Fans v Pros: You’re Doing it Wrong

Fans v Pros: You’re Doing it Wrong

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The Captain America Loves Hydra kerfuffle survived a three day holiday weekend filled with barbecues and hotdogs. I was a little surprised, but not entirely, because the whole matter (described here and here) touched all the nerves on an already uneasy populace. The incident ignited an ideological brush fire over identity, diversity in the comics industry, pro privilege, and fan entitlement. Many people argued about whether the latter even exists in the hierarchy we now have.

I myself have many complicated and warring thoughts – so many that I’m going to resort to the last refuge of the confused: bullet points.

Founder’s Intent. Before we get rolling on this, one thing you need to bear in mind: I am, by nature, inquisitive. I try not to take things at face value, but prefer to follow the trails left behind by pissing contests, money, or even stolen honey if we’re talking about Winnie the Pooh. Thus, one of the first things that set off my “You are jumping to an unfounded conclusion” alarm was when people claimed that a storyline where Captain America appears to be a Hydra agent was an offense against the creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who created the character specifically as a champion against the rise of Nazi anti-Semitism.

I debated this issue with someone in DMs and we both agreed that at the very least Stan Lee, who is also Jewish and was responsible for Cap’s resurrection in the ’60s, would definitely have no such qualms. As the above video from MegaCon shows, we were right on the money there! Stan was asked about the storyline and thought it was clever and could be the basis of a movie!

Now, Kirby and Simon aren’t here to tell their side of the story, and evidence that would indicate their approval or disdain for this storyline is mixed. As I wrote before, Kirby drew (and if you asked him about it, probably wrote) a story where Cap is mind controlled into becoming a Nazi (All the internal story evidence is that 2016 Cap is also being mind controlled with implanted memories, but that doesn’t negate offense at the whole concept.) Unless he drew the story under duress, it’s fair to assume that Kirby did not think that portraying Cap as evil in an 8 page story — the 1964 equivalent of one year of periodical comics — was an affront to the integrity of the character. That’s still only a guess, however. We’ll probably never know the truth.

I reached out to the Kirby family for comment on the matter, but they quite sensibly did not reply. However, Jim Simon, the son of Joe, did Twitter endorse Jessica Plummer’s essay detailing how the Cap-Hydra story offended her and the memory of the Holocaust.

Anyway, in regards to that Cap-salutes-Hitler story, it was pointed out by many that Jack Kirby was a WWII veteran who was well aware of the ramifications of the story, and thus was allowed to play with the tropes.

Chris Evans, the actor who portrays Captain America on screen and has admitted to many anxiety issues, posted his own tweet on the matter that was tabula rasa for projections of whatever you want to think. Some said it was outrage and anger. Others, including Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, said it was just a joke. I’m going to link to the Screen Rant summation of Gunn’s comments because it’s all buried in Facebook comments. Even as an inquisitive person, digging around social media for smoking guns is tiring stuff.

If anything sums up my attitude to the anti-Semitic aspects of the Cap/Hydra storyline it’s this comment from TCJ’s Tim Hodler:

Finally, this whole Captain America thing has really been a clarifying moment. Could this be the stupidest comics controversy yet? Not that the people complaining don’t have a certain point; it’s true that the new storyline (Captain America is revealed as a secret member of the evil terrorist organization Hydra) trivializes real-world problems such as white supremacists, fascist paramilitary groups, and anti-Semitism. But that criticism holds for any story featuring Hydra, regardless of whether or not Captain American is a secret member. And once you go that far, pretty much every colorfully costumed supervillain trivializes terroristic violence and every superhero is a travesty on vigilante justice and/or the police state. The genre is inherently messed up, politically speaking. So if you’re a fully grown adult morally offended by this latest plot twist, maybe it’s time to give up superhero comics — or at least broaden the critique?

X-Men Apocalypse contains a scene where the Catholic-raised, German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender plays Jewish Holocaust victim Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto and has a fight scene in Auschwitz. The trivialization runs deep.

A contest to go the lowest. When Gunn commented that:

If you’re a forty-year-old dude claiming a comics company ruined your childhood because of a plot twist, you might consider that your childhood really wasn’t that great to begin with.

he got a tiny bit of blowback, including one comment that suggested that his cat be put into a wood chipper. I’m not going to get into the human vs animal thing that’s going around, but that’s a seriously fucked up idea. However, it was far from the only grossly inappropriate response. Or even the first.

Marvel’s executive editor Tom Brevoort is often a target of fan ire because if you read his ongoing tumblr and interview comments you’ll see that he is, to be charitable, far from the most articulate advocate of progressive ideals. However, as far as I can tell, he is also a fairly what you see is what you get type guy. Given the firestorm of hate about the Cap/Hydra story, Brevoort admitted that perhaps the story was not for everyone, and he recalled earlier responses to controversial stories:

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.

