The internet is in an uproar this week about a comic book reboot of Captain America that has a shocking reveal: in the end of the issue, Cap flings an ally out of an airplane, looks at his captive and says “Hail Hydra!” Hydra is the Nazi-like group of villains that has been wreaking havoc in Marvel comics for decades.
So what’s behind this move? Marvel, like other comic book companies, constantly reinvents its roster of superheroes. Marvel’s newest Captain America #1 envisions a timeline where Steve Rogers has been an agent of Hydra all along.
This prompted a strong response from people all over the internet, who are extremely disturbed that Captain America, who stands for strong American values, is declared to have been Hydra all along. The critics of the decision point out that Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were both Jewish men who wrote this comic as a way of hitting back at Nazism in Europe. Fans are acting under the assumption that Simon and Kirby would be outraged at this turn of events.
However, there is an argument that what Marvel is doing is not that revolutionary or offensive. Comics routinely reinvent themselves with new artists and new storylines. In the most recent iteration of Captain America, Steve Rogers has been returned to youthful vigor and strength thanks to the kind of time-bending that typically accompanies comic book remodeling. In the issue that fans complained about, Steve’s mother was recruited to a new group called Hydra back in the 1920s when they came to her rescue when she was being abused by her husband. The flashbacks put at least a little context into the comic book’s final scene, where Rogers may or may not have revealed that he has been a longtime agent of Hydra.
Since twists and turns are a feature of comic book storytelling, it’s fair to assume that there are many ways the story could turn out. Rogers could be a double agent, pretending to work for Hydra while secretly reporting for the U.S. Government for his entire life. It could be an alternate reality, or Cap could have an evil twin. One never knows what directions comic books’ twists and turns will take, especially since it’s standard storytelling procedure to give the hero an insurmountable obstacle in his debut issue.
Moreover, Kirby and Simon once told their own story about Captain America and his relationship with Hydra, which at the time was simply the Nazi Party. In this strip, Captain America is seen giving an actual Hail Hitler salute to Red Skull. Now, no one read that comic and decided that Captain America was a Nazi, in part because readers already know how it turns out. The best way for the new Captain America story to be judged is on the page, when the story ends rather than when it begins.