Editor’s Note: Since I asked Jeremy to write this article, there’s been a few more articles explaining the outrage at the twist at the end of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 that have showed me the other problems with this major change, beyond just a general dislike of making Steve Rogers a very different character. You should read this one right here, about how Captain America and Superman’s Jewish history keeps getting erased. That being said, I think Jeremy’s point is a great one about how we react to the major changes in the things we love, and should be said.
This week Captain America fans were treated to the return of their red, white, and blue patriotic protector in the relaunched “Captain America: Steve Rogers”. After spending the last few years looking more like a member of the AARP than a founding Avenger, Cap stunned comic book readers everywhere with a revelation that left many fans angry at both Marvel Comics and the book’s head writer Nick Spencer.
It turns out the Star-Spangled Soldier has secretly been hailing Hydra all along. Yes, I’m not merely talking about being mind-controlled by the Red Skull and the brain of Professor Charles Xavier that currently resides in his cabeza. (Don’t ask me to explain that one. I have neither the time nor the patience.) Supposedly, Steve’s mother was recruited by Hydra at a young age and no quicker than you can say, “The Americans” Steve was born and raised with a tentacled pacifier in his mouth.
Is Steve really a Hydra agent? Has he been double dealing this entire time? Is he a triple agent on double secret probation? Ultimately, the answers to these questions don’t matter nearly as much as the journey that we take to get there. We’re talking about the world of comic books. It’s a magical world. It’s a world where minor characters can be brought back because -SURPRISE! – alien Skrull sleeper agents that have been among us for decades. It’s a world where you’re only weird if you don’t have a clone and you can set your watch to each time the entire universe is infinitely reborn through some sort of crisis.
Marvel Comics has been in operation for nearly eight decades. DC even longer. The industry runs on fresh ideas and that can prove difficult over the years. Fans are monthly and even weekly bombarded with flashy covers promising bold, new directions. Some of them persist. Some fizzle out and prompt the umpteenth relaunch of the same character. What separates the wheat from the chaff? Ingenuity. Respect. A belief that the addition will bring a greater meaning to what came before.
Comics are notorious for having characters die and come back to life. Captain America himself has checked into the morgue on multiple occasions. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that comic book fans had an unholy trinity of characters that were dead and meant to stay buried. Their deaths helped propel some of comics’ leading men forward in their neverending quest for justice: Uncle Ben (Spider-man), Jason Todd (Batman), and Bucky (Captain America).
Two of those three characters are now alive and kicking. Many fans would tell you that both the characters and the stories that brought them back were some of the best of their respective franchises. As the Winter Soldier, Bucky played a key role in the last two Captain America films which are widely regarded as the best entries in Marvel’s now extensive cinematic universe.
Therein lies the point. Properties are fluid. They have to be. Their fandoms? Not always so much.
Last month social media exploded when it was revealed that the lead villainess role of Rita Repulsa (as portrayed by Elizabeth Banks) in the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” movie reboot would lose the frumpy brown dress, gnarled gray hair, and preposterously cone-shaped boobs in favor of a sleek, green outfit that would allow her to personally fight the rangers. It also hinted at a deeper, more direct involvement in the inevitable introduction of the Green Ranger. “You’ve ruined my childhood,” fans would cry. “Not my Rita,” they bellowed to no one in particular. With no other knowledge than a mere photograph of Banks’ torso, a fandom imploded. Rita was different. Different was bad.
“TRUKK NOT MUNKY.” Longtime fans of the Transformers franchise know that satirical spelling all too well. As the theme song suggests, for more than a decade the Autobots had waged their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. In 1996 that changed. Gone were the cars and planes of old in favor of the animals you might find on a weekend trip to the zoo. Even ever-popular dinosaurs got in on the action. Optimus Prime? No, silly. Optimus Primal! Get it? He might not be able to haul a trailer full of goods across the country but this gorilla-based leader of the Maximals could sure hurl some poo at a tyrannosaurus Megatron and his unsuspecting Predacons.
The “Beast Wars” iteration of the Transformers franchise was both a critical and commercial success. The toys were lauded for their creativity. The cartoon was loved because it gave deeper personalities and stories to a smaller, more manageable cast. The initial fan outcry quickly subsided when they realized that aesthetics didn’t matter nearly as much as how they would be utilized in order to create an evolved product.
What does this all mean for the new, Hydra-sympathizing Cap? We simply don’t know yet. How could we after only one issue? Fandom can breed complacency. You fell in love with a very specific thing. That specific thing makes you feel comfortable. That specific thing is constant and it can distract you from the ever-changing real world. However that doesn’t necessarily mean that specific thing isn’t capable of becoming better. Fandoms fear that the things they’re passionate about are like spinning plates resting oh so precariously on sticks. Those things they love are constantly in motion but never actually going anywhere. Fans worry that if they are jostled even slightly they will immediately come tumbling down. That is why they are quick and harsh in their reactions without allowing the change to fully manifest.
Change is inevitable. We need to allow it time to develop. Sometimes it will turn into The Winter Soldier and become an indelible, enriching part of lore. Sometimes Captain America will have to wear armor in lieu of powers/age into a Clint Eastwood-yelling-at-a-chair grandpa/turn into a werewolf and be forgotten just as quickly as it happened. The stories that persevere are the ones that are generally clever and can believably fit within the established mythos. The stories that fall by the wayside are haphazard and feel as cheap as the paper that they’re printed on. In either scenario, it is up to the fans to let their fear subside and give the impending change a fair shake. If we spend so much time worrying about the plates falling then we’ll never be able to enjoy the show.