Guys, Captain America Is Going To Be Okay
Spoilers for Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 follow.
This week a new Captain America comic, Steve Rogers: Captain America #1, hit the stands. It's the latest chapter in the saga of ol' Cap, who up until recently had become a very old man and handed off the name and shield of Captain America to his pal The Falcon. Recent events had, in comic book fashion, de-aged Steve Rogers, and he's back in his fighting prime. Falcon is still Cap (with the original round shield) but now Steve is ALSO Captain America (this is a very modern conceit - we have two Spider-Mans and two Wally Wests running around congruently in comics these days). The first issue of the comic is pretty standard Captain America stuff - Cap is stopping a Hydra bomb on a train but while he can save the passengers he can't stop the bomber from blowing himself up. For Steve that's a failure. Meanwhile, the book is flashing back to his childhood in the 20s; recent comics have revealed that he had an abusive dad and the flashbacks deal with that. But they also reveal that Steve's mom met a mysterious woman who beat up her abusive husband and started talking to her about larger social issues.
There's a second flashback, telling the story of the suicide bomber Steve can't save. He's a troubled guy who falls in with a nativist group whose rhetoric sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump's... and who is led by the Red Skull. The book establishes that both the Skull and Baron Zemo are battling for the future of Hydra, with Zemo seeming more super villainy and the Skull giving speeches against immigrants and refugees and organizing suicide bombings. All of this leads up to an action sequence where Steve is chasing Zemo and trying to free a kidnapped scientist (Dr. Erik Selvig, because man are the movies ever leading the horse these days). A goofy sidekick, Jack Flag, a character introduced during one of Cap's odder runs in the 90s (this was about the time when Cap became a werewolf. Seriously), comes to help, but find himself in real trouble. See, Cap didn't want Jack Flag there. He didn't want Jack Flag to see a secret thing. And so Cap throws Jack Flag out of an airplane, turns to Dr. Selvig and says "Hail Hydra." And if that's not enough, the flashbacks reveal that the woman talking to Steve's mom was recruiting her for Hydra way back in 1926.
Captain America: Agent of Hydra? What the heck! An outrage, I tell you! It's madness!
That's how the internet reacted - first to the leaked spoiler of the ending and then to the actual comic itself. Maybe you reacted that way. How dare Marvel make Cap an agent of Hydra, you may have cried out. I'm here to tell you it's going to be okay. Not only is it going to be okay, this story will eventually reinforce everything that you like about Captain America.
Let me explain: superhero comics only have the illusion of change. Creators - in this case Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz - can kind of do what they want on a book until they leave it. When they leave the book the pieces generally need to be put back - the toys need to be put away - so that the next team can play with them as well. It's the standard, and while there is incremental change - sometimes stuff sticks, like the resurrection of Bucky - generally everything goes back to the status quo. This is why I have taken to approaching superhero comics as anthologies; when a good creator comes on, so do I. When they leave, I give the new team an issue or two and if I don't like what they're doing, I jump off. I'll jump back on when another team picks it up.
I think this is okay! It's the nature of the beast. If this nature doesn't agree with you, superhero comics aren't for you. Me, I like the resets and the new takes and the incremental changes; I like the feeling that a character is both the same as when they started but also the result of dozens of creative hands leaving their small marks. It's one of the fun things about the genre for me.
All of that is to say that Captain America won't stay Hydra. There is literally no chance. If DC Comics walked back Green Lantern Hal Jordan murdering the entire Green Lantern Corps it's fucking child's play to walk back Steve Rogers saying 'Hail Hydra' (and even kicking a D list superhero out of a plane). In fact I would say that the main premise of this story is to see how they get out of it, just as it was when Superman or Cap himself died in the past. The initial event/reveal isn't the story - it's dealing with it that's the story. Every single time. This is how serialized superhero fiction works.
Take for instance a recent Spider-Man plot: Doc Ock and Spider-Man switched bodies and then Doc Ock, with Peter Parker's mind in his head, died. Doc Ock was now Spider-Man. People FLIPPED OUT. The story unfolded for about a year, and it turned out to be one of the great modern Spider-Man tales. Ock slowly discovered that with great power comes great responsibility. Peter came back to life, rededicated to his crusade. A lot of stuff happened in the interim - Ock actually fixed Peter's life - that continues to have impacts today, but in the end it all served one purpose: telling a great story that reinforced how cool Spider-Man is. I love that story, and I'll tell you a secret - I had quit the Spider-Man titles before that, but the promise of the big event brought me back. I'm still reading them now.
There's one other major thing to consider about this Cap storyline: this year is Captain America's 75th anniversary. If you think Marvel is going to celebrate that milestone by turning the superhero who just broke a billion dollars at the box office into a racist hatemonger... well, I guess there's just nothing you won't believe. The reality is that this story - which will showcase Hydra Cap as a way of reminding us why we love Cap in the first place - will end with some kind of triumphant return to the status quo. Possibly even with Steve Rogers as the one solo Captain America and The Falcon returning to his old duds, if I had to guess.
How will they get out of this corner? I don't know, and I'll be reading to find out, but I would guess that the repeated mentions of a sentient Cosmic Cube - you know it as the Tesseract in the MCU - are no accident. Cosmic Cubes have the abillity to alter reality, perhaps even alter the past. You know, change history so that Steve Rogers' mom joined Hydra back in the 20s. That's just me spitballing, but I'll keep reading to see where the story goes. You should probably wait until the story ends to freak out.