And once again, as he has been many times before, Brevoort became the target of at least one very specific and disturbing death threat because of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, which he reproduced on Tumblr:

http://brevoortformspring.tumblr.com/post/145142699918/nothing-else-to-lose

 

Now a little flashback from me: in 1999 or so I worked at DC Comics. My office was next to that of editor Kevin Dooley, who had just killed off Hal Jordan after turning him evil in a Green Lantern storyline known as Emerald Twilight. I personally never cared for Green Lantern as a character, so I thought Kevin was rightfully tweeking a bunch of fans (mostly male) who took Green Lantern a bit too seriously. The fan outrage of the time, as expressed via written out letters and the primitive, hamster-powered internet of the day, was overwhelming outrage. Both Dooley and writer Ron Marz got death threats. As I started at DC, Kevin was actually on his way to leaving comics entirely (I believe he’s a school teacher now.) I’m sure there were many reasons for this, but I got the impression that the immense hatred for him created by Emerald Twilight storyline didn’t exactly make him want to stick around. The irony, as he told me, was that sales had dramatically improved over the course of the storyline (Just so you know that writers not liking dark storylines isn’t a new thing, there was a huge controversy at the time with writer Gerard Jones leaving the book over the plot.)

A pattern was born.

Now I know what you’re thinking. A cishetwhiteman leaves comics, not exactly cause for mourning. But there’s a larger meta here. I’m not sure when “death threats for unpopular comic book storylines” became a thing, but the proud tradition continued, as Brevoort suggested, with Ed Brubaker’s “Death of Cap” storyline. Brubaker also got death threats over the tea party banner in an issue of Cap. Dan Slott got death threats for doing things to Spider-Man. I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of an ugly trend perpetrated by troubled people.

Of course no ethical, sane person condones death threats. Plummer herself denounced them:

Some, however, expressed a certain “so what?” attitude:

Now, imagine that Alanna Smith, the female assistant editor on Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, had been the recipient of the death threat that Tom Brevoort received. It’s probably fair to say that we’d see an outpouring of think pieces about the very real fact that the internet and the world are immensely hostile for anyone who is not a cishetwhiteman. I understand the lack of outrage over privileged people being subjected to the same level of abuse many disenfranchised people regularly experience, but given my own history and exposure to the toxic reaches of fandom, I find the phenomenon deeply troubling no matter who the target is.

And that brings us to…

Fandom is broken…or the only thing that will save us. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I think every male comics pro that I’m friends with on FB had shared Devin Faraci’s think piece suggesting that fandom has gone too far with its sense of entitlement. And here is where the battle really began!

The old fan entitlement has been soldered onto the ‘customer is always right’ mindset that seems to motivate the people who make Yelp so shitty. I’m spending a dollar here, which makes me the lord and master of all, is the reasoning (I don’t even want to speculate about whether or not modern fans spend their dollars on licensed, legal products – that’s an essay for another weary day). It’s what makes people act like assholes to servers, and somehow it’s become the way ever-growing segments of fans are behaving towards creators. It’s been interesting watching so many people bring up Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the Captain America fracas; one of part of it is that their Jewishness allows angry, petulant fans to throw down a social justice bomb but it also speaks to how modern fans see many modern creators. They’re nobody compared to the ones who invented this stuff. The modern creator is the server, and they should be going back into the kitchen and bringing back a Captain America cooked to their exact specifications, and without any sort of complications or surprises. This is what fans have always wanted, but the idea of being consumers – people who are offering money for services rendered – only reinforces the entitlement.

Faraci’s own spotty history as a troll made it hard to take him too seriously, but his piece touched a nerve in a Marathon Man way (since we’ve been talking about Nazis.) Faraci’s claims were hardly a new idea. In fact, before the Cap thing kicked off, Jesse Hassenger wrote a piece for the AV Club called Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the strange entitlement of fan culture which covers much of the same territory, including female Ghostbusters backlash and the fan led #GiveElsaAGirlfriend movement, the alpha and omega of fannish demands:

Look, we all feel gratified when a movie, book, or TV show gives us what we want in the deepest recesses of our hearts. As a Girls fan who ships Marnie and Ray, believe me, I understand this. This is why artists, especially genre artists, like to tell fans that they’re the lifeblood of the operation—that they’re the reason these movies get made, that these shows stay on the air, that these books keep getting published. This kind of PR line is its own, almost insultingly direct form of fan service. Moreover, it also provides a kind of false empowerment, which in turn can lead to a very real sense of entitlement. James Rolfe didn’t see the 2016 Ghostbusters and share his opinion about how it works (or doesn’t work) as a film, or even as a remake. Instead, he thinks it’s reportable news that he doesn’t want to see it, because it presumably shocked his system a little to realize that maybe this movie wasn’t being produced with his particular wants and needs in mind.

