Marvel Comics has started a bit of hoopla this New Comic Book Day, with the release of CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1. In this issue, Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, dons the costume once more and sets out to fight the good fight against the forces of evil. But in the closing pages, a huge twist that will have ramifications for the entire Marvel universe is revealed.
I won’t say what that twist is here, I won’t spoil for you a comic that has just come out. Comic Book Resources goes in depth with the spoiler here, if you’d like to be spoiled.
No, this isn’t about the spoiler specifically, or even the reaction to said spoiler, but rather the reaction… to the reaction of the spoiler. I know. My head hurts, too.
People are outraged by this spoiler. People are boycotting Marvel, people are threatening to burn their entire collections of Captain America comics, people are taking to Twitter and Facebook to voice their disgust. These are not the people I’m talking about.
No, the people I’m talking about are those responding to these fans. The people who are saying things like “it’s just a character!” or “it’s just a comic book, he won’t be a [SPOILER] for much longer!” or “stop overreacting!”
Here’s the thing, this particular twist isn’t the run-of-the-mill story twist. It’s not your cookie cutter plot twist that you see coming from a mile away and know in your heart will be retconned in a few issues. This twist is one that stretches all the way back to the conception of Captain America, it tarnishes the very idea of Captain America and what makes him who he is and always has been. It spits in the face of his Jewish creators in a way that is heartbreakingly sad and honestly very hard to deal with. It’s more than a simple change of personality or costume that fans don’t care for, it’s a change of the very definition of the character itself.
I feel the reaction has been justified. I feel like the people calling out fans as “overreacting” and telling them that “it’ll all be different in the next storyline, anyway! comic stories are retconned every month!” don’t get what Captain America truly symbolizes and what he means to, not just Americans in general, but a very specific cross-section of Americans.
Count me in the camp of people who hate this twist, count me among the masses who feel this is a cheap and dirty ploy to grab some media attention away from DC Comics and their big story changes going on right now (“REBIRTH”).
That said, I am willing to see where the story goes. I’m willing to see how they handle this grievous misstep in character management, this colossal misunderstanding of their own flagship character, and where they go from here. I’m a fan of story, after all.
But don’t fool yourself for one second into thinking that Marvel didn’t just do irreparable damage to one of the most beloved, and culturally important, characters in modern mythology.
Fifty years ago this month, Marvel Comics published Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko story about mild mannered teen Peter Parker. Parker was just an ordinary teenager juggling ordinary teenager problems, except he also had to juggle being a superhero: Spider-Man. After an ongoing argument with Lee, during which publisher Martin Goodman allegedly said “People hate spiders, you can’t call a hero Spider-Man! And a hero can’t be a teenager! Teenagers are sidekicks!”, Goodman finally caved and allowed Lee to move forward but only as a one-off story to be printed in the final issue of the failed title Amazing Adult Fantasy, then renamed Amazing Fantasy.
Amazing Fantasy #15 went on to become one of Marvel’s best selling issues to date and nearly a year after its printing The Amazing Spider-Man #1 was launched and Peter Parker was well on his way to becoming a cultural icon.
Spider-Man has survived a 1970s live-action television show, countless animated versions, four feature length theatrical films, and his closest call of all: The Clone Saga.
Fuck you, man.
We now live in a time when being called a “geek” or “nerd” is no longer an insult or something said before you’re treated to an involuntary lunch consisting of a knuckle sandwich. Geek and Nerd are badges of honor now, as comic books and science fiction are the “in” thing. When this moment in history passes, as it almost certainly will, Spider-Man will be one of the comic book heroes whose street cred won’t falter.
Fifty years in and Spider-Man is listed in the pantheon of superhero gods, with Batman and Superman and the rest, as he is not only a teenager in tights stopping crime by way of sticky webs and funny quips, but a part of our popular culture forever.
All I can say is thank you to Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby for the genesis of this memorable character and to Martin Goodman for giving in.
Happy Anniversary, Peter Parker.