It’s Memorial Day here in the United States, and that’s important context for Marvel’s latest SNAFU. And so even though there are other Marvel things to talk about, like X-Men: Apocalypse, which just came out, and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend, which has produced both amusing and important discussion and fanart, I need to take today to write about what Marvel, Tom Brevoort, and Nick Spencer thought it was okay to do with Captain America, and why the “extreme reaction” they were totally unprepared for is completely justified.
Before I begin, I just want to say that I’m not Jewish, but it’s very important to listen to Jewish and especially Jewish-American voices who are speaking up on this, so I will be linking to these self-identified Jewish voices quite often.
So, let’s go back to the beginning. It’s Wednesday, May 25th, otherwise known as New Comic Book Day. The #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend hashtag is trending. DC’s Rebirth #1, the first comic of their big world-shaking event is being released, so there should be no reason for Marvel to be in the news, right? Except it is. Because Marvel planned for it to be, months and months ago, when they decided that Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, penned by Nick Spencer and edited by Tom Brevoort, should be released on the same day.
There’s no publicity like stolen publicity! And the numerous PR-fluff interviews that Spencer and Brevoort that get published that day solidify this strategy. Within hours the #SayNoToHydraCap hashtag is trending and even Chris Evans, who only tweets once in a blue moon, chimed in to say this:
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) May 26, 2016
And we know that Chris has actually read the comic, too, because Nick Spencer tweeted a picture of him reading it back on May 4th:
The tone of this tweet was, unbeknownst to us, a preview of the kind of tone that Spencer would use with everyone who wasn’t enjoying his cleverness. And now, several days later, it’s clear that Spencer is reveling in the hate-tweets he’s getting.
Spencer is obviously a believer in the idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And if it’s not obvious by that tweet, it’s made obvious by him RTing mocking reactions from fans and positive reviews of his own work while failing to show any sign of comprehension for why people are actually upset.
And neither does Tom Brevoort, who when asked about the reaction in this Newsarama interview, had this to say:
“Not every story is for every reader. This situation surprises me – and it really shouldn’t because I’ve lived through this sort of thing with Captain America at least twice before. We’re on the anniversary of Civil War. This is what it was like when we had Captain America killed at the end of Civil War. It’s just in 2006, the internet wasn’t quite the presence it is now. Even then, while it was a factor, it wasn’t what it is today. But the reactions here, and a lot of the letters I’m getting, could have been written about Cap’s death. You cross out “killed” and you write “Hydra” and it’s the same basic message, the same basic sentiment.”
But lest you think Brevoort is completely missing the point by comparing this to Steve’s death at the end of Civil War, which was an entirely different sort of outrage, he also rushes to compare it to the more recent situation when people were upset about Rick Remender having Sam Wilson have sex with a character that many thought was underage. Remember the #FireRickRemender hashtag? This situation, to Brevoort, is exactly like that one, he says, in the same interview:
“The other more recent one that this is reminiscent of, at least in my eyes, is the brouhaha a couple of years ago when some folks online took umbrage with an issue of Captain America written by Rick Remender that they said showed Sam Wilson – the former Falcon, and current Captain America – sleeping with an underage girl despite the fact that the comic gave her age. And they stirred up a whole hornet’s nest of trouble by misrepresenting the comic, and going to places where people were not familiar with the story and hadn’t read it, and misrepresenting the contents of it. So people would hear about this situation, without knowing the facts, and become outraged. “How dare Marvel publish a comic that’s promoting underage sexual activity?” But I agree with them – Marvel wouldn’t do that – and we didn’t!”
See, it’s the media (and specifically social media) that’s to blame, Brevoort asserts. It’s misinformation, and misrepresentation. It’s GASP casual fans who are really to blame for this outrage, and not the writer/editor/company who thought that this was a good idea. Oh yeah. He calls out casual fans (i.e. fake comics fans), just in case the base gets confused when he’s denouncing fans–and it’s understandable. Gatekeeping assholes who hate on casual fans are easily confused. Brevoort spends several paragraphs explaining this in the interview:
“By reporting that we revealed “Captain America is a Nazi and anti-semitic,” people that haven’t even read the work react with outrage, because they understand who Captain America is, even if they’ve never read a comic book. They’ve seen the films, they’ve seen him in animation, or on toy shelves, or t-shirts. Captain America as an ideal represents something and means something to people, even if they’re not following his adventures month in and month out. So a lot of those more casual fans are outraged, but they’re outraged based on the reporting of it.”
“The reporting on this, and the sort of game of telephone on the internet about this went from it being “Captain America is Hydra,” to “Captain America is a Nazi” – which is already a leap – to “This is anti-semitism,” which is ridiculous, in that, if you look at the comic book that we put out, there is nothing in it that, in any way, shape, or form, is even slightly anti-semitic. But because people were able to go “Hydra = Nazi, and Nazi = anti-semitism,” that’s what reactions became about.
“That’s how this became something bigger than we expected. We certainly knew with that reveal at the end of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 where Cap says “Hail Hydra!” would be shocking and unsettling, and take people aback, but we didn’t anticipate the sort of math that got people to the idea that it’s anti-semitic.”
