It’s sincerely creepy. An episode of TV has ended, and no one is getting up to fix it. No one is putting music on. No one is talking. We’re just sitting here, in this silent shroud of outrage and disbelief. And I am so, so tired.
Like, the thing is… The thing is… There is no way to avoid the fact that this is exactly what we all know it is. A cheap ploy to get attention that will, very really, very truly, be gone. Probably soon. Maybe by the end of this arc.
But that is… That does not fundamentally alter or reduce… Anything about why this is a problem. Not the willingness to do harm. Not the ugliness of spirit. Not the obliviousness to the power that popular literature has in people’s lives/the culture. Not the violent appropriation of Steve as a symbol.
Not the failure to recognize that we are locked in a progressive cycle of artistic decay centred around the publishing arm’s belief that being ‘shocking’ will boost numbers that are flagging because of a fundamental unwillingness to rise to the challenges of a new era in the existence of a complex medium. That it’s not working. At all. We would not have reached ‘Captain America is a Nazi’ if any of your previous shock tactics had developed you a stable fan base that you actually understood how to produce for, how to motivate.
Fundamentally, this hatefulness, in addition to being rooted in all the things that racism and its vile compatriots are rooted in, is rooted in the same blindness that insists that relaunching every six months will address issues of profitability by keeping you constantly in the sweet spot of look-in numbers. It’s a mind set of short-term profit-seeking with no sense to the long-term building of a fan base, or a universe, or… anything.
Look, this is anecdata, I get that, but I know more lapsed Marvel fans than I know any other sort of used-to-bes. This doesn’t work. You can’t drag them in, slap them around (not my language. I actually would not have brought violence into this conversation. Why am I not surprised that some people were comfortable with that, though?), and expect them to keep giving you money.
Look, I get it, mixing commerce and art warps things. It makes them difficult and dangerous and dirty. It’s right at the core of every tortured creative archetype, it’s in most writer’s nervous breakdowns. This is a barrel I’m personally staring down. There are no easy answers and nothing is sacred.
Except… Captain America is not a Nazi. You and I and everybody at Marvel, we all know this. Captain America was created not to be a Nazi. Take everything else away and what remains is that Captain America fights Nazis. There is a very natural revulsion and fury that an audience who have known for 75 years that Captain America fights Nazis feels when you don’t just make it so that Captain America is now a Nazi, you employ a retcon to say that it was always true. 75 years ago, Captain America was a Nazi.
Captain America was a Nazi plant under the hands of his Jewish creators, who created him to fight Nazis. Who created him in a country that wanted to refuse to fight Nazis, refuse to stand against their violence and their hatred and their corruptness. Captain America was an aggressive appropriation of everything that was American (and arguably of everything in American iconology that was and is uncomfortably close to Nazi iconology) for the defense of people who most Americans refused to consider worthy of that ideal and that defense. And at the same time, so canon now reads, he was a Nazi.
Marvel is counting on outrage as publicity, and it is short sighted. Because publicity only matters if you have something to sell. Because you may intend to fix this in six issues, but that’s three months of your comic having no core. Of it being unmoored from the central fact of its existence. Because, in the end, even when you “repair” your canon, your continuity, you will still have revealed yourselves as people who do not understand what you are selling. Who do not understand your power, who do not understand your legacy, your heritage, your relationship to history or your readers.
Think about this, for a moment. Marvel is counting on people to talk about the book because they’re angry. Because they’re hurt. Because they hate it. This is the problem, now, the over-arching problem that ties all the other problems together. You’re supposed to write what you love. Hell, you’re supposed to publish what you love (I’m not making this up. A publishing executive told me this. He said no one goes into this field to make money, they do it because they love books.) And that love of the content is what’s supposed to sanctify- yes, fine, some things do have to be sacred. I’m a naive idealist and I think it’s an article of faith for Captain America readers that he was not always secretly a Nazi - sanctify the pact between creator and consumer. You are supposed to buy and read and recommend things because you love them.
Somewhere along the the line, cape comics, at least, became about capitalizing on outrage, rather than building on a shared joy in the material*. And nothing good has come of that. And nothing good ever will.
I have written so many angry screeds at Marvel over the years. Most of them never make it past my hard drive. Because I’m self-conscious, because I’m uncertain I’m right. Because whatever they’ve done now, they’ll just take it back next year.
Except… Comics in the age of the internet cannot survive the disposability of earlier eras. Because everybody hears when you make Steve Rogers a Nazi, and nobody reads a retraction. Nobody. Except that whatever the plot resolution, this is still a very public act of violence - both to the property, and to the people who have loved and leaned on the property for what it is supposed to be. Except that cape comics cannot thrive on making their audiences unhappy, and it’s corrosive, disrespectful, and morally reprehensible that they’re trying. Except I’m through apologizing for loving the stories that come out of this company when it’s working right because of all the times its head is up its ass.
*Do feel free to bring me back to the corporate nature of the enterprise. To the fact that a huge amount of the creating and producing of mainstream comics was rooted in crass commercialism. That’s all true and there’s some very valid arguments to be made about the inherent artistic corruption in the system, but none of it changes the fact that if the joy was not shared, then at least it was understood as a necessary element. Bad stories used to be told to amuse, to please, to inspire happiness and brand loyalty. Good stories were told for the same reason good stories are always told.
Originally published here