America is in a period of divisive politics, with people finding new ways to disagree every day. But this week, Marvel Comics gave seemingly everyone – whether they follow comic books or not – something to unite over when they revealed that Steve Rogers, the original, and recently returned Captain America is, and may have always been, a Hydra sleeper agent.
Reaction to the news has been mixed, with some, familiar with the ebb and flow of comic book storytelling intrigued by the twist, or resigned to wait it out and see its explanation, while others less familiar with comic book tropes decried the reveal as an outright betrayal of Captain America or even his creators.
According to Tom Brevoort, Marvel Executive Editor, and editor of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, where the reveal took place, Marvel was somewhat surprised by the reaction to the twist, not expecting the level of vitriol some fans have levied at the publisher, and at Nick Spencer, writer of the issue and architect of its twist.
Newsarama spoke to Brevoort about the passionate reaction from fans, and about what lies ahead for Steve Rogers, agent of Hydra – if that is indeed the true nature of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1’s reveal. While Brevoort couldn’t spoil the surprise within a surprise – though he said it would be the easy way to quell people’s anger – he did speak about the genesis of the story, the way news travels over the internet, and how what lies ahead may not be what everyone expects.
While we’re left with more questions, one thing is for sure. If the true purpose of Captain America is to unite Americans, he’s certainly succeeded this week – even if he is a Hydra sleeper agent.
Newsarama: Tom, it seems like this week’s Captain America Hydra reveal has ignited or at least codified a lot of people’s deep passions for Steve Rogers and Captain America – even my mother asked me about it. Newsarama has heard some indications that Marvel was a little taken aback or caught off guard at the reaction to Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, even by today’s internet standards. Is that accurate?
Tom Brevoort: I think that’s fair to say. We certainly knew it would be a big book, and a shocking book, and a controversial book. We didn’t predict how extreme and extensive it became. So yeah, we were definitely caught off guard by how big this became.
Nrama: Newsarama has probably asked this question of you in some form once or twice a year for 18 years now. If storytelling is taking a reader for a ride, are you always surprised that some readers won’t even get in the car?
Brevoort: No. Not every story is for every reader. This situation surprises me – and it really shouldn’t because I’ve lived through this sort of thing with Captain America at least twice before. We’re on the anniversary of Civil WarCivil War II #1. This is what it was like when we had Captain America killed at the end of Civil War. It’s just in 2006, the internet wasn’t quite the presence it is now. Even then, while it was a factor, it wasn’t what it is today. But the reactions here, and a lot of the letters I’m getting, could have been written about Cap’s death. You cross out “killed” and you write “Hydra” and it’s the same basic message, the same basic sentiment.
The other more recent one that this is reminiscent of, at least in my eyes, is the brouhaha a couple of years ago when some folks online took umbrage with an issue of Captain America written by Rick Remender that they said showed Sam Wilson – the former Falcon, and current Captain America – sleeping with an underage girl despite the fact that the comic gave her age. And they stirred up a whole hornet’s nest of trouble by misrepresenting the comic, and going to places where people were not familiar with the story and hadn’t read it, and misrepresenting the contents of it. So people would hear about this situation, without knowing the facts, and become outraged. “How dare Marvel publish a comic that’s promoting underage sexual activity?” But I agree with them - Marvel wouldn’t do that – and we didn’t! That was such a raw subject for so many people, they were just so outraged about it, they didn’t want to hear any of the explanation, or any of the facts. They just wanted to tell you how upset it made them.
There’s a subset of people who are upset about this, who are exactly like that. The reporting on this, and the sort of game of telephone on the internet about this went from it being “Captain America is Hydra,” to “Captain America is a Nazi” – which is already a leap – to “This is anti-semitism,” which is ridiculous, in that, if you look at the comic book that we put out, there is nothing in it that, in any way, shape, or form, is even slightly anti-semitic. But because people were able to go “Hydra = Nazi, and Nazi = anti-semitism," that's what reactions became about.
