Respect Your Audience

Apr 28, 2017 | Opinions

So… have you heard about the raging dumpster fire that is the newest comic iteration of Captain America? If not, you can go here for the short version, plus a little more context on why it’s a dumpster fire etc etc. Very long story short, Captain America is now a Nazi.

I think I’ve said all I want to say about the very concept of turning a character like Steve Rogers into a Nazi. But I’ve seen some reactions to it and I’m alternatively annoyed and enraged, especially by the writer of this abomination, Nick Spencer.

It’s entertainment, it doesn’t matter!

No. NO. All art is political, whether you want it to be or not, because nothing is created in a vacuum. Narratives matter, wherever they’re told, and if you don’t think that, you’re a goddamn idiot. Our whole world is created and controlled by the stories we tell and re-tell.

Maybe Cap’s just a comic book character to you. Maybe he doesn’t matter to you. Stop being such a fucking narcissist and accept that he means something to a lot of people, even if you’re not one of them.

They’ll just retcon it back to normal later.

Really? This is an admission that those assholes at Marvel decided to ruin one of their best characters for the worst kind of greed. This is an admission from them that all the emotional attachment that the fans have for Captain America doesn’t mean shit, because they’ll throw it all away on a moment’s notice to drum up some controversial publicity.

This makes Marvel look like the worst kind of corporate whores.

Why don’t you give it a chance?

Why the actual fuck would I? I don’t have to entertain every single what-if as a valid plot. I’m a writer, for Athena’s sake, I know the structure of good narrative. I know some stories should not be written because they are, at their very core, a betrayal of the audience. I’m not obliged to give such stories a chance.

I don’t care if such stories are told well. As an alternative example: the new Ghost in the Shell movie. I’ve been reliably informed that it has stunning visuals and a great soundtrack and it’s pretty watchable. I will still – STILL – call it a shit movie and I refuse to watch it, because no fancy graphics or music can change the fact that making Major Kusanagi a white woman is unforgivable. Doing that one thing is enough to rip out a part of who the character of Motoko Kusanagi is, leaving nothing but a shallow clone carrying a name she doesn’t deserve. I will not have my love of the original manga tainted by an imposter.

Hollywood pulls shit like this every other week so I’m growing pretty numb to it, frankly, but that doesn’t make it any less of a crime.

But Hydra isn’t really the Nazis, they’ve been around longer than–

Shut up. They’ve been Nazi analogues for decades. The Red Skull, Cap’s arch-nemesis, is a goddamn Nazi. Captain America was created to fight the Nazis. You can retcon the comic continuity all you like but you can’t erase the actual history of how Hydra have been written, likely since before you were born.

So… the thing that is making me unreasonably angry about all this is the reaction from Nick Spencer. Before I properly marshall my thoughts, let me say this much: if I were a less articulate individual, this part would consist entirely of swearing and calling him every insult I know in every language I know. But let’s move beyond that and see if I can describe just why I’m so angry.

The first reason is that I could spend five minutes with Scrivener open and only the use of my nose to type, and I could come up with a better premise for a Captain America story. Making the Cap a Nazi (excuse me, a fake in-universe even-worse-version of the Nazis) is the laziest, most idiotic bad-fan-fiction premise I’ve ever heard.

The second reason is that Spencer is a reactionary man-child who can’t seem to take any criticism without whining, and who put a bunch of villains called the Bombshells into Captain America: Sam Wilson #17 who talk and act like liberal activists. And they’re throwing grenades at a Marvel Universe copy of Ann Coulter. I can’t even describe how utterly bullshit that is.

The third, and maybe the biggest reason, is that doing this is the most tone-deaf nonsense I’ve ever witnessed in modern comics. Neo-Nazis are on the rise across the world. The US elected a dyed-in-the-wool, endorsed-by-the-KKK racist to the White House. The spectre of fascism and bigotry and hate crime is hanging over a lot of people’s heads. And you’d think, maybe, that the people who are afraid of whether they’ll live to see the next US president be elected might want some kind of symbol that truth, justice and freedom still mean something in America.

They don’t get that. They get Captain America, the Nazi. And Spencer defends it because he’s got his vision, and he wants to tell a particular story, and fuck the fans who aren’t on board with that story because they’re not edgy enough. He’s even doubled down on this bullshit by making Magneto, the Holocaust survivor, affiliated with Hydra.

What I despise about all this is the contempt, and disrespect, that Nick Spencer shows towards the fans of Captain America. Marvel as well, of course, but he’s the writer. This is on his shoulders.

There is a thing, in fan fiction, where writers will break the canon sideways for the sake of a story. This is dangerous because the fans, the audience, have expectations that the canon will be followed, and a major break is often more than they’re willing to accept. If the writer is going to go there, then they’re asking for a degree of trust. “Read this,” they say. “I know it doesn’t look good now, but I promise you, it’ll be worth it. You just have to trust me.”

That trust doesn’t come easy. It has to be earned. Write the story well, prove you know what you’re doing, and most importantly, be humble in response to the fandom’s concerns, and you get even more leeway the next time around. And the gods alone help you if you don’t respect it, if you think it’s a given. A fan fiction community will turn on a writer who abuses their trust, or treats their concerns with contempt, in a heartbeat.

Much of comics is paid fan fiction, at this point. Maybe, just maybe, I could accept that this could be a story worth telling; that it’s highlighting a greater truth, that America has always had a core of racism, and pretending it was somehow pure and just is a lie. But Spencer is showing that he hasn’t got the chops or the attitude to pull it off. He’s treated the audience badly, he’s earned nothing, and he’s like every other butt-hurt writer I’ve seen who gets flamed to hell and back for their arrogance. All signs point to this being a bullshit hack job to drum up comic sales. Whatever worth it holds is more than likely accidental.

In conclusion…

Honestly, I don’t know if I even have a conclusion. I’m just pissed off. It’s one thing to punch down, when you’re telling a story, but it’s something else to completely shatter the fans’ trust, spit on their love for a character, and mock them for being angry about it.

It’s cruel and asinine. It shows that a writer is unworthy of the audience they’ve been given.