Captain America: Steve Rogers 17

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.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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9 comments on “Captain America: Steve Rogers 17

    • You beat me to it — yeah, they don’t dwell on it (the image actually closes the story, if I’m not mistaken), but Steve apparently actually hoisted Mjölnir at the end of the FCBD issue, which I guess partially explains why Thor is on his side? I do feel like the fact that actual, non-Kobik-altered Avengers are working with Hydra warrants an explanation within the event proper, as I think plenty of folks missed the FCBD issue.

      • I remember seeing it mentioned on a blog or something, but I didn’t pick up the FCBD issue. As a totally digital reader, I don’t really love having to go to the comic store (on a Saturday to boot!) to fill in the gaps in the story. I know, I know, I know – that’s what FCBD is for: get me into the store. That’s just not how I engage with the medium.

        I am SUPER curious about what that means. Maybe Steve’s powers of persuasion are powerful, he’s even able to trick Mjolnir, and that tracks with Trump convincing conservative Christians that he’s representing their values. Either way, it’s essentially stealing god.

        • Interesting, I was thinking of it more as a will to power thing. Like, anyone who truly believes in the principles of democracy couldn’t be worthy of wielding godlike power because it’s at odds with the essence of democracy. A fascist, on the other hand, totally embraces the idea of the strong leading the week, which is basically all gods are.

        • Yeah, I think that tracks too. It’s been a little bit since Aaron’s earlier days on Thor, but I always liked his “maybe these gods are irresponsible” take on the Asgardian mythos. Whether Asgard or Christ is good for America doesn’t really matter – it matters that the ideas have sway over people. Like, the hammer endorsing Hydra Cap is chilling as fuck because we ascribe meaning to the hammer itself.

        • As a digital reader, the amount of effort to get the FCBD comics was frustrating. You would have thought that it would also be a great way to attract people to comixology to buy comics. Put a bunch of high profile books on sale at the same time, and FCBD could be a great way to attract new audiences through digital sales. Though maybe I’m just pissed that Marvel’s FCBD offerings were poor. Only the GOTG story was worth it, and only barely. Everything else was really poor.

          On the Hammer, I’m wary to rely too much on Aaron’s stuff to explain it. Firstly, Aaron’s stuff is not fully explained yet. Until Odinson’s arc is complete, we won’t fully understand Aaron’s take. But also, this isn’t Aaron’s story, but Spencer’s. So we are using Spencer’s interpretation. And the answer needs to be simple enough for an event, where the average reader can’t be expected to be up to date eith

        • As a digital reader, the amount of effort to get the FCBD comics was frustrating. You would have thought that it would also be a great way to attract people to comixology to buy comics. Put a bunch of high profile books on sale at the same time, and FCBD could be a great way to attract new audiences through digital sales. Though maybe I’m just pissed that Marvel’s FCBD offerings were poor. Only the GOTG story was worth it, and only barely. Everything else was really poor.

          On the Hammer, I’m wary to rely too much on Aaron’s stuff to explain it. Firstly, Aaron’s stuff is not fully explained yet. Until Odinson’s arc is complete, we won’t fully understand Aaron’s take. But also, this isn’t Aaron’s story, but Spencer’s. So we are using Spencer’s interpretation. And the answer needs to be simple enough for an event, where the average reader can’t be expected to be up to date with Thor.

          I have two theories. Firstly, since Kobik rewrote reality such that HYDRA is the best thing ever and only lost because the Allies had a cube, until Kobik’s changes are corrected, being HYDRA Supreme is worthy. Kobik couldn’t create a world where that wasn’t true.
          Secondly, it is related to whatever secret plan took out Scarlet Witch and Vision. Both of them had their powers go crazy, and are now HYDRA. And considering that happened at the same time Jane dropped the Hammer, that’s likely important.

          Whatever the actual reason, it is certainly an interesting parallel to post-truth politics. Whatever the truth, a false narrative has been created to replace it. Just like Trump can present the idea that he is a genius despite being an obvious moron, Steve can present the idea that he is Worthy without doing a single act that would be Worthy

  1. Floyd/Rogers: First things first, isn’t this the most genius approach to exposition? Books like this are often used to provide exposition for the main event, and Spencer finds a way to do it dramatically. This isn’t a random collection of scenes designed only to explain Secret Empire shit. Spencer has found an elegant way to combine that with an actual story, dramatic in its own right. It would be a good story by itself. This is the issue I have been waiting forth is book to have since that first issue. The first time this book has come anywhere near the heights of the first issue. It’s possibly exceeded it.

