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Marvel Entertainment on Monday announced — via The New York Times, of all places — that Captain America will quit being a fascist as of this week’s Secret Empire No. 10., the penultimate issue of the summer event comic book series.
As an announcement, it’s far from a surprise. Not only did most fans expect that the revelation that Steve Rogers was actually an agent of fascist movement Hydra in last year’s Captain America: Steve Rogers No. 1 was, at most, a temporary turn of events, but Marvel had already announced at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con that the Captain America series would gain a new writer and artist as part of its upcoming Marvel Legacy relaunch, with the publisher releasing solicitation text that talked about the character seeking “to restore his tarnished reputation.” As a result, the idea that Captain America has decided to quite being a fascist hardly feels particularly newsworthy, never mind New York Times-worthy.
And yet, perhaps it requires that amount of attention, at least in Marvel’s eyes, because the reveal that he was — temporarily, at least — pledging allegiance to fascist ideals and engineering a fascist takeover of the United States got so much mainstream media attention and drew as much outrage and pushback as it did. This way, at least, audiences who aren’t reading the comic know that Captain America can, once again, be called their hero.
“We understood the story would challenge readers, but we also know how it ended,” Marvel’s comic book editor-in-chief Axel Alonso is quoted as saying in the Times piece. It’s worth remembering that, as the core Secret Empire series launched in May, Marvel made the unusual move of issuing a statement asking fans to “allow the story to unfold before coming to any conclusion.” Talking to the Times, Alonso said that the company “thought the story had something important to say about democracy, freedom and the core American values that Captain America embodies.”
That’s potentially true, but given the events of Secret Empire, it’s difficult to read that commentary as being particularly patriotic. The setup of the storyline sees the assembled superheroes of the Marvel universe being manipulated into giving the fascist incarnation of Captain America — the result of history being rewritten via a cosmic MacGuffin — total control over police, military, intelligence and superhuman forces, before revealing himself to be an agent of Hydra. After he does unmask himself (ideologically, at least), the majority of the country apparently willingly embraces the fascist ideology, with scenes being shown of high school students giving Nazi-esque salutes in Hydra’s honor and concentration camps being set up for the Inhumans living in society, seemingly without too much complaint from society at large.
The superheroes fight back — it’s a superhero comic book, of course they do — but their victory doesn’t arrive as the result of a moral superiority, or even strategic planning; instead, it falls to the same MacGuffin that created the fascistic incarnation of the hero to put things right, fueled by villains switching sides in the interests of self-preservation.
Nonetheless, as of Wednesday, when Secret Empire No. 10 hits shelves — the 12th issue of the series, unexpectedly, thanks to there having been both a No. 0 and an unnumbered Free Comic Book Day special issue in May, with the final issue of the series similarly unnumbered and called instead Secret Empire Omega — Captain America will be restored to heroism once again.
Whether Marvel can manage to restore fans’ faith in his moral superiority in subsequent stories or his flirtation with cartoon fascism — at a time when the country feels under siege from the real thing — will be too much for some to stomach remains to be seen, and may end up being the most newsworthy aspect of all.
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