Last week, Marvel Comics released Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, a new title in honor of the beloved character’s 75th anniversary. The spoiler heard round the world rocked the foundations of a franchise: The Star-Spangled Man reveals himself as an operative of Hydra, the Nazi-like organization he has fought since World War II.
Superhero comics live for these pull-the-rug-out moments, but this twist struck many as particularly galling, even anti-Semitic. Very few characters in superhero media are visibly Jewish, despite Jews’ integral role in creating the genre; they are often stripped of their Jewishness when translated from page to screen. However, many are indelibly Jewish at heart.
Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Captain America in 1940 to protest U.S. inaction as fascism rose in Europe. The cover of the first issue, released nearly a year before Pearl Harbor, famously depicts the character decking Hitler. Steve Rogers is a golem figure, a defender given preternatural strength in a time of great need. Some have drawn comparisons between his weapon of choice, a shield, and the Magen David. Most of all, Rogers concerns himself with justice and standing up in the face of oppression, whether it’s by his enemies or his friends. So to ally him with fascist-coded supervillains—from childhood, as the issue suggests—smacks of deep betrayal.
<< #SayNotoHydraCap is a response to recognizing the cynicism of playing off our deepest fears to win a Wednesday news cycle.
— TastefulBouqetofLies (@spooloflies) May 27, 2016
The combination of the GOP nominating someone *literally supported by neo-Nazis* and CAPTAIN AMERICA being a "secret Nazi" is horrific.
— Katherine Locke (@Bibliogato) May 25, 2016
People: Let's make Steve Bi and progressive
MARVEL: OK but what if we made him a nazi instead
— Clint Barton (@Ineedmorearrows) May 25, 2016
Most of all, fans were not impressed with the creators’ glee at their objections. “This is what we wanted,” writer Nick Spencer told the Daily Beast. “We just have even more of it than we imagined.” Defenders insist there’s no way Cap’s Hydra affiliation sticks, while the creative team promises long-term fallout across multiple titles—and that the next issue will smooth many ruffled feathers.
“I don’t care if this gets undone next year, next month, next week,” wrote Jessica Plummer for Panels, a website dedicated to comics. “I know it’s clickbait disguised as storytelling. I am not angry because omg how dare you ruin Steve Rogers forever. I am angry because how dare you use 11 million deaths as clickbait.” On social media, the shock and awe continued.
— loyal burger man (@meanchelled) May 25, 2016
it's telling that Marvel is directly promoting the new Cap comic as, "IMAGINE THE SHOCK of being betrayed by this white male hero icon."
— Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (@Hello_Tailor) May 25, 2016
What is a fun/interesting 'what if?!?!' exercise for a gentile writer is something much more serious to a Jewish reader. Bottom line.
— Connor Goldsmith (@dreamoforgonon) May 26, 2016
Speaking with Newsarama, Marvel Comics executive editor Tom Brevoort both acknowledged and dismissed the outcry. “We certainly knew…that reveal…would be shocking and unsettling, and take people aback,” he said, “but we didn’t anticipate the sort of math that got people to the idea that it’s anti-Semitic.” For Captain America to say “Hail Hydra” in a cliffhanger moment is not anti-Semitic. But it’s no surprise that fans read it that way, not when it rhymes so well with cultural and contemporary traumas.
Marvel believes Captain America: Steve Rogers explores terror recruitment, flawed heroes and homegrown fascism. The single issue available lacks the context of later developments, and this isn’t even the first time the character has “been a Nazi.” Nuance doesn’t move units like outrage, though (nor will it upstage your chief rival). However this story resolves, it’s a shame Marvel has prioritized a gamble on the cleverness of its writers over the intelligence and experiences of the reader. Those writers appear to believe that in the end, all unplanned distress is a justifiable cost.