The backstory on Captain America, agent of Hydra


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.


  1. says

    Yes, it is a fine coup, and it seems that the storyline is good also (good ploting, etc). But it still is somewhat unfair to Steve, who’s been fighting Nazis since before Pearl Harbor, and who even abandoned his stars-and-stripes costume after Watergate, ashamed of what the US establishment had become. Okay, you cannot really be “unfair” to a fictional character, but even so…

  2. johnson catman says

    If not for art and comedy, the US would not get a lot of socially conscious reporting or commentary. The MSM is so worried about “access” that they won’t ask the questions that should be asked.

  3. Morgan says

    Okay, you cannot really be “unfair” to a fictional character, but even so…

    You sure as hell can be unfair to his fans who aren’t shitheads in the name of punishing those who are, though. If that actually were the intent, which I don’t really believe it was; this smells strongly of being called out on saying something hateful and saying “oh, but it was satire” to deflect responsibility.

    “We disgusted Jewish and many other readers by pissing over a character they admired in order to piss off racists” isn’t much of an artistic statement.

  4. bojac6 says

    @1 Carlos Orsi – I agree with you on all points, but it is comics, so the end game can be even pointed. Hydra Steve Rogers will inevitably be retconned at some point. If we’re lucky, it will go something like this. The current “Steve Rogers” is a clone or some nonsense, made by Hydra to tap into the whole “Greatest Generation” thing and pervert it. The whole character becomes a commentary on how people today use history as a cover for racism. The “real” Steve Rogers is still an old man, still fought Nazis the whole time, but has flaws and mistakes. He comes back and we get some speech about how times weren’t perfect and we need to move forward, not back, and points out how things were never perfect, America was never “great” but we can and should strive to be better. Captain America: Steve Rogers ends on issue #25 or something and everybody admits it was a pointed commentary and great run, and then we get on with Sam Wilson.

    Or, you know, Marvel just retcons everything again and Steve Rogers is back and nobody learns any lessons.

  5. bojac6 says

    Wow, I should proof read. Sorry for the rambling mess and repeating myself so much.

  6. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    Hmm… on one hand, I feel bad about deciding I wasn’t going to bother with Captain America again after finding out about that. On the other? I didn’t actually read Captain America often anyway – I am a fan of the character, just not a reader of the comic, so it’s not like I could actually claim to have been boycotting the IP. (Basically the only comics I buy regularly (outside of the occasional crossover event when I decide that I want to see what happens with, for example, Squirrel Girl & Howard the Duck’s recent weird adventure in Ms Sugarbaker’s super-powered kidnap-fari) are Captain & Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, and Thor (I was also reading Thor when Odinsson was Thor – the all-women line up is a total coincidence… not one I’m in any way ashamed of, I just don’t want anyone thinking “oh, the feminist comic reader only reads the lady comics, huh? Sexist!”))

  7. says

    Yeah, it is a real problem that they held up a middle finger to the bigots in their fanbase…but that also means they’re flipping off everyone who reads it.

  8. says

    I sometimes feel I’m the only person on the planet who does not like Captain America. The rah rah mighty white America crap turned me seriously off when I was a sprog, and at most, I tolerate the character now in movies and such.

    Whether or not I bother with comics these days depends completely on character and storyline. My most recent purchase was Thor, The Goddess of Thunder #1-#5.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Going off on a tangent yet again (forgive me, it is half past five a Friday): -We live in a comic book narrative universe! ; “Erick Erickson Knows What Causes Terrorism”
    Big Bang cosmology! -I didn’t know how sinister George Gamow and Stephen Hawking really were. Undercover supervillains? I bet those universities have underground HQs where they plot the domination of mankind…

  10. birgerjohansson says

    BTW Garth Ennis is full of societal comments, but his comics are so full of violence and black humour they are not for everyone. The “heroes” are so ambigious that they do not fit into ordinary good/bad frames. I mention him in cae you are weary of the usual comic book tropes.

