Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing Steve Rogers: Captain America 17, originally released March 25, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Secret Empire has, thus far, been an intensely relevant crossover event. Exhaustingly so. If there’s anything that allows the reader a little distance between the democratic crisis within the pages of the Marvel Universe and our own, it’s that we can recognize the supernatural cogs at turning in Hydra’s machine. Cosmic Cubes, inter-planetary defense shields, the motherfucking Darkforce dimension — these are all superhero specifics that grant us some much needed distance from the tyranny of Steve Rogers. Captain America Steve Rogers 17 mercilessly grounds Rogers’ fascist techniques through the vehicle of reporter Sally Floyd, who is manipulated, bullied and ultimately imprisoned in an issue much more rooted in reality than fantasy. It’s enough to break my heart in real life.
That’s how the whole issue is framed: Floyd lands an interview with Rogers. The only topic which is off the table is Las Vegas. That’s a bitter pill to swallow and one that Floyd ultimately can’t choke down. In the most blatant bit of media censorship, Cap pulls the plug on the interview as Floyd lets fly a snarky remark about the Hydra attack on Vegas. It’s so abrupt, and Hydra’s response so absolute, that artists Andres Guinaldo and Ramon Bachs highjack the comic’s perspective, displaying Hydra’s “please stand by” card.
Prior to this, the readers were allowed to be in the room with Sally and Steve with lights, cameras and crews all visible on the page. But we’re quickly booted out to the perspective of someone helplessly watching at home, awash in Hydra iconography and uninformative text.
Then Sally Floyd is thrown into a Hydra prison, presumably never to be heard from again. That’s a classic real world tactic used by tyrannical rulers, and it draws attention to the realism of Rogers’ other wheelings and dealings that the narrative cuts away to during the interview. The first of which involves the Inhuman internment camps. Floyd uses that word — “camps” — which segues into a three-page story about what it’s like inside these things. It’s horrible, of course, more prison than anything else. When we pop back to the interview, however, Rogers’ command of rhetoric shines through in a diabolical bit of Nick Spencer writing.
I love the softness of the panelling in this exchange. It’s like Steve is tap dancing around this accusation with some truly virtuosic language. He’s gaslighting HARD, downplaying the severity of the Inhumans’ conditions by calling them “holding centers” and describing their treatment as “humane and dignified.” Worse, in the same breath that he’s saying that he’s not doing anything that bad, he’s also justifying anything bad that he might be doing by underling the otherness of the Inhumans. He cites the fact that they’re the product of an “alien race” with “views incompatible with modern society.” He’s lumping Inhumans in with the Kree that created them, greenlighting the same false equivalency that lets bigots blame the totality of Islam for the acts of a radicalized few.
Spencer’s got the fascist playbook down pat, including the next bit, which is just straight up lying. Rogers baits Floyd into pivoting to a question about the annexed Mutant nation in California. Floyd puts forth one narrative: that Hydra and Rogers made a deal with the Mutants. Rogers denies this, again placing the onus for misunderstanding on the reporter. He is, of course, not telling the truth. Again, a cutaway story fills the reader in on Cap’s meeting with Magneto. It’s every bit as awful, depraved and opportunistic as you could possibly imagine — Cap’s striking a deal with a radical Mutant leader knowing that he could deny it in the future and even take advantage of the public’s fear of the group’s seemingly unchecked powergrab. It’s here that Spencer, Guinaldo and Bachs start throwing around the visages of huge players in the Marvel Universe — the head of Red Skull, the ghostly form of Xorn — to really drive home how huge and disruptive all of this is. I’m only a casual X-Men fan, but I know enough audibly gasp at the nonchalant appearance of Xorn.
Michael, Michael, Michael. How’s it going, buddy? Did this issue stress you out as much as it did me? There’s one part of this thing I didn’t really address and that’s Sally’s question about the Great Illusion. That one is anchored in Marvel fantasy and not reality. Right? Or is Spencer pointing us to the more nebulous fiction of American History — a land of opportunity build on inequality and exploitation? I leave it to you to unpack… a couple centuries of American awfulness. Good luck!
