I grew up with heroes. Sun Wu Kong, Perseus, Thor (the god not the comic book character), Bellerophon, the Eight Immortals, Justice Bao, Heracles, David. The list goes on and on. As I grew older, I found different kinds of heroes: Kusanagi Makoto, Batman, Okumura Rin, the Punisher, Deunun Knute. And, yes, Captain America.
People need cultural heroes. They want to see the triumph of good over evil, virtue over vice. They want to see the wicked punished and the just rewarded. They want to see brave and resourceful people overcome impossible odds. It’s a universal trait, seen in every culture around the world.
People want to believe. They want to be inspired. By reading of heroes doing great things, they can believe that they, too, can achieve great things. When they see heroes smite the wicked, they can believe that they, too, can be agents of righteousness in the world. When they see heroes outwit, outlast or outtalk the enemy, they can believe that they, too, can achieve such greatness.
Belief in virtue is a powerful thing. From such belief we have Martin Luther King Jr., Chiang Kai Shek, George Washington, the Righteous Among the Nations, Sophie Scholl, the Four Chaplains. The everyday unsung heroes.
Never underestimate the power of belief. Never underestimate the power of stories to inspire greatness.
And so, with a heavy heart, I read of Nick Spencer perverting Captain America, turning him from incorruptible paragon to insidious mole.
The Triumph of the Message
Amidst the Sturm und Drang over the revelation of Captain America being a Hydra agent, one small detail was almost left out: the Red Skull, the leader of Hydra. Here’s what he had to say:
“I have just come from Europe — my homeland, in fact. And do you know what I saw there? It was an invading army. These so-called ‘refugees’ — millions of them — marching across the continent, bringing their fanatical beliefs and their crime with them,” Captain America’s nemesis says. “They attack our women, and bomb our cities. And how do our leaders respond? Do they push them back and enforce the borders, as is our sovereign duty? Of course not. They say, ‘Here, take our food. Take our shelter. Take our way of life, and then take our lives.’ Despicable.”
“Your entire culture is under siege,” Red Skull continues to an American audience. “The principles your country was founded upon lost in the name of ‘tolerance.’ Your religion, your beliefs, your sense of community — all tossed aside like trash. And you cannot even speak out against it, lest you be called a bigot!”
This is the rhetoric of American conservatives, the alt right, and European nationalists. Spencer clearly wants to criticise right-wing ideology in his comic. And he isn’t afraid of how much history he has to pervert.
Hydra’s goal is world domination, to implement a fascist new world order. One would imagine that Red Skull would welcome mass illegal immigration and terrorism. This would undermine borders and faith in national governments, creating the conditions that would allow Hydra to step in. Hydra’s ideal recruits would be people who believe in its dream of a united world, run by ubermenschen like themselves, and are willing to commit terrorism. In all the depictions I have seen, Red Skull does not see himself as an American or a German or a European or anything but the leader of Red Skull — and yet here he speaks like an ultranationalist.
Captain America is a paragon of American virtue. I imagine that by some twisted leap of logic, he must also also be an American ultranationalist zealot.
This story concept is weak. It is inherently flawed. Why would a globalist organisation start spouting nationalist doctrine? Why would an organisation hell-bent on world domination espouse ideas that would further divide the world and make it harder for it to achieve its goals?
Spencer wants to portray Hydra as a right-wing organisation inspired by modern nationalist thought. But he doesn’t understand the international right-wing movement. Right-wing parties want to end immigration — and the crime and terrorism that follows mass illegal immigration — and rebuild their societies. They do not care about world domination or invading other countries; they want to restore the days of glory. While there may be cooperation between nationalists and ultranationalists across borders, they aren’t out to rule the world; they’re out to kick out the outsiders and enforce their national sovereignties. Their alliances are built upon opposition to globalisation and supranational organisations like the European Union. It is logically inconsistent for a terrorist group that aims to unite the world under its rule to support an ideology that would keep the world fractured into sovereign states.
And what if this Hydra is now an ultranationalist organisation? Then the question I must ask is: which nation is it supporting? Why does it have a German leader attempting to recruit Americans? Why would it want to poke its nose into the affairs of other nations? Ultranationalists have a national scope, globalists have a global vision; this Hydra is somehow both nationalist and globalist, a walking contradiction that cannot exist and survive for long. Not in the real world and not in fiction.
I have no doubt that Spencer and his allies intend to resolve this story arc by preaching the triumph of the ideology opposed to nationalism: globalism, tolerance, diversity. The same ideology that Hydra — the original Hydra — would have to embrace to be a world-spanning international terrorist organisation with one vision and one goal.
The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. Spencer sacrificed story logic on the altar of politics. No doubt the ‘revelation’ of Captain America’s secret betrayal would generate international controversy — which would ideally push sales — but the story is doomed from the start. Hydra is the core of this story, and Hydra is not logically consistent. If the core of the story cannot hold, the rest of it must fall. Such is the fruit of placing message over story.
A Return to Virtue and Glory
Spencer placed message over story, and the story will fail. We have seen this again and again and again, from dishonouring the original Thor (the comic book character) to create a female Thor, Spider-Woman risking her baby to fight crime while pregnant, to lazily inserting self-censored postmodern commentary into the mouth of a Norse god without having the guts to actually articulate these words or explain why the god would care about modern society.
The intellectually honest thing to do would be to create new characters, new antagonists and new franchises. New worlds with internal consistency and the freedom to fully explore ideas and themes without being shackled by established canon or fan expectations. Instead, a number of ‘creators’ chose to subvert existing heroes, and now they chose to turn a hero into a villain.
This is why I stand with Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. Stories must come first; messages mean nothing without strong stories. This is why I stand with the Superversive and Human Wave movements. Stories can be a force for good in this world. These ideas underpin my stories, and if they put me at odds with the world, I am proud to oppose.
Social Justice Warriors wish to end the old age of heroes. Now they are converging on pop culture and twisting the popular heroes of my youth. There is only one solution.
Make new heroes.