Now we begin to get to what I see as the ideological fallacy that seems to have sparked all out war between creators and consumers. A significant and vocal segment of modern comics fandom is 100% invested in the idea that the US comics industry should produce stories that reflect the real world, where not every one is a cishetwhiteman. This is a laudable and necessary goal– an unstoppable movement that every comics publisher needs to take seriously. Advocates of this viewpoint quite rightly pointed out that equating death threats with calls for a gay Elsa is a false equivalence. But so is conflating discussions about suppressing the disenfranchised with discussions about fan entitlement, as they are not the same thing either. It is possible to examine the limits of fan entitlement without silencing much needed voices of representation.

“Fan entitlement” is a concept that goes back to the oldest, mostly privileged male roots of Science Fiction and Comics fandom. It has been discussed as a guy thing long before guys even admitted that women were part of fandom. The male pros who related to Faraci’s essay were responding to this long running phenomenon and not to Elsa’s sexuality or “coffee shop fanfiction.” The fact that Faraci muddied the waters with these examples make it harder to unpack, but there are many discussions of entitlement – an exaggerated expression of ownership of corporate culture by fans of any gender who insist that the creative act exists only to service their fandom – long before pop culture went co-ed. Here’s Neil Gaiman’s classic “Entitlement Issues” from 2009 on fans who were mad that George R. R. Martin did not spend his every waking hour chained to a typewriter.:

2) Yes, it’s unrealistic of you to think George is “letting you down”.

Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.

Bruce Campbell made a documentary called Fanalysis in 2002. Harlan Ellison wrote something called Xenogenesis about rude fans in 1990 (Ellison being Ellison, that piece created a lot of controversy similar to the one we’re seeing now.) Here’s a whole paper on fan entitlement.

I’m sure some people are rolling their eyes now because nothing defines privilege like Neil Gaiman, Bruce Campbell and Harlan Ellison. However the idea of what creators owe their fans is an ongoing issue that has been heated up to the approximate temperature of the heart of the sun by the real and imagined intimacy of social media. Over the last few days I’ve seen a lot of hostile Twitter behavior by fans and pros alike. There has been very little middle ground, or even civility. The discussion makes talking about gun control seem relaxing.

I understand why many comics readers want more representation in comics to create a more humane industry, but I’ve also seen some who seemed willfully dismissive of the idea that a male comics pro can have legitimate feelings of anxiety. Being told that you should not be upset about something that is upsetting is not a good vehicle for pointing out privilege. Your friends and peers just got death threats; this could be a rattling experience. The notion that no one should be told how to feel is, ideally, a two-way street. Even male comics pros have reasons to be insecure. On the overall scale of cishetwhiteman, comic book professionals are mid-ladder at best. They’re underpaid, overworked and toil in an industry where basic creative rights are constantly in retreat. Also, to be blunt, many of them suffer from depression and other mental issues on the spectrum. Do they deserve a cookie? No. Empathy? Maybe once in a while.

I understand that motivated fans are tired of being told they must listen to more privileged people. But is there no common ground here?

One of the traditionally attractive thing about comics is that the line between professionals and fans is so often blurred. You can go up and meet the greatest creators of all times many times a year, separated by only a narrow wooden table. Because comics creators are so accessible, they don’t seem much removed from their readers. I’m sure Chris Evans has lots of crazy fans and gets all kinds of weird threats. His character is also the subject of fanfic that depicts him in explicit sexual situations that he never consented to. No one ever questions that because he’s paid millions of dollars to look amazing and fuel those fantasies. He’s probably got a pretty good life, aside from when he has issues of anxiety. When he mentions those issues, he’s praised as a role model for being honest. However, whoever the real Chris Evans is is none of our business, really.

For better or worse, comics creators are not insulated from fandom in that way. We live in an industry where direct interaction with your fan base is seen as an utter necessity for having a successful career. THAT is why pros confront issues of fan entitlement more directly and take it more seriously, and to not even consider reflecting on this phenomenon is a form of entitlement in itself.

The mop-up. OKAY I’m running out of steam here. There were several very thoughtful responses to Faraci’s piece that refuted his false equivalencies while acknowledging some of the dark side of fandom. At the Daily Dot, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw wrote that Geek culture isn’t ‘broken,’ but it does have a harassment problem.

Fans and creators are still negotiating their boundaries online .

Fan entitlement, or something like it, can be hurtful—especially for creators who work on beloved franchises like Doctor Who or Star Wars, where fans feel a strong sense of ownership of long-running characters. But fan entitlement is an attitude problem, brought on by a lack of thoughtfulness and empathy. It’s not an umbrella term for every fandom reaction, from death threats to hashtag activism.

With social media increasing consumers’ access to producers, fans and creators are still negotiating their boundaries online. Sometimes, a handful of fans will wildly overreact to a creative decision and behave like immature dicks. Sometimes, a creator will misinterpret a piece of constructive criticism as a personal attack and freak out. Occasionally, a hashtag campaign like #OscarsSoWhite or The 100’s lesbian death backlash will start a productive conversation that might inspire real, positive change.

