad. Captain America is a character with a long, complex, politically charged history that dates directly bad to World War II — but despite his black-and-white anti-fascist origins, his identity and mission statement have become extremely fluid.

The modern day Steve Rogers is as tricky to define as the capital-A, capital-D American Dream to which he pledges his loyalty. Worse yet, by ignoring or otherwise shrugging off the afterimage of Secret Empire, Steve’s definitions have gotten even murkier, allowing both he and his comics to languish in a sort of willful ignorance and ambiguity in which no one wants to acknowledge the jackbooted elephant in the room.
Wait a sec. Are they saying Cap-as-National Socialist should be kept canon? Now that is just plain gross. One of the most repellent storylines meant to irritate Marvel fans while slapping Kirby/Simon in the face, and they say it should stick, and not be written out as the unreadable vulgarity it truly was? They can't possibly be Cap fans, let alone Marvel fans, for that matter. Besides, it's not that Steve's definitions are confusing so much as it is that writers like the propagandist who cobbled together this awful piece don't have a clue what they'd want Cap to be like and to do. Obviously, they're not on the side of Cap's fans, so what business do they have commenting on the topic at all, if they believe a fictional story should remain solid canon till the bitter end of time?
By and large, the few times various comics have touched upon Steve’s uncomfortable position post-Secret Empire, they’ve done it with a disclaimer: Hydra Steve wasn’t Steve, but a monster who wore Steve’s face. We see that [in] Coates and Yu’s Captain America #1, but with a twist. We learn Steve has internalized that idea as well.

As he fights his way through an army of zealous Nuke clones, he’s called a betrayer, to which he quickly responds “that wasn’t me.” He “took an oath to the flag” that he’d die before betraying. The irony of his moment is that the flag Steve is so quick to declare his loyalty to is literally painted across each Nuke’s face as he and his partner Bucky Barnes take them down one by one.

Flag imagery aside, it’s subtle, and damning nonetheless — the first real effort to interrogate to the past year of stories that have let Steve gloriously off the hook for the actions done in his name. What does loyalty to the flag even mean when the flag itself has been weaponized? What responsibility does Steve have? Can you pledge fidelity to something while you’re simultaneously destroying the image of it?
What business do they have talking about all this if they don't think anything's wrong with boomeranging back on an unreadable, unworkable story, and keeping it in continuity? It was bad enough the Marvel Knights take on Cap from 2002 was written as an anti-war, Blame-America screed. This is no improvement at all.
Nuke, too, provides another much needed battering ram to Steve’s post-Secret Empire stability. A character designed to be the villainous, twisted approximation of a “modern” super soldier: a perpetually roid-raging, teeth gritting “patriot” who believes in absolute loyalty above all else. Stories that feature Nuke going up against Cap typically emphasize the difference between fascistic absolutes and the virtues of freedom — the difference that was so emphatically corrupted upon Steve’s Hydra turn.

The army of Nuke clones offers a stripped down take on that idea. They march out in droves chanting mantras about “our boys,” a deliberately ambiguous strawman designed to evoke the anonymous but omnipresent US military — a body that Steve himself represents in kind. But where Steve is a symbol, the Nukes “die nameless.”
Sounds like more anti-American, anti-military screeds in motion. Besides, they don't even specify that Nuke originally debuted in Daredevil during Frank Miller's 1979-87 run, and may not have made any more appearances afterwards until the early 2000s, by which time Marvel was already plummeting in quality. The following is also pretty awkward:
The real masterstroke of Coates and Yu’s interrogation comes after the dust is settled and the Nukes have been dispatched. General Thaddeus Ross rolls up with a bit of retroactive continuity added into the mix — Ross is revealed to have been a resistance leader during Hydra’s takeover, and his action under pressure has earned him a spot in a newly minted government program for people like him, “resisters.” While Ross is otherwise amiable to Steve, he’s quick to admit that Steve will need to sit this investigation out. He follows up that it’s not because of the other Steve, but because it would look bad to have Captain America investigating a terrorist cell of American-flag-wearing psychopaths.

The logic holds, but only in this specific context. The history of Captain America has put him up against American-flag-wearing terrorist cells time and time again — in fact, the single most repeated theme in any Captain America story is Steve directly confronting corruptions of his own identity, from Cap pretenders to Nuke-like fanatics who believe they could do a better job of representing the American Dream. But everything is different now, in the post Secret Empire world. Suddenly there’s real, immediate weight behind the thought of an evil twist on Steve’s core.
So Cap never took on communists during the Silver/Bronze Age? I think they must be confusing the pre-2000 past with more recent atrocities, because Cap did take on all sorts of fascist/communist allegories, along with the expected costumed villains, and they have some nerve to make it sound like that was far from the case. Similarly, it's offensive if Coates is using the Hulk's "political rival" and dad-in-law to object to the idea Cap should stop terrorists just because they're dressed up as phony patriots humiliating the country.
For the first time, Captain America isn’t the guy best suited to the job of defending and defining what it means to wear the American flag — and that, beyond anything, is the real and lasting consequence that Steve’s stories have been trying to ignore this past year. Comic book narrative convention allows people to return from the dead and cities to be rebuilt in a blink, but tectonic shifts in the very foundations of superhero’s identity?

Those are a little more challenging to grapple with.
As expected, no distinctions made between good and bad writing, no questions raised whether this should have been done in the first place or whether it should be expunged from continuity altogether, and they seem far more interested in "fallouts" and "consequences" than in whether specific stories do long term damage to character and book's reputation by sticking with them like glue. I sometimes call it Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome, and that's just the problem with these phony fans - they don't have the courage to admit when a bad story is just that and why it'd be better not to mention it again and de-canonize it as a means of making improvements after so much damage was done. The only thing clear is that Coates has proven he's not fit to write Cap, doesn't deserve to, and has proven a failure straight out of the gate. C.B. Cebulski's willingness to keep him around is just what's gone wrong with Marvel.

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