Michael: As is the case with most comics, my expertise of Captain America began in the modern era — specifically Ed Brubaker’s “Winter Soldier” arc — but I have got to say that Nick Spencer’s run might be one of the best iterations I’ve ever read. In a time before movie adaptations, character resurrections and sequel events comic books were just meant for kids. As we know them today, our superhero myths have grown up at the same rate we have — Dick Grayson graduating from Robin to Nightwing to Batman being a prime example.
Personally, I have found a confluence with my rising interest/concern with American politics to the relevance of both of Nick Spencer’s Captain America books. To answer Patrick’s question: no, this issue did not stress me out. That’s only because real-world politics stress me out enough. Honestly, reading an issue like Captain America: Steve Rogers 17 makes me feel a little bit calmer and saner. First off, it reaffirms that I’m not alone in thinking that the country under lil’ baby boy Donnie is a nightmare. Secondly (and perhaps more importantly), it underlines the important idea that — despite everything — we live in a nation where artistic free speech is still protected — even speech criticizing those in power.
We’ve seen so many versions of “Evil Superman” that I don’t bat an eye anymore. On the other hand, a corrupt version of Captain America who honestly believes in his hateful cause? That’s something that is genuinely disturbing — a distortion of the American dream. Donald Trump is a huckster who will say whatever he thinks people want to hear in order to get ahead. Hydra Cap might be a more dangerous threat than Trump because he fully believes in the bile he’s spewing.
Let’s move on to “The Great Illusion,” shall we? That is a fantastic culty-sounding title by the way; it has a very audacious, know-it-all feel to it. Without going into Cosmic Cube-ish specifics, Cap wants to assure the American people that the Allied forces cheated their way into a WWII victory by altering reality. There’s a lot of modern political allegory present there: Trump’s bullshit “fake news” retorts, Kellyanne Conway’s dumbass “alternate facts” and Trump’s fixation on voter fraud. It’s been proven that if any voter fraud was attempted in the 2016 Presidential Election it was by Trump supporters, not the other way around. In the same manner “Hydra Supreme” Steve Rogers is accusing his enemies of doing the very thing he did to get into power — alter reality.
I get the feeling that while Spencer is calling to attention all of Trump’s faults and contradiction,s he’s also calling out America as a whole for electing the orange goon in the first place. For example, after Sally accuses Steve and Hydra of “taking control” of the country, he corrects her by saying that what happened was perfectly within the bounds of what S.H.I.E.L.D. had set forth as law.
That’s one of the wickedly brilliant pieces of this whole plot: Steve initiated this whole “emergency powers” thing that legally put him in charge. Hitler needed the Reichstag to burn down, Chancellor Palpatine needed a convoluted plan involving a clone army and Steve needed the threat of a Chitauri invasion. One image that I’m not clear on is that of Steve holding Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir. Did this actually happen and I missed it? Or is it just a way to punctuate his speech of Hydra being “worthy?” If Hydra Cap is indeed “worthy” to lift Mjölnir then we’re in a worse place than I thought.
Another Trumpian move that Steve makes is by attacking the press. In the midst of his “Great Illusion” rant he throws the “biased worldview” of journalists into the mix. We’re living in a time where a large portion of the country adamantly ignores or denies proven facts relating (but not limited) to climate change, “the immigrant threat,” demonizes groups that call for racial/gender/religious equality yet somehow believes absurdist pizza parlor child sex-ring conspiracy theories. It’s the equivalent of saying “I’m not crazy…you’re crazy!” But the frightening thing is that…that actually works.
The values and ideals of good-hearted Americans have been warped into this model of intolerance and hate. Andres Guinaldo shows such wide-eyed earnestness as a hopeful crowd reaches out for their hunky dictator Steve Rogers. Maybe those similar Trump enthusiasts will see the error of their ways when he’s being escorted by Stormtroopers with a skull and tentacles insignia on their uniforms.
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