Women Write About Comics’ Megan Purdy responded with This Song Was Written By a Committee: What Devin Faraci Gets Wrong About Audience, Ownership and Power that gave more context to the power dynamics at play.

Social media is democratizing in that it amplifies the possibilities of disruptive speech. But it does not give material power to those who previously had none and it does not, by function, dissolve traditional power structures. Social media amplifies, it does not imbue.

Circling back to fandom: social media does not give over the means of production to fans; rather, it makes fans harder to ignore. GamerGate used social media to harass women. Frozen fans used social media to advocate for queer representation in children’s media. This is not a case of “both sides” using one neutral tool, or even a case of “two sides of the same coin.” #GiveElsaAGirlfriend is not the opposite of GamerGate; it’s not the good fans to GamerGate’s bad. The difference is not manners, it is power and violence.

When #GiveElsaAGirlfriend trended on Twitter, that was democratic disruption. The campaign shone a light on the lack of representation and toxic misrepresentation of queer people in children’s media, and it suggested a path forward. When GamerGate trended it was a terrifying reflection of what marginalized people have always seen in the internet: that we are not safe. That harassers and abusers too easily find support from the “reasonable.” That standing up for ourselves too often means painting a target on our backs.

Looking at Twitter over the last few days, one might come to the conclusion that NO ONE is “safe” on the internet, whatever that means. For someone, like me, who was raised on an egalitarian “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” model, the importance of power dynamics can be hard to parse. Two wrongs don’t make a right…but maybe they do? If a privileged person said something shitty once, is it okay to be shitty to them forever after? I don’t know where I stand on that. Our heroic fiction is based on trials and redemption, so it’s hard not to apply that narrative to real life, too.

Some folks out there are noticing that the pain on all sides has overflowed the banks of the original affront, as these tweets from Femmes in the Fridge’s El Anderson demonstrate:

If you click through you’ll see the entire conversation, and it’s a clear call for a cease fire.

A pretty good introduction to the development of intersectional thinking can be found in the New Yorker’s THE BIG UNEASY which looks at activism at Oberlin College. It’s hard for many well meaning people to understand that the goal of today’s social change is not “giving access” to the system, but establishing a whole new system.

It is sometimes said that the new activists are naïve about the demands of the real world. But as I talked with Eosphoros and Bautista and other students I began to wonder whether they were noticing an ideological incongruity some older people weren’t. A school like Oberlin, which prides itself on being the first to have regularly admitted women and black students, explicitly values diversity. But it’s also supposed to lift students out of their circumstances, diminishing difference. Under a previous ideal, one that drew on terms such as “affirmative action,” students like Eosphoros and Bautista would have been made to feel lucky just to be in school. Today, they are told that they belong there, but they also must take on an extracurricular responsibility: doing the work of diversity. They move their lives to rural Ohio and perform their identities, whatever that might mean. They bear out the school’s vision. In exchange, they’re groomed for old-school entry into the liberal upper middle class. An irony surrounds the whole endeavor, and a lot of students seemed to see it.

All of these ongoing conflicts in comics are part of the larger cultural ideological shift we’re undergoing. I think they’re amplified in comics by the looser boundaries of class, and some will find Purdy’s vision of an ongoing struggle of power dynamics so scary that they run away from it completely, thereby upholding the power dynamic of people who can run away and people who are stuck in a place without privilege forever. Anyone who is sick of listening to all of this is in for a looooooong slog. It ain’t going away, people. Even the concept of being nice is under review.

But maybe we can lower the flame a bit. A lot of mistakes have been made on all sides in the last few days. Some of them willful, some of them honest misunderstandings. A lot of them have been triggered blurts that a more mature outlook might have avoided. Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should, and that’s a lifehack everyone should at least consider as we navigate the stormy seas of change.

AND FINALLY: since this all started with concerns over anti-Semitism, perhaps some would be interested in exploring the Jewish roots of the US comics industry. Several books have been written about this, if you want to learn more.

 

      

Comments

  1. Silly but True says

    1. Creators need to make the art they want to make, using their characters they want to use, and telling the stories they want to tell. That’s their responsibility. (This is easiest for them when they own it.)

    2. Publishers, and primarily through their editors, need to publish the art they want to publish, enforce the standards they want to enforce, and be stewards of their properties in the ways they want to. That’s their responsibility.

    3. Fans need to buy or consume the art they enjoy. Where they consumed something and find criticism, they are rightfully free to criticize. Where they enjoy it, they should remember that the art creator also appreciates positive feedback too.

    4. Death threats are death threats, but not all internet flames are death threats. “I am coming to kill you over [X]” is a threat. “I hope your cat chokes on its own furball in terror as it falls into a wood chipper” is a rather inartful comment, but absolutely not a “death threat.” The latter is still damaging and abusive and hurtful, but also still not a death threat.

    Silly But True

  2. TheMonster says

    I find your points contradictory.

    You seem to agree that we could all benefit from some empathy and understanding. Yet, you spend good chunks of the piece actively pointing out how much you dislike white guys.

