by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
There are few political and social movements in my lifetime that have caused my peer group to stand up and say “fuck that whole ideology.” The rise of Trump and white nationalists is one such movement. I do it too — I find the ideas and attitude so repugnant, that I can’t help but extend my disgust to the people who preach it. Whether I’m justified in jumping to such combative language (did I really just use the f-word in the first sentence of a Retcon Punch piece?) the effect is undeniable: I’m contributing to the adversarial relationship that makes it feel like there’s moral gulf between myself and a Trump supporter. And with a chasm between us, how do we ever find common ground? Captain America Steve Rogers 19 asks these same questions, and unsettlingly lands on an answer: war.
There are two conversations around which this issue is built: Steve and the Odinson and Steve and Sharon Carter. Writer Nick Spencer layers both of these conversations with tons of tiny references to the on-going “culture war” in America. Let’s start with Odinson and Cap. I’m using that name for the fallen Thor because that’s the name that he insists on, but Steve keeps using his old name. Cap’s deadnaming the Odinson, the practice whereby you call someone by a name they no longer use. Deadnaming is a huge issue in the trans community, as using a person’s name is one of the simplest signs of respect and courtesy, but transphobic people will gleefully withhold that respect. It’s a potent metaphor in 2017, but is hyper-relevant in light of Trump’s tweets about transgender people serving in the military.
What’s more, instead of comforting a friend (or former-friend, it’s hard to say Rogers has friends anymore), Rogers taunts the Odinson for not fighting to keep his hammer. Steve all but calls him a cuck, and all poor Odinson can eek out is the sad, but true, statement: “it’s… it is not mine.”
There are echoes of taking one’s country back in what Steve is saying. Does that make the Odinson’s statement an admission of defeat, or an acknowledgement of reality? Steve sees it one way, and the Odinson sees it the other, which means their conversation inevitably turns to threatens and shattered glasses — a total breakdown of interpersonal diplomacy.
Things are much worse when Steve checks in on Sharon Carter, who tried to kill Steve in Secret Empire 7. Sharon strikes out from a place of much more obvious weakness than the Odinson — she is imprisoned, and he’s decked out in Hydra officer garb. Artist Jesus Saiz brilliantly stages most of this scene with Sharon’s body framing the action — in the foreground, even when trapped behind glass.
Her words help define Steve in this moment. She compares him to the Red Skull, raises Steve’s ire until the point she finally drops a different f-word: fascist. This was already miles away from being a productive conversation, but that word flips a switch in Cap’s brain. His eyes narrow, he takes a beat, marches out of the room, and declares war.
Does Steve deserve to have all of these difficult conversations? Totally. Does he deserve to have his actions and behaviors accurately labeled? Absolutely. Does that discourse lead him to a more sensible course of action? Of course not. Aggression beget aggression. Spencer is not prescriptive here, but illustrative of a process of which we’ve all lost control.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?