The Ol’ Patriotic One Two

(Spoilers for this week’s release of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 to follow.)

It’s been a big month for Captain America. Steve Rogers, the kid from Brooklyn, had his third movie premiere earlier this month to great reviews and a billion dollar box office. In a smart, well-planned move, Marvel Comics has returned Steve Rogers to being Captain America just in time, granting him his own title, alongside Sam Wilson, who will also continue to bear the mantle. In anticipation of the many curious folks walking out of Captain America: Civil War and into a comic shop, looking for a good, accessible story about the titular hero, Marvel has crafted exactly that, giving us a Steve Rogers in his prime, wearing the red, white and blue, slinging his shield, and, of course, as years of comics history dictates, being an active sleeper agent of HYDRA, Marvel’s defacto Nazi stand-ins.

Wait. What?

Yes. Marvel is balancing their signature, flagship hero’s return to prominence on the ever-so-well thought out idea of “What if the good guy was really a BAD GUY all along?” To clarify things (because this is comics, after all), editor Tom Brevoort and writer Nick Spencer have doubled down on the fact that this is THE Steve Rogers–the original, the one true, accept no clones, alternate universe versions, or LMDs (Life Model Decoys–it’s a thing). In a USA Today interview, Brevoort essentially takes the tack of “all press is good press,” as he typically has in the past.

If the idea of Captain America, the symbol of freedom, being a villain–and worse, an actual Nazi–strikes you as wrong, well, congratulations, you probably have at least some sense. To make matters worse, this is the second time in two days that Captain America has been at the forefront of the collective consciousness–yesterday saw the rise of the hashtag #GiveCapABoyfriend on Twitter. The hashtag itself was a multifaceted thing; it spun out of a prior hashtag regarding the Frozen heroine called #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, and they both have the same aim; openly queer characters at the forefront of popular culture.

This was, unsurprisingly, quite the contentious subject. There was a lot of back-and-forth over the validity of the idea in the first place, and further skepticism and questioning over the motivations behind it. Comics colorist Nathan Fairbairn opined on the subject yesterday, good-naturedly asserting that Captain America is established as straight, and that queer rep IS a problem, but that that problem can easily be addressed by making Falcon, War Machine, or Bucky gay instead. After that good-natured assertion, he went on to question the legitimacy of reasoning going into the hashtag, and telling those who supported it to go fuck themselves, if they didn’t have the reasons he thought they should.

(There is not a ninth tweet that I can see.)

Several folks responded; making well-reasoned points, and Mr. Fairbairn doubled down on the idea of “Why Cap?”

Now, to be fair, he did argue his points well (click through any of those tweets to get an idea of the response; he had to conduct himself on multiple fronts at once, and he relented on several points), but the answer to the question he’s raising is multi-part.

First: Captain America just had a movie release bearing his name in large block letters only a few weeks ago. He is at the forefront of the public consciousness, and as much as Mr. Fairbairn may think so, it’s not disingenuous in the slightest for him to be the subject, just like it wouldn’t be disingenuous for the same to be true of Iron Man, were one of his movies freshly released. It’s not disingenuous to recontextualize something currently in the public eye as a means of generating discussion–we do that every day.

Second: More importantly, Captain America is the flagship character at Marvel Comics, and in its movies. In this most recent movie, he’s the main character. We don’t need a queer Bucky or Sam Wilson–we don’t need another queer sidekick or also ran. We need a queer LEAD. Since January, in the latter half of this year’s TV viewing season, sixteen lesbian or bisexual women were killed on screen. Sixteen–most of those within a two- or three-week period, and again, just from the latter half of the season. So, why Cap? Because he’s at the forefront. Because we have a reasonable expectation that he’ll survive the story. Sidekicks have a limited lifespan–more so if they’re queer, and even more than that if they’re queer POC.