  11. says

    I doubt it’s actually the same set of readers who were upset over Sam Wilson being Captain America and over Steve Rogers being Hydra. Marvel could have flipped off the former just as well by doing nothing—that is, by staying the course and keeping a black man in the Captain America role. This whole stunt seems … misaimed. But that’s just my impression as a not-superhero-comics-reader. And if becoming a fan requires not just mastering decades of loop-the-loop continuity, but also keeping track of all the times that other fans are horrible people, I think I’ll stay outside, thank you very much.

    This also sounds like a story that is perhaps unsuited for serialization. Why not publish the full story in one go, say in simultaneous digital and direct-to-trade-paperback formats? Wouldn’t releasing the whole arc—from revelation to the inevitable reset—in one package avoid the needless ill will? I guess that’s just not how things are done.

    And whether it’s a daring artistic move, sly political commentary or marketing gimmick, it will all be reset, because comics. It’ll turn out that Hydra brainwashed Steve Rogers, or they used fragments of the Cosmic Cube to rewrite the timeline. The bad guys use space rocks to turn the big good guy evil. How edgy! What a twist!

  12. bojac6 says

    Speaking of Thor, Goddess of Thunder, I read the original run where Thor is a woman (being vague to avoid spoilers about her identity) and enjoyed it a lot, but then didn’t have much time and lost track of characters. What’s the next few titles to read to follow her adventures? Currently there are two Thors, right, God and Goddess of Thunder?

  13. anthrosciguy says

    Okay, you cannot really be “unfair” to a fictional character, but even so…

    Lucky for Peter Jackson, or Faramir would own his studio.

  14. microraptor says

    IIRC, Marvel has already said that this isn’t a clone or shapeshifter, which means that what we have is probably either an alternate reality Captain America or Steve is really going to turn out to be a triple agent. I thought that making Falcon the new Captain America was an interesting idea but didn’t feel motivated to actually bother getting into the series since Marvel is absolutely terrible about legacy characters: to date, Captain Marvel and Miss Marvel are the only two who’ve actually stuck with it.

    Miss Marvel is an excellent read, by the way.

  15. opus says

    PZ: “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.”

    Slight quibble: Well before Doonesbury there were comic strip artists taking on current events. Pogo is a prime example: In 1952 Walt Kelly introduced his Joseph McCarthy figure, Simple J. Malarkey, who belonged to the Jack Acid Society, based on the John Birch Society. Later on Nixon, Agnew and J. Edgar Hoover appeared. I’d love to see what he could have done with Drumpf.

  16. Gregory Greenwood says

    I get the impression that the comic book version of Captain America and the MCU version are going to part company over this for the foreseeable future. I don’t see the studio messing with what has been an extremely lucrative formula.

    I also don’t imagine many of the fans will be happy – this does feel a bit like Marvel are throwing the baby out with the bath water, having a justifiable poke at the bigots but doing it in such a way that it ruins the character of one of the more consistently progressive heroes in the line up. Then again, as pointed out by many other commenters, this is comic book land. It will doubtless all get retconned again in a few years, probably with no lasting consequences or any real meaning.

  17. MichaelE says

    I read the first issue of that series, I didn’t really think it was very good, besides I liked the Steve “Everything Dies” Rogers asshole better. It really showcased how out of touch a man like that would be, however understandable, after spending many years on ice.

    I do agree that this is damned good response to those who wanted Steve Rogers back instead of Captain Blackman (however awesome Sam Wilson is). You want Steve Rogers back? Good, here, have a flipped bird and a nazi captain.

    “Thumbs up!”

  18. says

    Seeing as this is a comix thread:

    Indiginerds Unite! The Indigenous Comic Con will be this November, the 18th – 20th, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    At press time, the keynote panelists scheduled are Jeffrey Veregge (Port Gamble S’Klallam), the artist for Marvel Comics’ Red Wolf, and Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), the creator of Super Indian Comics. Other events include an exhibition hall, live music and cosplay contests.