So, Marvel, let me say this–if you genuinely thought that people wouldn’t arrive at the conclusion that you are making Captain America a Nazi, you are very bad at math, because you have been visually and textually making associations between HYDRA and Nazis since the very beginning. But you don’t genuinely believe that. Your own media equates HYDRA with Nazis and has for a long time. HYDRA are Nazis Lite and this is part of the problem, as Ray Sonne explains in this series of tweets:
Another part of the problem is the way Steve’s secret Hydra allegiance parallels existing anti-semitic rhetoric, as outlined in this series of tweets by Adam P. Newman:
Now, we already know that this isn’t going to be a permanent thing, or even a real thing. There’s even a post up on io9 that explains the context and guesses at what will be the eventual reveal. Brevoort insists that what’s really going on will all be revealed in next month’s Captain America: Steve Rogers #2. But that doesn’t matter, because the damage has already been done, and as Jess Plummer writes in her incredible, heartfelt piece over on Panels, the fact that this whole thing has been a dumb publicity stunt actually makes it worse:
“How little must we matter. The people who created Captain America, and Superman, and countless other heroes like them. The people who need him. The people whose history and suffering and hope, as we stood on the brink of annihilation, gave you your weekly entertainment and your fun thought experiment, 75 years later.”
Because Captain America represents a lot of things to a lot of people, but he has an especially important meaning to Jewish-Americans. When I contacted Adam about his tweets above, he pointed me to From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books by Arie Kaplan, and the screencaps below are a couple relevant passages I think need sharing:
I think it’s important to note that Kaplan included a quote by Stan Lee, since Stan was asked about the situation and gave the PR response that everyone expected the figurehead of Marvel to give. How he actually feels, we will likely never know, but Buzz Dixon, who knew Jack Kirby, shared how he thought his friend would respond on Facebook:
And this is the final key point underlying why Marvel, Brevoort, and Spencer’s reactions have been so offensive. It’s the disrespect for Marvel’s own Jewish-American comic book creators that has people justifiably upset, and why the fact that it will be undone doesn’t matter. Brett, in another beautiful, raw, emotional explanation of his personal reaction to this gimmick, writes over on Graphic Policy:
“He is tainted now and forever just by the fact we can now utter “remember that time Cap was a Nazi?” By making something “new and unexpected” Brevoort, Spencer, and Marvel have insulted his real world origin and made light that he was in fact created in response to genocide. A genocide perpetrated by those he is now in cahoots with, and apparently has always been.
“This is clickbait as a story. It’s devoid of any moral obligation. It’s devoid of any sense of history. It’s an empty corporate decision that shows Marvel is only chasing dollars and begs me to question “progressive” moves and decisions they’ve done as just that, a sense of dollars instead of what’s right when it comes to history or the industry. My cynical nature should have known better.
“This is an insult to Simon and Kirby, this is an insult to every Jewish creator who found refuge in the comic industry. And all of it to sell some comics, make some short-term money, and get articles like this written to “advertise it” even more.”
The math that Marvel is bad at, it turns out, is this:
Captain America’s origin as having been created by Jewish-Americans to fight Nazis +
Making Captain America part of HYDRA undermines his origins in an anti-semitic way +
the cheapness of the blatantly PR nature of this storyline =
Incredible disrespect for Jewish-Americans, and Marvel’s Jewish writers and artists.
It’s that simple.
Now the question that has been asked is whether there is anything Marvel can do to fix this. It’s not my call to make, but my gut reaction is no, not really. But people still have a need to respond to Marvel in some way, and I know Brevoort would be shocked by this, but fans actually have some suggestions for what people can do other than simply not buy the comic, boycotting Marvel by unsubscribing to Marvel Unlimited, or signing the Change.Org petition.
One suggestion, to take the money you were going to spend on the comic and instead, donate to the Holocaust Memorial Fund, was made by tumblr user roachpatrol and popularized by this post. The post has over 13k reblogs, and, I hope, will generate a large amount of money.
Another way fans can help is with things like this:
I tried but have been unable to locate the creator of this comic, since it’s been tweeted and reblogged without that info, but if anyone knows who that person is please let me know and I’ll update this with their info. The reason I picked this comic and not other fanart that has been done, although a lot of it is pretty great, is that this is an example of fanworks that fixes something. And that’s important. This twitter thread by Rahaeli, one of the founders of Dreamwidth, reminds us of why. Read the whole thread.
So let's talk about how the #CaptainAmerica trash fire is why indefinite copyright is harmful + why transformative fandom is vital:
— rahaeli (@rahaeli) May 25, 2016
One of my favorite acafans, Henry Jenkins, said way back in 1997 that “’Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk.” When the corporation has proven itself unworthy of their own character, fans remind us that no matter what that corporation might say–Captain America is ours, not yours. And fandom fixes come in all forms, not just the comic above, or in the fix-it fanfic that’s out there. Another tumblr user, when faced with a sobbing child, too young to understand why Marvel would do this, came up with this brilliant response:
“Tell kids everyone that Nick Spencer is Hydra and he’s trying to convince them to lose faith in Cap. This is what I told my nephew and he accepted that and decided he was going to keep wearing his Cap shirt because otherwise he was letting Hydra win.”
As we say in fandom: headcanon accepted.