    “Now I know what you’re thinking. A cishetwhiteman leaves comics, not exactly cause for mourning. ”

    I wasn’t thinking that at all, I was thinking “That’s a bummer, I hope he’s happier at his new job.” – You know, cause I have some freaking empathy.

    If you spend your time actively hating large segments of the population, nothing is ever going to get better, in fandom, or life in general. THat goes for EVERYBODY.

  3. Blue Saint says

    Honestly this all has been fascinating to me since I am so far removed this whole kerfuffle, I have no social media presence what so ever. Frankly when I saw the spoilers for Captain America I thought the whole thing idea was silly and stretched even a funny-book’s sense of credulity. Hell the only time I brought it up was with my father, since he read Marvel comics back in the early 60’s and thought he would also find it funny Basically I saw a few pages and decided it wasn’t for me and left it at that. While I do not want to muddy the waters even more, I do feel that is an issue with fandoms, they can’t let things go. There seems to be this want to assimilate every new production and product into the larger whole; seemingly creating a richer tapestry. Although when something seems to taint or is incongruousness to that whole, a panic seems to ensue. It is here we get the standards: “it is ruined forever”, “you destroyed my childhood”, etc.

    The thing though the fandoms are just doing what the companies want them to do. All this “geekery” we surround ourselves in are aspects of commercial enterprise. Through various means those enterprises have cajoled us into believing a real fan would indulge in everything that is offered. It is the basic reasoning and success behind every crossover and event comic. Further more companies have tricked us into the equating the brand with the content. Marvel would like everyone to picture the current Cap is the same one as the Kirby/Simon Captain America. They aren’t. Since each and every run, story, issue, page, and panel is it’s own unique creation. Some of those creations are designed to be interwoven and create a larger entity. The idea is to think of Cap as a continuous identity, a “person”, The emotional connection that can be formed in that mindset is easier to exploit than admitting Captain America is really just a concept with a trademark. Conversely that emotional connection can also be turned against the company as we have seen here.

    Personally I think could be a great chance for everyone to examine how they relate and interact with media and products.

  4. says

    Another wonderful summation and worthwhile read, Heidi – thanks! Too bad TheMonster seemed to miss your point about cishetwhitemen (that when a CHWM leaves a job dominated by CHWM it doesn’t really affect diversity, not “I’m Heidi and I hate all CHWM!”), I think that willful misunderstanding you pointed out, when someone will often seize on any chance to take offense at what he or she reads (or listens to or views), is part and parcel of this online entitlement-as-bullying culture. I do suspect eventually we’ll find some sort of balance as more diverse creators and content start to become the norm and the last vestiges of punching-down prejudice die out (one hopes) with their perpetrators.

  5. says

    You sure don’t seem to like “cishetwhiteman” very much. In fact, take out every mention of “cishetwhiteman” in the article and replace it with “evil villain” and the meaning doesn’t change. Nice to know where we stand in your estimation.

    My take on the story is this: Of course this Cap is a clone, alternate universe Steve Rogers, etc. It will all be wrapped up in a nice little bow. The problem is how Marvel approaches Cap generally, and the writer. Marvel can’t stand the thought of a character being pro-American. That’s flag-waving and jingoism by god, and if you like the American flag, you have to be a beer-guzzling gun nut who lives in a trailer park. Also, if this story was written by Chuck Dixon, or Roger Stern or John Byrne, I would trust the writers to deliver a clever potboiler that pays off in the end and makes Cap into an even bigger hero. With Nick Spencer, a man on record saying “I hate Republicans,” I DON’T trust him. Not that I believe it, but the thought does cross one’s mind that to Spencer (and Marvel) Cap is a Hydra (Nazi) spy, has always been one, and loves being one. One expects contempt for conservatives and America from Spencer and his ilk, and he in turn rarely disappoints. So even if the story is ultimately harmless, the messenger is not. Would it be so bad to have an issue where Captain America fights a bad guy and loves America? To Marvel, you betcha.

  6. TheMonster says

    Elayne,

    I’m not trying to start shit, nor do I have any animosity toward you.

    I think this piece has some hostility toward “Cishetwhitemen” and it’s further odd that Heidi seems to think all of her readers and everyone she knows share that same hostility. “I know what you’re thinking…..”

    I don’t think this is productive. As Heidi says in this very piece: “Being told that you should not be upset about something that is upsetting is not a good vehicle for pointing out privilege.”

    We all like comic books right? Do we really have nothing that we can use a starting point of empathy and understanding between EVERYONE? That’s sad.

    .

  7. says

    This was well written piece Heidi.

    I don’t have a lot to say because I don’t buy these comics and have long ago stopped getting upset about them. The big two does these “shocking” story lines specifically to get a subset of fans (once dubbed Captain Yesterdays) angry. Their internet rage becomes free marketing and the more people who hear about said book (and how oh so controversial it is), the more that will buy it. Sales go up. The publishers (and creators) are happy and they do it again and again. It’s been going on for 25 years or so and it surprises me that readers still get upset about the next one, especially upset enough to send death threats.