  19. says

    Huh? I am sorry, but I find this stupid and not witty at all. Why not ignoring the haters, the nazis and not continuing the black Captain America as intended? This is a middle finger to racists, true, but it is also a spit in the face to all who loved Steve Rogers character, were not racists and were OK with him retiring and giving his mantle on to Sam Wilson. This really seems to me like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    To be clear, I am not reading any comic. Until very recently I would not give a half a fuck about this. Only after the movies came out I read something about Captain America on Wikipedia and when I read that he retired and gave his shield to Falcon, I did not have any particular feelings about it, it felt like normal development and I did not care. I might be naive, but I was surprised when I learned that this has led some significant amount of racist assholes to crawl out of the woodwork. I agree that those assholes need to be rebuked and laughed at whenever possible in very strong terms. But this does not feel right to me, it feels wrong although it is not easy for me to put a finger on why exactly.

    I really hope that this does not apply to MCU Steve Rogers. Because I liked his movies and I identify with that movie character very strongly (remember, I know essentialy only what was revealed in movies, I have no reason to disbelieve that the comic character is more problematic, jingoistic etc.) – skinny, sick and bullied as a child, but with a strong moral compass and a burning desire to help, to be usefull, not being a ball on someone else’s leg. Yeah, that would inspire me as a child and it still inspires me as a moderately successfull middle-aged man today to try and do my best despite my disadvantages. What helps is that he (his skinny form) even looks like me, only I do not have an overbite.

    If they let the movie character die of old age and give his uniform and shield to someone else, no matter what color and/or gender, I would not care one iota. If they turn him into nazi, it would hurt and I would feel betrayed. I know it is all fiction, but it was on this very blog I learned how important are inspiring fictional characters with whom people can identify at a gut level – black heroes, disabled heroes, woman heroes. For me that character is (movie) Steve Rogers.

  20. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    @bojac6, 12

    What’s the next few titles to read to follow her adventures? Currently there are two Thors, right, God and Goddess of Thunder?

    You’ll be wanting to look for Thors, where the many alternate realities of the Marvel universe collided and fused, and the various Thors of those universes are essentially a police dept, followed by The Mighty Thor, where the universe seems to have rediscovered its senses, the universes separated again, and it’s your standard Thor comic again. I don’t actually know if Odinsson has his own comic at the moment… I should probably look in to that.

  21. wcaryk says

    I don’t remember a lot of fuss when Brian Michael Bendis turned Nick Fury black (causing Daisy/Quake to snark “Worst disguise ever, Nick”). Although I imagine few even remember his once being white, particularly after Samuel L. Jackson.

  22. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    @Charly, 19

    I really hope that this does not apply to MCU Steve Rogers.

    Don’t worry – it’s a separate universe, it’s going it’s own way. Unfortunately, that also means we’re unlikely to see [REDACTED] pick up myahmyah any time soon, but, personally, I think I can handle that so long as Captain Marvel turns up some time soon. Apparently she’ll be appearing in one of the Infinity War films (I’m hoping for p1, expecting p2).

  23. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    @wcaryk, 21

    Although I imagine few even remember his once being white, particularly after Samuel L. Jackson.

    Who could possibly forgot Hoff Fury?
    I tried watching Nick Fury: Agent of Shield once. Once. Long live Jackson Fury!

  24. says

    @16: Not really. Thor is the title and the God/Goddess, so the God of Thunder relinquished it to the goddess, and took the name Odinson. He’s been MIA since Secret Wars so not exactly sure what’s going on on that particular front. It seems like they’re coming to a head where they’re going to switch it back, or else change the dynamic, but that’s a lot more to do with that secret identity and the circumstances/costs of being a Thor while not being Thor.

    Also, I love Sam as Cap, but I’ll also admit that the whole thing was set up as a pretty big troll from the get go. Not just taking on the shield, but also his first outing in his solo title going after border relations and immigration. It was actually a great series with a whole lot of points to make, but it did sort of fizzle out when other stuff was pushed to the forefront. A victim of Marvel’s own messy and intermingled storylines.

  25. lesofa says

    He was Hydra since the beginning? But haven’t people read his thought bubbles for years? Could he control his mind to not think about this? Why would he do that, is he aware that he’s in a comic book, like Deadpool? Could he even trick Mjolnir, who once deemed him worthy? This doesn’t make any sense, unless it’s a boring story about mind control or whatever.

