Last week, issue 1 of Nick Spencer and Jesus Sais’ new comic series Captain America: Steve Rogers hit the shelves of comic stores everywhere and shocked fans across the nation when, in the final panel, Captain America utters two chilling words: “Hail Hydra.”
Now, in case you’re not up to date on your fictional terrorist organizations, Hydra is Marvel Comics’ Third Reich 2.0, often led by either Baron von Strucker or the Red Skull, both of whom are genetically enhanced former high-ranking Nazi officers from Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. “Hail Hydra,” obviously, is a comic-friendly, thinly veiled euphemism for “Heil Hitler.”
According to the new backstory introduced in Captain America: Steve Rogers, Steve’s mother Sarah is saved from her husband’s abuse by a Hydra agent named Elisa Sinclair. Elisa later invites Sarah and little Steve out for dinner, leaving them with a pamphlet encouraging them to attend the Brooklyn chapter meeting of Hydra. And, having being imprinted from that meeting on, Steve Rogers—Captain America, champion of World War II, the moral compass of the Marvel Universe—is, and has always been, an undercover agent for Hydra—the organization he has been seemingly “fighting” since WWII.
Many have taken to the interwebs to decry the bizarre dismantling of this icon. Some protest that it simply makes no sense in Marvel continuity. Others have taken a much more sober approach to why the twist is so cutting, particularly to Jews.
After all, it was two Jewish comic writers, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, who created the Captain America character. To turn around and establish that Steve Rogers—a golem-like symbol of Jewish strength not unlike Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman over at DC Comics—has essentially been a Nazi this entire time seems like a betrayal of his creators and a slap in the face to Jewish fans and creativity.
But … what if it isn’t?
I say that not only as a Jew, but also as a Black man, and a comic reader, and someone who worked in a comic and video-game shop from high school through college. And from that vantage point comes the knowledge that video games and comics share a toxic core demographic of entitled, misogynist, and racist white males.
For video games, it’s things like attacking female game developers and their sex lives.
For comics? Heh.
In one of his final interviews, the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, comic writer and producer of such quality superhero cartoons as Justice League, introduced us to the “Rule of Three”: In popular entertainment, if there are three or more Black people in it, it is then labeled a “Black” product. And so, when McDuffie added four Black characters to the Justice League of America comic, fandom flipped out and began foaming that it was “statistically impossible” to have so many Black heroes on a superhero team, and that this was only a stunt to “fill quotas.” To which McDuffie wryly replied, “The quota arguments on fictional teams crack me up. Is someone losing a job here? Which fictional character is losing a job?”
Now, what does that have to do with Captain America being a Nazi?