    If upset fans really want to send a message of disapproval? Don’t talk about it and don’t buy the comic.

  8. Jim Simon says

    Yes, Heidi, I was and am offended by the story line. Hell, all I heard was Captain America was always a member of Hydra (Nazism) and is now as well. Do I have a right to find offense in that story line? Damn right I do. At the same time I am against death threats or any kind of violence against the writer or anyone associated with the story.

  9. Lucia says

    Reap what you sow.

    Death threats or any threat of violence is wrong. Criticism isn’t, even hyberbolic seeming ones. If you are offended as a creator because someone accuses you of racism, sexism, whatever-ism, by all means, get annoyed and defend yourself if you feel it warranted (or worth your time). But the idea that criticism should be weighed first as “worthy” before being shared isn’t a road I think should be encouraged or expected from fans, just how like ideas like Cap being Hydra all along shouldn’t be a decision made by referring to “focus” groups.

    Great article in its attempts to address as much perspectives as possible. I think there is a much more bigger problem in corporations pushing the envelope for shock value since unfortunately it’s been proven time and time over that it’s profitable. For me, that’s where the problem really lies. It sort of panders to the lowest denominator, on both sides of this coin, creator and fan alike.

  10. MBunge says

    “(All the internal story evidence is that 2016 Cap is also being mind controlled with implanted memories, but that doesn’t negate offense at the whole concept.)”

    FROM AN ARTICLE ON THIS VERY WEBSITE POSTED BY HEIDI.

    Writer Nick Spencer – “This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.”

    I am so very tired of all the geeksplaining going on here.

    If you like this twist, fine.

    If you don’t like it, that’s also fine.

    But the need to lecture other fans on how they should and shouldn’t react, to the point where you completely misstate the facts of the situtation, is pretty much indefensible. Yes, there’s no excuse for death threats but if internet outrage is good enough for a comic book store that decorates itself with artwork that some people find offensive, it’s certainly good enough for the people who decide to tell us “Captain American has always been a Hydra agent.”

    Mike

  11. George says

    Death threats to creators pre-date the Internet. According to Sean Howe’s book about Marvel, Chris Claremont got death threats for “killing” Jean Grey (in 1980) and Frank Miller got them for “killing” Elektra (in 1982). Howe wrote that Miller was so concerned, he went to the FBI about the threats he received.

    But the Internet has greatly escalated the volume of threats. In the early ’80s, you had to take the time (and trouble) to write a letter, put it in an envelope, buy a stamp, and mail it. Now you just push “send.”

    I was a Marvel superhero geek for 30 years (late ’60s to late ’90s). In that time, I read plenty of comics that I thought were stupid, pointless or just bad. But I never considered sending a death threat to a writer, artist or editor. Not even for the two-year Spider-Man “clone saga” in the ’90s. I just laughed off bad comics, and dropped books that weren’t working for me. I’ve never gone berserk and wanted to shed someone’s blood over a work of fiction.

  12. says

    Blue Saint said:

    “All this “geekery” we surround ourselves in are aspects of commercial enterprise. ”

    I realize this banal line of Marxist thought has yet to shuffle off the mortal coil, that it continues to drag itself from Internet essay to Internet essay like a legless mummy.

    But the fact is that no matter how one may try to define Captain America as an “aspect of commercial enterprise,” this is an invalid “outside definition,” proposed by someone who wants to reduce a given franchise to something predictable and determined by market forces and all that crap. None of this “culture industry” junk offers the slightest insight as to why people put down hard money for Captain America, or, for that matter, Love and Rockets, which is no less a “:commercial enterprise”– or anything that was ever sold for money.

  13. George says

    I’ve disagreed with Devan Faraci over various things (mainly movies) but I agree when he says a lot of fans don’t like drama or conflict, and have a “poor understanding of storytelling.” What they want are wish-fulfillment power fantasies, where heroes are perfect role models who win easy victories, are always happy, and have no problems that can’t be solved in 22 pages.

    In other words, they want today’s comics to be like DC’s were in the Silver Age, a time when most of the readers were children. Most of today’s readers aren’t little kids or adolescents. But they still want juvenile entertainment.

    I’ve heard middle-aged men say that the best thing a superhero comic (or movie) can do is to “make me feel like I’m 10 again.” Why do they demand this from today’s comics, which will almost always disappoint them? Most of those fans already have reprints or back issues of comics that came out when they WERE 10. Why don’t they just reread those?

    Oh, and it’s debatable that HYDRA and Nazis are one and the same. But I don’t feel like debating it now.

  14. says

    Tim Holder said:

    “So if you’re a fully grown adult morally offended by this latest plot twist, maybe it’s time to give up superhero comics — or at least broaden the critique?”

    Second verse, same reply as to the first.