  26. Jeremy Shaffer says

    While I love a good middle finger to bigots that results in them crying at length I think, if that was their intent, a better response to the asshats whining about Sam Wilson (A black Captain America? Gasp!) would have been for Marvel to just smile, point out that DC was letting Frank Miller do a third Dark Knight Returns series, and tell them to “Enjoy!”

    Seriously, I give it 10 issues before they reveal Red Skull is back and has used a Comic Cube to rewrite history to make CA a Hydra agent.

  27. medievalguy says

    It seems to me that anybody who believes that the one panel of the story that we’ve seen so far firmly establishes the final status quo couldn’t have been reading comics for more than about 15 minutes…

  28. Becca Stareyes says

    Lesofa, I think that’s why fans are so upset. It’s so out of left field that everyone knows there will be a twist and the fact the creative team is trying to pretend otherwise feels insulting. Add in that shared-universe comics often are ret-conned when characters develop away from the way a particular writer wants to write them.

    Now, I think you could do some cool commentary on white America, racism, and the idea that ‘make America great again’ often means ignoring that it wasn’t so great for others, but not without breaking the character or being upfront about this being one of the many ways Marvel has built up to mess with established characters.

  29. michaelvieths says

    During the recent ‘Pleasant Hill’ storyline in Marvel comics, they revealed that SHIELD had cobbled together pieces of a Cosmic Cube in order to rewrite various villains and create a prison where they’d live out completely different lives. The cube was sentient, Cap (who was aged at the time) tried to rescue her, and she rewrote him to make him young again. That’d make a pretty good place to have retconned in the Hydra thing.

  30. says

    @PZ; I think you’re giving that article way too much credibility.

    Yes, it’s an interesting way to interpret the storyline, but it’s not like thats the official statement by the publisher or writer. And really, anyone who knows comics already knew he would be coming back eventually. It was never a possibility that he would retire or be killed permanently, or that he wouldn’t take back the mantle eventually. So it’s really a stretch to argue that either bringing him back or the Hydra mole storyline are direct responses to the anti- Black Cap backlash.

    Besides, it doesn’t match up to what the writer says, which is that the idea started out as a crossover idea where multiple heroes would be revealed to have been Hydra deep-cover sleeper agents, then they thought, well which hero would be both the most shocking and would have the potential to do the most damage, and came up with Captain America, and decided that just him would be shocking enough. IOW, it’s just another comic book story where the shock value is placed before plot or accurate characterization, and not an intentional dig at those who objected to a Black Cap.

    The writers have also said that it’s the “real” Cap and not a clone, imposter, mind control, or anything like that, and that he “really” was a Hydra sleeper agent all those years.

    Assuming that’s not a lie or misdirection, it makes me think one of three things;

    One, the easy and obvious answer; that it’s either an alteration to Cap and his history caused by a cosmic cube fragment, or the writer just lied and it is some form of mind control, or an elaborate set of implanted personality and memory alterations by the Red Skull, who has Professor Xavier’s telepathy now, due to having stolen Prof. X’s brain. This is comics, so it can’t be discounted, but it’s too easy and obvious, so I give this one a low probability.

    Two, Cap belongs to a sub-branch of Hydra with different goals and methods, and he sees the main Hydra organization as a perversion of what Hydra should be, so he was sincerely opposed to them all these years. Maybe the Hydra he was recruited into in his youth was more libertarian than fascist, more into keeping America strong and free than into keeping America “pure”, pro-community and pro-self reliance, but not anti-immigrant or racist, or something like that, or something. Maybe they stayed secret to avoid notice by the main branch, and to keep off of SHIELD’s radar, but now have some reason to come out into the open, like seeing a chance to take over the main Hydra organization and redirect it towards their own goals. Hard to imagine how they could thread that needle, though, and manage to be consistent with Caps’ previous actions and ideals yet still be recognizably Hydra-ish, so I also give that a low probability.