By reporting that we revealed “Captain America is a Nazi and anti-semitic,” people that haven't even read the work react with outrage, because they understand who Captain America is, even if they’ve never read a comic book. They’ve seen the films, they’ve seen him in animation, or on toy shelves, or t-shirts. Captain America as an ideal represents something and means something to people, even if they’re not following his adventures month in and month out. So a lot of those more casual fans are outraged, but they’re outraged based on the reporting of it. I don’t even necessarily mean the major news outlets, but by the way this news, and the expression of it has passed from person to person, particularly online. It’s been couched in a very particular way to generate the most possible outrage, and it’s done so.
It’s difficult to find a way to respond to that, because the people who are upset about that, much like the people who were upset about what they perceived as underage sexual activity – they just don’t want to hear it. It’s just too raw a thing for them, because anti-semitism is a real thing that they live with and battle against every day of their lives. The notion that Marvel would do this is so antithetical to them, and so aberrant to them, that they react very emotionally and don’t even want to hear what you have to say, they just want you to cut it out, for it all to be dismissed, or for it all to go away. And it is bad, and it is wrong – but it’s absolutely not what is going on in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1.
That’s how this became something bigger than we expected. We certainly knew with that reveal at the end of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 where Cap says "Hail Hydra!" would be shocking and unsettling, and take people aback, but we didn’t anticipate the sort of math that got people to the idea that it’s anti-semitic.
Nrama: Newsarama has already drawn our own conclusions about this – which some people are already disagreeing with – but just to clarify, straight from the horse’s mouth, is Captain America a Nazi?
Brevoort: No, Captain America is not a Nazi.
Nrama: He is a Hydra agent – or so it seems. We don’t think Marvel is suggesting Cap being a Hydra agent has been the secret 50 year plan that Stan Lee kicked off in Avengers #4, so when you suggest a retcon like this we think it’s fair to ask about its plausibility. So we’ll just ask flat out – is Captain America an agent of Hydra? Like, for real?
Brevoort: [laughs] I’m gonna say the same thing I’ve been saying. Captain America: Steve Rogers #2 will explain exactly why and exactly how we are where we are. And once that comes out in a few weeks, people will be able to understand what that last page actually means, and what it represents to the Marvel Universe moving forward.
At the same time, while I’d like to quell all the fear and the outrage about this, I have to protect the story, so I cannot tell you what that story is before we release the book. The answers to your questions are literally one issue away.
Nrama: So this will explain how hundreds of Captain America stories told over the last 50 years, many of which driven by his internal monologue, how that still allows him to be a secret Hydra agent?
Brevoort: Yes. Issue #2 is all about this very question. Literally, we wind the clock back and show you exactly what is going on, and exactly what has brought us to this point and what it’s all about.
Nrama: So would you say, at this point, there’s more that we don’t know about Captain America, or more that we don’t know about Hydra? Will this reveal a secret about Cap, or a secret about Hydra?
Brevoort: I don’t know that I wanna answer that. I appreciate you asking – these are good questions to ask. I’m playing it coy, because the easiest thing to do is just to tell you all the secrets, and maybe the controversy will all go away and calm down, but that doesn’t accomplish the needs of the story, or the storytelling. We’re gonna weather the storm for at least another few weeks. And then, hopefully, issue #2 will allow people to contextualize what’s going on, whether they want to be on this ride, whether they’re outraged or not, and what this all represents.
Nrama: Speaking of Steve Rogers in a more macro sense, you mentioned some of the things that have happened to himin recent years – he’s died, been replaced as Captain America twice in the last ten years.
Brevoort: He was turned into a wolf!
Nrama: Sam Wilson was turned into a wolf – again! And these aren’t necessarily new twists for Steve. Why is it that Steve seems to be the kind of character that’s easy to mess with in that way, to shuffle out of his role, or to ask these questions with, or change his status quo in these ways? Is there a question of Steve’s viability or marketability on the part of Marvel Comics?
