Everyone is freaking out about what Captain America said last week, but few noticed the controversy Batman dug up.
To get this out of the way, there will be SPOILERS for current Marvel Comics and DC Entertainment storylines.
That said, you’ve probably heard about both by now on social media (if comic books are among the kinds of things that show up on your feed).
Here’s what we’ve got:
In This Corner
Steve Rogers recently resumed the mantle of Captain America (though he’s sharing it with his former partner Sam Wilson – hey, there are also three Spider-Men running around Marvel). In the first issue of his all-new, all-different series, Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, it is heavily implied that Steve was indoctrinated into Hydra as a child, and has secretly been loyal to that Nazi-connected organization ever since. He even said as much.
And In This Corner
Meanwhile, in DC Rebirth #1, heroes are finally starting to notice what fans have known since 1986: their whole universe makes no sense. Several heroes are years younger than they should be, nobody remembers the heroes of WWII anymore, some heroes who were very publically dead are walking around like nothing happened, and some heroes who were very much alive just vanished from everyone’s memory. What caused all this? Batman unearthed a clue in his Batcave, an artifact that could unravel everyone’s understanding of the universe. Someone is being watched by Watchmen.
Why Marvel’s Revelation Isn’t As Big Of A Deal As You Think It Is
Okay, so Captain America is a Hydra agent. The implication is, Captain America has always secretly been a Nazi.
First off, Hydra is not technically a Nazi organization. In its earliest appearances, Hydra was more closely associated with Cold War fears, and thus could be considered akin to a communist terrorist group. Although it was longest led by a Nazi war criminal, Baron Strucker, even Strucker made a big deal about distancing the Hydra branch he’d formed in the 1940s from the “failed” ideologies of the Führer. Plus, it has since been revealed that Hydra is connected to a much older cult of prophecy going back at least to the ancient Egyptian empire. So yeah, not a Nazi.
Second, and this is going to sound silly, it’s a comic book. I don’t mean that “this doesn’t matter because it’s fiction,” because then why would I bother putting so much time and effort into this sort of thing? What I mean is, comic books are built on sensational stories. Captain America was publically declared dead at least six times. After his last “death” Marvel was adamant that he was going to stay permanently dead. He got better. Here, let’s have this explained by Dan Slott (via Twitter), the man who “permanently killed” Peter Parker and replaced him with the villainous Doctor Octopus – a status quo that lasted over two years.
And he’s right.
When Spider-Man was taken over by Doc Ock, Spidey comics were suddenly more unpredictable (and profitable) than ever. And when the storyline was over, Peter Parker returned and was forced to grow from the experience.
More importantly however, it’s highly unlikely Cap was “always” secretly evil as, to be frank, he’s a soldier in war. Part of war is spying. Part of spying is deception. Steve’s longest-lasting girlfriend, Sharon Carter, spent years under so much deep cover as a Neo Nazi, even Steve thought she was dead. She got better.
Before you get mad over Captain America, remember: They will make Cap great again.
Why DC’s Revelation Is A Bigger Deal Than You Think It Is
Okay, so to casual comic book readers, or people who only watch the movies, the idea that Doctor Manhattan of Watchmen fame is manipulating the universe is no big deal. So a DC character messed with other DC characters? So what? Here’s the rub: DC owns Watchmen due to a legal loophole.
See, back in the early 1980s, when comic books were really starting to grow up, Alan Moore was an up-and-coming big shot with some critically acclaimed indie comics under his belt, and groundbreaking runs on Marvel’s Captain Britain and DC’s Swamp Thing.
He came to DC and offered to write a story that would challenge everything we believed about superheroes, and he almost did it with characters DC bought from defunct Charlton Comics. Had he done so, he could have perverted and twisted characters like the Question and Blue Beetle to the point that they’d no longer be viable for mainstream DC. Instead he and artist Dave Gibbons created wholly new characters and completely deconstructed comics in 12 issues.
The deal was, a few years after Watchmen goes out of print, the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons. This wasn’t unheard of at the time, and is still very similar to what modern vanity press publishers do. There was a catch few had foreseen though: Watchmen was the first comic book to stay in continuous publication.
Because Watchmen continues to get re-released year after year, DC maintains all rights to the characters and concepts. This has rankled Moore, but is technically legal. After decades of negotiating with Moore fell through, DC went forward with several prequel stories a few years ago without Moore, the Before Watchmen series of series.
That brings us to the present day. DC owns Watchmen free and clear, as far as most outsiders can tell, so incorporating those characters into the main DC Universe is doable – but it also means Watchmen will likely stay out of Moore’s hands for perpetuity. For his part, Moore swears he’ll never work for DC again. (He also swears he’ll never work for Marvel, but that’s for unrelated legally questionable moves.)
Around the same time Watchmen was breaking new ground, DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths which reshaped and nominally streamlined their universe. The problem was, some stories got fresh new starts, like Superman and Wonder Woman, while others like Batman and Green Lantern still had decades of continuity baggage. DC tried this again a few times, notably with Zero Hour which was intended to fix some problems, while creating entirely new ones (poor Hawkman), and Flashpoint, which completely restarted the universe – except for heroes like Batman and Green Lantern.
And so the problem remained. Now the implication is that Doctor Manhattan, who famously excited his own world saying he would create new universes, may have messed with time and space, causing all of the nonsensical storylines, duplicate characters (poor Hawkman), and erased histories. It’s unclear to what extent Manhattan was involved – whether this is a recent thing or whether he’s been messing with the multiverse since Crisis – but it’s odd that a misleading (though legally sound) contract SNAFU allows an explanation for stories that just didn’t make sense.
All this means the inclusion of Watchmen into the DC Multiverse is an actual game-changing event for DC. Letting the big naked blue guy genie out of the bottle is something that can never fully be undone, so for one of the few times in comic book publishing, they can honestly say this will change DC comics forever.
Plus, maybe we’ll get a Batman vs. Rorschach someday.
So What Should You Get Upset About?
Unless you’re Alan Moore? Probably not much. (And if you are Alan Moore – contact me!)
Captain America is still Captain America. Whether he’s suffering from a flawed Super Soldier Serum, trapped in a life-sustaining metal suit,turned into a werewolf, replaced by an actual Nazi, aged into an old man, de-aged into a teenager, or claiming to be a Hydra agent, he’s still the most decent and respected man in costumed comics.
Current DC creators may be able to use Watchmen characters because of the ethically questionable activities of DC head honchos in the 80s, but they do have every right to do so – and the stories will probably be pretty damn interesting as a result.