    Three, it’s a Manchurian candidate situation; Cap’s persona all these years has been the fake one, implanted hypnotically or whatever before he went through the Super-Soldier program, and now his original personality has been reawakened. It might seem unlikely, because there have been lots of other times where Hydra could have used awakening him to huge advantage, even if only to stop him from defeating their latest scheme, and right now Hydra is at a bit of a low point in terms of strength and power, so I don’t see any compelling advantage to awakening him now if they didn’t do it before. But, OTOH, maybe his identity as a sleeper agent was lost or forgotten, or the branch that made him a sleeper agent went defunct for some reason. Maybe the current Hydra leader, Red Skull, just rediscovered his status and how to awaken him, maybe through his new telepathy. It would meet the writers claims that it’s the real Cap and that he really has always been a sleeper agent, so I’d give that the highest probability.

    Unfortunately, that’s also the possibility that really shits on the character the most. :(

  31. says

    Oops, forgot one other possibility:

    Four, time travel. The flashback scenes that show Cap’s mom being groomed by a Hydra agent are in all gray colors, except for occasional splashes of red, like the Hydra recruiter’s hairband, fur collar, and the Hydra logo on the pamphlet she gives Mrs. Rogers. The prominence this gives the color red, and the fact that the recruiter uses the name SINclair, hints strongly at her being the Red Skull’s daughter Sin. So maybe Red Skull used one of the many time-travel methods in the MU to send his daughter back in time to meddle with Rogers past, and change his attitudes and ingrained ideals while he was still an impressionable child. That wouldn’t directly conflict with Caps’ beliefs, actions, and thoughts from previous comics, all that would be the original unaltered timeline, but in this new timeline he’s either been a deep-cover agent, or the Manchurian Candidate type sleeper agent mentioned in possibility Three. If so, it would explain why he Cap was never activated until now, because he couldn’t have been until the timeline caught up to the point where Sin went back to make the changes.

  32. Morgane Guillemot says

    I wouldn’t expect too much intelligence from this shit show. The author’s twitter is full of ‘Hydra isn’t really nazis!’ and various Hydra fanboy posts. This guy seems to genuinely like them.

  33. Bruce Gorton says

    It doesn’t work on a fundamental level. Without Rogers actions over the years, Hydra would have won. If Rogers was a deep cover agent, then all he needed to do is nothing and Hydra would have achieved its aims.

    Further, there is already a Captain America that suits that particular kind of character perfectly – William Burnside.

    On a meta level, I have to say I’m not a huge fan of taking a character originally written by Jewish people to punch Hitler and making him a Nazi. Even if it does piss off racists.

  34. Kichae says

    It’s more of a commentary on America itself losing its mind to fascist demagoguery.

    In the previous Avengers crossover story, Red Skull approached Steve in the middle of battle, appearing disguised as a priest. Red Skull is currently the world’s most powerful psychic, and it seems clear from Roger’s #1 that he used those powers to change Rogers’ memories.

    Steve Rogers hasn’t been Hydra all along. He was just very recently made to believe that he was.

    Kinda like a solid chunk of Americans now believes that the USA was always some sort of white Christian purity, thanks in part to the brainwashing done by Fox News and inflamed by public figures like Trump.

  35. Snoof says

    So, in pissing off racists they’re also insulting a whole lot of other people?

    I think that’s a textbook example of splash damage..

  36. Holms says

    You sure as hell can be unfair to his fans who aren’t shitheads in the name of punishing those who are, though.

    How exactly are those fans being treated unfairly?

  37. Holms says

    I guess you could call it that, but I question that fans being displeased with a new story arc is damage at all.

  38. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    Hero created by Jewish authors to make a statement against Nazism. Turns out that hero is and apparently has always been a Nazi.

    Does anything else actually need to be said about why that might be kind of shit?

  39. Holms says

    The comment I responded to mentioned ‘fans’ being the damaged party, which is what I was disparaging. As for the jew angle, I’m part jewish myself – I only exist because some forebears fled Europe ahead of the rise of Nazism – and yet can only muster a shrug.

    (An earlier post seems to have disappeared… too many links?)