Third: We need a queer lead in a story that is not explicitly about queerness. Those stories are absolutely necessary and fantastic, but the thing about them is this: Most straight people don’t watch them. Most straight people don’t care about them. We need action stories and thrillers and all sorts of stories with queer leads because we need to see that status normalized on the screen. To put it in perspective, let’s revisit that fourth tweet in Mr. Fairbairn’s diatribe there. “Captain America in the films is clearly straight. That’s been established in several films by now.” Oh, it has? We’ve seen him share a romance with Peggy Carter, and then fumble awkwardly with every other woman he’s encountered since–including a kiss with Peggy’s own niece that may just take the award for the least charismatic kiss committed to film this year.

No, what Mr. Fairbairn is putting forth is heteronormativity. We’ve only seen Cap be interested in girls, so obviously he’s only straight, right? Straight people can’t have boyfriends, so obviously the entire movement’s a wash! Except, oh wait. People can be bisexual. People can even not realize they’re queer until well into their adult life, and it’s especially likely that might be true if the person in question is so busy jumping from one combat zone to the next that he never has time to stop and take stock of his life.

Here’s where it gets personal, and I expound on something that I’ve only discussed with a few people in my life: Hi. I’m queer. I only figured it out recently–so recently that I’m still processing it and trying to undo some really screwed up mindsets. So recently that I still haven’t even figured out the right words to define it beyond simply, “queer.”  So when I put forth the idea that Captain America can and should have a male love interest, I’m putting forth the idea that I would like to see someone who represents, in broad strokes, the exact thing I have spent the last several months of my life going through.

From a straight point of view, does the idea seem desperate? Does it seem silly, that we’re pushing so hard for something to be attached to a lead character? Maybe. But, seriously, name one major queer lead in superhero fiction. Name one in a police procedural. Name one in anything that’s not explicitly a story about being queer.

Fourth (that’s right, I still have more points): Why Cap? Why not a different lead, like Iron Man? Mr. Fairbairn, Tony Stark is not Captain America. Tony Stark is not a representative of the very idea of Freedom. Tony Stark does not explicitly represent the ideals that the United States were founded on. Tony Stark does not definitively stand for the marginalized in the way that Steve Rogers does. That is the explicit point of Steve Rogers–he was created by two Jews during World War II to fight Nazis. He is explicitly the Nazi Party’s own Aryan ideals turned against against them; a Caucasian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed defender of the very people they were attempting to exterminate. So why Cap? Because standing for the marginalized is his role in fiction.

That fourth point brings us full circle to today’s news, and the idea that Captain America is now, and has always been, a sleeper agent of Hydra. Now, it’s not Marvel’s fault that this news is hitting today; comics take time to write, to make, to print, and to ship, and this release date has been in the cards for them for months now. There was no way that Marvel could have anticipated the rise of yesterday’s discussion, and so they can’t be held accountable in that capacity. However.

One day after the call for queer rep on the part of the character who is meant to represent the marginalized, Marvel announced that Captain America is, and has been, a secret Nazi all along. He is a member of an organization whose real-world, nonfiction counterpart actively persecuted gays and lesbians over the course of its campaign during World War II. Marvel literally presented a Captain America who is the antithetical opposite of the thing that was being asked for, and they did it for shock value.

The standard arguments are already cropping up: “Wait until the story’s finished!” “It’s just comics, it’ll change back, it doesn’t matter!” We’re told, in so many words, to have faith, that everything will turn out okay. While that might be true, that’s not really the issue here. People are not upset because this change is permanent; we know that it will not be. People are upset because for something that we know is not permanent, such a subversion is indicative of a shocking lack of awareness and sensitivity for its real-world ramifications. It undermines the moral compass on which the character is built. It undermines the moral compass of the entire franchise built on top of that. It insults the history and the legacy of his creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. It is, as Brevoort says in his interview, a “slap in the face.” When Brevoort says that, he seems to forget what a slap in the face is, and what it represents: An assault.

We get enough of that.

 

3 comments for “The Ol’ Patriotic One Two

  1. May 26, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Wow. You’ve convinced me that it could at least work in the movies and that if we want diversity in comics and movie heroes that it’s a better idea to use the actual heroes instead of new ones.

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