Brevoort: No. If you look across the Marvel line, or just superhero comics in general, you’ll see the same thing happen elsewhere. Even way back in the ‘80’s, James Rhodes became Iron Man. Not War Machine – for a couple of years he was Iron Man, and a bunch of years later, he did it again when Tony was out and the status quo changed. Right now, Thor is a woman. Hulk is a Korean kid. We put our characters, particularly the longrunning characters, through a lot of changes, and a lot of status quos, and I think we do it with everybody – not just Captain America.
We’re focused on Captain America because that’s the issue that came out this week, but I don’t think it’s anything endemic to Captain America, or the idea, or salability of Cap. When you’re telling stories for 75 years about the same character, you’re gonna do different things and push them in different directions, and sometimes those directions are more radical than others. But it’s not solely a Captain America thing. At this point, you can look up and down the Marvel landscape, and virtually everybody has been changed in some way, shape, or form.
Nrama: You kicked off Secret Invasion by revealing Elektra as a secret Skrull. Now that readers know Cap’s secret, is there a chance there are more Hydra sleeper agents in their midst? Misty Knight did tell Sam Wilson that “Hydra has infiltrated everyone” during Rick Remender’s run on Cap. Was that the genesis of this idea?
Brevoort: It’s sort of the genesis of it, but that’s not where we’re going. That’s not to say there couldn’t be other Hydra agents, but that scene was written by Rick, and Rick had a story in mind he was going to tell, but then he left the title before he was able to get to it, leaving Nick Spencer to take over. And Nick sat down and had to figure out how to move forward and pay everything off. So that was kind of the genesis of the idea, which is Nick going “OK, if there was one Hydra sleeper agent, who would be the most dreadful person to reveal was working for Hydra?” and clearly that would be Steve Rogers. So is it an outgrowth of that scene? Yes, but it’s not a direct line.
This is not the story Rick would have done, so please, nobody send hate mail to Rick Remender over this. I was talking to Rick over e-mail last night, and also to Ed Brubaker on Twitter, and both of them have been besieged by people who are angry about this, despite the fact that neither of them have worked on Captain America in a number of years. People are looking for a guilty party, and they assume that, since Rick and Ed are associated with Captain America, they must be guilty. On the one hand, it’s funny to think about, but on the other hand, it’s kind of sad. Ed hasn’t been in the chair for five years. If you want to harass him about Criminal or Velvet, or his creator owned work, that’s fair, but leave him alone on the current Cap stuff. Go after me, or Nick, but don’t go after Rick, or Ed, or any other previous Captain America creator.
Nrama: I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Rick had any hand in creating or writing the story or this specific idea. But in long form narratives, especially comic books, there may be something that’s just a small bit or a throwaway line in one creator’s work that another creator sees something in and extrapolates.
Brevoort: Right, and that’s kind of what got us here. This story is Nick’s response or outgrowth to an idea that Rick introduced, but it’s not Rick’s original plan.
Nrama: Now that Cap has been revealed as a Hydra agent, do you think we’ll see some of the more hardcore “Team Cap” folks try to sympathize with Hydra? How long before Marvel employees start revealing themselves as pro-Hydra sleeper cells?
Brevoort: [laughs] I don’t know. After Grant Ward on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that’s kind of old hat. I think we’ll wait and see. We’re not that deep into the story yet obviously, but it’s not like the intention here is to make Hydra sympathetic. The intention is that the readers are now in on a secret that only Steve knows, which is that the most trusted, most respected hero in the Marvel Universe is now a viper in the bosom of the Marvel Universe, and that there’s a peril that every hero is in but is unaware of, but the reader knows all about.
And that’s a very interesting place to come from, or to craft stories from. This is only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger story that will eventually escalate into major prominence. That’s kind of the journey that we’re on.
But we’re not attempting to convert people to Hydra-ism in any way, shape or form [laughs].