June 26, 2017
Minor Threat: History of distrust of superheroes informs Hydra Cap backlash
By T.K. McNeil
When the recent Secret Empire Marvel event re-coned Captain America as a Hydra double-agent, tossing aside his entire history fighting Red Skull, fans across the nation balked in unison. Though said fans were also under 30 and/or American. The history of comics has an undercurrent of distrust in super heroes dating back to the mid-1980s. The first noticeable instances were in the revamp of Swamp Thing by Alan Moore and the Miracleman reboots written by Moore and Neil Gaiman. Moore’s rendition included a horrifying depiction of the state of devastation that would surely follow even the most minor scuffle between super-beings. Gaiman took a characteristically different approach, his issues having almost nothing to do with superheroes directly, being a meditation on the dilemmas that can come with absolute power. As Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons said with regard to superheroes they are “sort of admired but probably feared.
A sentiment that comes up a different way with another Moore creation, John Constantine. Constantine was meant to be the opposite of what a comic book character was thought to be at the time of his creation. He was snide, mortal, had shaky morals and aged in real time. Despite his lack of heroic motivation, the character was written well enough to still be tolerable to the sensibilities of comic book fans, making him one of the first successful anti-heroes. It was not until Brian Azzarello did his first run from 2002 to 2004 that Constantine was portrayed as unrepentant sinner rather than reluctant, flawed Saint. Then again Azzarello is American and Moore, Gaiman and Gibbons are all English.
There is something going on in the cultural divide between Britain and the U.S. that allows the Brits to be more self-reflective and self-deprecating. Characters like Tank Girl and John Constantine could never have come out of America, or even have a decent Hollywood movie based on them according the available evidence. The only real example of a distrust in superheroes done by an American is in the Anarchy storyline of POWERS by Brian Michael Bendis and even then superhero skeptics were treated as the antagonists
“Hydra Cap”, despite being a decent idea, fell flat for a few reasons. For the most part, it is simply because Cap is so old and established, having been around nearly as long as the comic book medium itself. Not helping matters is the straight-forward literalism with which American culture and audiences tend to approach things. Pulling a quick-change like having Captain America declare himself a traitor boarders on shocking. Like if the Queen of England pulled off her human mask and revealed herself to be a lizard-person. It goes so hard against established reality as to be next to unfathomable.
Had the event been written by someone like Grant Morrison or even Warren Ellis it may have worked better but as it stands the basic suspicion and distrust required for such a gambit to pay off, while well established the in British Pop. Culture and making some headway in the States, has yet to take root in the American fandom who still, for the most part, prefer their heroes to be stalwart and true if also complex.