I don’t read comics much — I was a fan and collector in my teenage years, but every time I pick one up now, there’s so much prior knowledge needed to make sense of what’s going on, that I just put it back down and walk away. It’s like a lot of art, in that it is constructed in an environment of art, and comments on that environment, and if you don’t know the framework it’s embedded in, you grumble about how your kid could do better than that.
So all I knew about the recent controversial story line in Captain America that revealed he’s been a secret agent of the evil organization Hydra all along is that this was not the Captain America I enjoyed in the 1960s and early 70s. This was a betrayal! I hadn’t been reading the comic book anyway, but now for sure I wasn’t going to read it ever again.
I didn’t have the context.
Now an article fills me in on what I’d missed about Captain America’s trajectory, and it all makes sense. You see, Marvel had first tried to introduce a black successor to Steve Rogers, white hero, and the fan base erupted. So Marvel brought back Steve Rogers…with a message.
And just like that, White Captain America was back. And to make Steve Rogers a Nazi was an excellent commentary not only on the fandom, but on the country itself.
See, the only reason there is a Captain America: Steve Rogers series is that the fandom wanted Steve Rogers back. And the reasons they wanted him back were the same kind of motivations and ideologies that are currently wreaking havoc with our election season. The fandom wanted to Make Captain America White (Great) Again. They were full of racist indignation at seeing a Black person take on the mantle of Captain America, one of the most venerated comic-book heroes. They wanted a return to the status quo. And when they got their wish, they’re dismayed that he’s kind of a fascist. Sound familiar?
Wait, wait, wait…a comic book is making a sly commentary on modern American politics and society, is holding up a mirror to its readers? Unthinkable. Only art can do that.