    There is so much to discuss about alternative narratives – it is important to note that this book begins discussing how Steve Rogers gave a speech about peace and order at the exact same time as he bombed Las Vegas. The whole issue in a nutshell. The words and the actions don’t match.

    For most of the issue, what is scary is that Steve straight up lies and plays to fears. What Steve says sounds good. Just as it sounds good to hear that Trump is going to build a wall to stop rapists, or ban Muslims until the threat is evaluated. Except, of course, it only works in the racist, bigoted worldview being presented. But it is difficult to refute. Steve sounds like he is reasonable. Trump sounds like he is offering solutions. What is Sally supposed to do? She lacks the full facts, has to express complex ideas and overcome the fact that she can’t look like she’s attacking the ‘reasonable’ person. Steve is telling a story, and Sally has to make sure she does not find herself in the position where Steve has marked bad guy. Steve/Trump may not be reasonable/providing solutions, but what they say sure sounds like it. And that’s scary. We all know Steve is lying. Spencer does a fantastic job in showing us the difference between fiction and reality. Yet he also shows us just how easy it is to create a fiction that is impossible to fight against. Steve has an answer for nearly everything, creating an internally consistent vision of the world. The fact that it makes no sense applied to the real world, and built on false assumptions, is against the point. The point is, he has the answer.

    As part of my ‘Title every Secret Empire thing with a quirky yet applicable reference thing’, I used Frost/Nixon, as it was fitting for the content of this issue. But I also want to think back to the very first televised Presidential debate, Kennedy v Nixon. It is generally believed that Nixon had a stronger grasp of policy in that debate, with journalists giving him the win. But the true winner was Kennedy, who presented himself much better. And this simple fact was seen as a turning point in the election.

    Trump and Steve are the logical endpoint of this idea. No facts, all presentation. And it works, because if you can sell people the narrative you present, they won’t care that it is built on lies and evil. And Spencer shows just how easy it is to build such a horrific narrative that cannot be easily defeated, even when literally every element is wrong or evil.

    Because at the end of the day, Steve’s incorrect, immoral narrative is promising jobs, security. And Sally is attacking it, despite the fact that Steve always has an answer. Let’s ignore the Las Vegas line, and the content of the actual speech. And Steve’s Nazi cosplay. Let’s look at the art. Who looks like the bad guy in this scene? Who would you arrest in the Las Vegas? Which one looks like the problem? Which one looks like the aggressor? Steve is certainly fighting back, but Sally’s strong, aggressive movement are a clear contrast to Steve’s frustrated restraint. Sally is speaking the truth, but she looks wild, she looks aggressive. She looks unreasonable. She’s the problem.

    And that is the Great Illusion. And it’s terrifying

    • Oh, and Michael, I’ve similar experience with Captain America, and I have to say that the best iteration is Brubaker, especially the Death of Captain America arc. Sensational (and amazingly ahead of its time. It is about a Russian Oligarch and a far-right extremist plotting to hack an American election so that a stooge who will achieve their goals come to power, while a flawed but fundamentally good person tries to follow in the path of the popular but divisive predecessor while facing an alternative successor who is literally the worst possible option). At his best, Spencer gets close (Secret Empire, the highest points of Sam Wilson, Steve Rogers 1 and 17), but Brubaker was amazing.

      Also, on the point of who is worse, Trump or Rogers, I would actually go for Trump. Because Trump is chaotic. At least Rogers knows what he is doing. Rogers would never destroy decades of foreign policy work and potentially destroy America’s place as the Leader of the Free World after his first international trip by accident. And by virtue of his incompetence, Trump is threatening all sorts of norms that Rogers could never get close to hurting. People like HYDRA Steve Rogers and Mike Pence are vile people who don’t deserve to be anywhere near power. But Trump combines that with dangerous levels of chaos. Trump causes collateral damage Rogers could never imagine. Both to the world itself, and the institutions of government. Hell, the biggest threat? Post Secret Empire, Marvel America will be the nation that was conquered in a coup. Post Trump, America will be the nation that chose Trump. One of those has much worse consequences than the other

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