  15. says

    Whatever the merits of the story,line with the whole Cap-Hydra schtick, maybe it would be a good idea to read the published work before deciding that it’s an offense to diversity?

  16. Blue Saint says

    How is anything I said Marxist? Did you solely use that term to conjure up the spirit of some philosophical boogeyman? Comic books are a commercial art form, they are meant to be sold and make a profit for the parties involved in their creation. At any point did I make any mention of that being somehow negative? Also at any point did I say it was silly to be moved or emotional invested in such a thing? Also I was commenting on the aspect of the story that involved fans claiming this ruined Cap. The stories that made people care and become emotionally invest are still there, untouched.

    Mainly I was trying to provoke some thought on the nature of brands in the wider geek culture. I mean would the new Ghostbusters movie be attack like is if it wasn’t called Ghostbusters? Or what about the Watchman characters being used in Rebirth? I was trying to bring up an aspect of this conversation that I haven’t seen addressed that much, but frankly interests me.

  17. Amphitrite says

    I honestly just want to know:

    Will Captain America/Steve Rogers remain a hydra agent? What does the jewish population have anything to do with it, when most causasions are german. I just want to understand what the race of anyone has to do with anything. Why is captain with his enemy? If we had switched races or anything it would still offend people. So why are people being offended by a hero that is a jew? Why are they not saddened by thought of him being in hydra rather than fighting against them? It’s like in some stories this happens so why are we not waiting to see how this all turns out and hope for the best?

  18. Al@ says

    I had never heard the term “cishetwhitemen’ until reading this, so something new for me there, thank you. The whole Hydra thing is nonsense, of course; a way to sensationalize and get people talking about a commercial property owned by a corporation. Excellent points raised in the article, Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough coverage!

  19. George says

    Not sure how this strayed into a discussion of “cishetwhitemen,” a term I had also never heard of before. I guess it’s popular in Heidi’s circle of hipsters.

    My take: “Privilege” comes from class as much as it comes from race, gender or sexual preference. When a student at an Ivy League university tells a working-class white guy to “check your privilege,” that idiotic student has just created a Donald Trump voter.

  20. Peter says

    Asked for an interpretation on The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco said: “‘The author should die once he has finished writing. So as not to trouble the path of the text.'” Now, the authors kids? Really, who gives a fuck? But of all the commentary on this storyline, the most worthless has to be the contortionism of offense-taking that is trying to manufacture anti-semitism out of a silly evil alternate twin plotline.

  21. Evan says

    One aspect that I don’t see being looked at here:

    We don’t know the percentages of those outraged who actually have read the comics and have a larger view of the character outside of just the movies, and those who just watch the movies and of course go no further.

    Because, as you’ve said, we’ve seen stories like this before. Not the first time Cap (or any other character) has been told they’re really a villain and “Everything you knew is wrong!”

    But, for all we know, those outraged are people who just need a nice little pat on the head, properly explain how this kind of story is actually cyclical for the industry, and why don’t they actually try reading the source material rather than just base every opinion they have based on the 3-4 movies they’re spending ticket money on which is really the only place constantly connecting Nazism to HYDRA.. Cause you know they’re not watching the animated cartoons which take just as many classic stories and put them on their TV screen, cause they’re above that.

  22. Oliver_C says

    Check my privilege? My ‘privileged’ “cishetwhitemen” ancestors were peasants, serfs and slaves in medieval England.

  23. RJT says

    I think it’s pretty privileged to have to go back to medieval times to find an example of oppression.

  24. George says

    RJT: Believe it or not, plenty of straight white guys in our time are not billionaires or corporate executives.

    Read Andrew Sullivan’s recent New York magazine essay, where he writes:

    “This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought.

    “For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. …

    “Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well.”

    There’s much more here:

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html

  25. RJT says

    George- I was commenting on Oliver’s remark that claims his ancestors being serfs in the Middle Ages disproves white privilege. Please try to confine your replies to things I’ve actually said, and not things you imagine I’ve said.

  26. Mikael says

    Interesting how the Simon Family’s response is brushed off with a simple ‘Anyway’ when it doesn’t fit the author’s agenda.

  27. JamesGilmer says

    Heidi is clearly trying to address multiple groups with this essay. The comments about “cishetwhitemen” are clearly meant to be directed at the people who would echo the sentiments that Heidi is flagging up, and she’s using that language to make those people pay attention and realize that this isn’t an abstract she’s talking about.

    Instead of getting hung up on those few asides, perhaps giving the essay as a whole the due it’s deserved would be worthwhile? Because there’s bits addressing fans, pros, certain kinds of fans, etc.

    And despite what Nick Spender says, and what he says is technically true, the use of specific colours in scenes set in the past, and during those times when Cap turns makes it clear that his memory or past is being altered…most likely his memory, and up until his restoration at the hands of a sentient cosmic cube created by Zemo in Pleasant Hill it can be assumed it was all the old Captain America, unaffected by the mind-control, but post that even it has “always” been Hydra!Cap because that’s the only self Steve remembers.

    Having a bunch of heroes inspired by Steve in the first issue (why else would Jack Flagg and Free Spirit be in anything in 2016?) is flagging up that someone is going to have to save Steve, Captain America, and his legacy from himself and his own altered memory.

    And as a Romany-Jew, it rather disgusts me that either side would create a moral high ground out of 11 million graves to throw punches at a comic book story.

  28. TheMonster says

    Wow. George left out the paragarph most relevant to this discussion.

    “Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”

  29. says

    Blue Saint, you said:

    “The thing though the fandoms are just doing what the companies want them to do. All this “geekery” we surround ourselves in are aspects of commercial enterprise. Through various means those enterprises have cajoled us into believing a real fan would indulge in everything that is offered. It is the basic reasoning and success behind every crossover and event comic. Further more companies have tricked us into the equating the brand with the content. ”

    You asked what you said that was “negative,” and I suppose that it was the word “tricked” that made me think you were quoting Marx/Adorno 101. I like to think I have no more credulity than anyone else about the reasons why entertainment-producers manipulate characters to various ends, but I don’t think of it as trickery, but as the strategy anyone– be it Marvel or Fantagraphics– has to pursue in order to sell something.

    But if it wasn’t your intent to invoke dusty old Marx, then I retract my accusation.

  30. says

    Here’s the thing about “fan entitlement”: when I buy Campbell’s Tomato Soup, I know what to expect. Ditto when I buy Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. I don’t call that sustomer entitlement, I call it fair practice, and it seems to work.

    Before buying a comic book, though, I have to check reviews and flip through the thing in a way I don’t need to to when buying either of the afore-mentioned items or novels by my favorite writers. That’s because comic book companies decided in the past few years that people who buy comic books don’t actually want what it says on the label. Mind you, back in the day when comics sold many more issues than today, when I bought a Captain America comic book, I pretty much got Captain America: a superhero who fought injustice and had the courage of his convictions. I generally closed the book (or the story arc) feeling inspired and optimistic.

    Using my soup analogy, Tom Brevoort’s editorial framework seems to be something like, “Let’s put Split Pea and Ham soup in cans marked Tomato, and Spanish Rice in boxes marked Mac ‘n Cheese. Sales will skyrocket! The only people who will complain are those who have obviously never bought packaged food before.” It’s no wonder comic book sales are generally down.

  31. Judge Holden says

    Very well said, Heidi, all of it. I stay away from the internet and fandom almost entirely aside from a few interviews with creators and articles like this one. People apparently behave disgustingly on this Twitter thing, it seems useless to me. Thanks for filling me in on this bullshit, it’s too bad your article is so nuanced and the issues involved so complex that most people aren’t really going to get it.

    I for one live partially in a fantastical mythological reality that I check in with every couple of weeks or so. I’ve been visiting since I was 5 years old. Steve Rogers is kind of a friend of mine. He’s been through some crazy shit, but Cap always prevails. I’m sure he’ll be fine in a few months.

    (Oh, yeah, totally Ivy League educated straight white dude, here. But I listen to a lot of Freddie Gibbs. Does anyone really care?)

  32. George says

    Today’s superhero fans desperately need to develop a sense of humor about their funnybooks. They should do what fans did in the Silver and Bronze ages: laugh at storylines and characterizations they perceive as silly or misguided. Make fun of it, ridicule it. But don’t get mad and send hate mail to creators. And don’t keep buying books you don’t like.

    The level of anger and hatred I see on so many comic sites is dismaying. Judge Holden’s comment is one of the most sensible I’ve read on the Cap issue.

  33. Skottie says

    “Before buying a comic book, though, I have to check reviews and flip through the thing in a way I don’t need to to when buying either of the afore-mentioned items or novels by my favorite writers.”

    This hobby seems way too exhausting for you. Time to call it quits.

  34. abc says

    the purpose of a comic book first issue is to get the buyer to buy the second issue. marvel in this regard has done it’s job. what i don’t understand is all the lunacy surrounding this first issue. now if this was the last issue of the story line that revealed that cap has always been a hydra/nazis agent and will continue to be so for all time, i could see the uproar, but we have to wait for the story to end to see how it all turns out. my guess, the red skull has prof. x’s powers and he is using said powers to implant false memories into steve rogers to have him believe that he has always been a hydra/nazis agent since childhood and having him do all kinds of nasty things (we’ll have to see if cap really did kill jack flag or not) in the name of hydra. a direct mind attack would not work as cap and others train against such attacks. this line of attack is far more insidious and subtle than mind control, having the victim actually believe they’ve been a certain way with certain beliefs all along. so will someone have to come along and save cap, by appealing to his sense of good and right, or will rogers’ iron will be enough to break the spell the skull has cast over him. as they say in the comics, to be continued (for at least the next six or so months that this story line will unfold), and have a little faith, marvel is not about to take one of their most visible properties and turn him into a hydra/nazis agent forever.

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