The Fury of a Retcon: Captain America


Gone are the days where I could pick up a comic book and have absolutely no idea that a major event was going to occur. Even if a major magazine or newspaper were reporting about the event, I could simply not read the media source. The interconnectivity of the Internet has changed that for comics, as well as movies, music and television.

It was without warning or any expectation that Facebook greeted me this morning in the “trending” category with the news that in the new Captain America comic book series, Steve Rogers is revealed to be an agent of Hydra.

According to Marvel Comics’ executive editor Tom Brevoort, it’s not that Rogers has turned evil and now has joined up with Hydra. Apparently, Rogers — the physical embodiment in comic books of America — has always been a member of Hydra.

Controversy! I feel the fury that only a retcon can bring coming off you already, reader. Allow me to explain this decision. Brevoort tells us that in the 1920s, Rogers and his mother were recruited by Hydra which, at the time, were going around and recruiting the poor and underrepresented with promises of… well, I suppose something better. It was sheer Hydra luck that young Rogers would end up in the Super Solider program and ultimately become one of the greatest heroes of all time, Captain America. But he was apparently the greatest double-agent of all time as well.

This isn’t a Skrull or some clone or robot or alternate reality Cap. It’s the Steve Rogers we’ve known all our lives. We are encouraged to go back and review all previous years of Captain America comic books. With our new understanding of the character, Brevoort insists, Cap’s motivations over the years become crystal clear.


Hydra recruitment.



Hydra only allows five minutes.


And don’t forget:


For Hydra.

But the motivations aren’t as clear as Brevoort states. It’s an easy trick of the mind to keep an idea at the forefront of our attention while revisiting old material. Thinking “Steve Rogers of Hydra” while reading old Captain America books will make you see him — possibly — as a villain. By that same token, why not reread every single old issue of Iron Man while thinking “Tony is always drunk”? Now every single action, activity and adventure — not just the “Demon in a Bottle” arc, which took place in 1979, 16 years after his first comics appearance — can be read with a rudimentary belief that Tony is sloshed.

Breevort also said something about the unusual nature of politics and presidential candidates today and how they influence the verbiage of one character in this series. Because comics should be just like real Life and not serve as an escape or a guide to how we can strive to be and achieve our best.

The answer to the question in your minds is, Yes. Yes, this is a gimmick. Just like Rogers’ “death” in 2007. Nobody thought then that Rogers would be left as a corpse. The reasonable bet is that Rogers’ status as a Hydra agent won’t last forever.

It’s fun to note that Marvel is celebrating Captain America’s 75th anniversary this year. What better way than to warp everything we’ve ever known and celebrated about the character than to alter the foundation of it. I can’t wait until I turn 75 so I can be retconned as a Brony.

Ultimately, the furor over this plot twist is misplaced.

These changes may be for the birds and do go against Cap’s backstory and the reasons his creators brought him into existence, but any emotional reaction only fuels Marvel’s continuance of this new version of Cap. They’re looking for anger, looking for you to be upset. That’s attention.

There are two appropriate responses here.

The first is to let your money talk. Don’t buy the issues. Don’t read articles by Marvel about how this version of Captain America interacts with the Marvel Universe. Don’t buy any issues of the Captain America: Steve Rogers series or any crossover books in which HydraCap appears. Pay no mind to baiting advertising for HydraCap. Simply don’t react. Or, react minimally like this guy:


Best reaction

If we don’t care, it will go away eventually, retconned once again and replaced with either something entirely worse or — hopefully — a version of Captain America that makes sense.

The second response to this change in character is to remember that the best comics continuity is the one that exists inside your own mind. You’ve read comics and absorbed the characters for however many years; you have read back issues to the extent of your choosing. Captain America — and every other character you’ve read — exists as makes sense in your mind. The stories that work for you are a solid history. The rest are “alternate reality” stories at best.

One prime example for myself is Earth X, originally written to be the “last” Marvel story, but later relegated to being a story from an alternate Earth. I adore every element of Earth X, from its grittiness to its depiction of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes beaten down and tired from years of doing their duty. The explanation of Galactus is the finest I have ever read, which I apply to any story in which he appears, Earth X or otherwise. That’s my choice and works for the continuity in my head. Others who can’t stand Earth X are free to disregard it or not read it in the first place.

All of which is okay, and what makes fandom so intimate and personal and wonderful.

Your Geekdom is yours. Treasure that, in the ways that work best for YOU.

One thought on “The Fury of a Retcon: Captain America

  1. I read about this retcon prior to going to the comic shop yesterday (for the first time in over 16 months) to pickup DC’s Rebirth reboot. I looked through Cap’s book because I really enjoy the work of the artist (his run on The Brave and the Bold with J. Michael Straczinski was inspired and beautiful), but at the moment of choice, I refused to support Marvel’s treatment of this character. While Geoff Johns is doing some worthy work in Rebirth to bring some semblance of joy and hope back to DC, feelings that, with a few notable exceptions (Mark Waid’s Flash) have been largely missing from DC since the late 80s, Marvel seems to be succumbing to the lure of immediacy in the form of lots of media coverage and probably increased sales to newbies who want to know what’s going on.

    These are the mistakes that ruin industries. Cover enhancements nearly killed the comic industry in the late 80s and early 90s. These are cheap tricks that lure in speculators and the mildly curious. Speculators are speculators: They depart after a milestone issue to hoard their books for future payoff. Their impact is negated after they buy multiple copies of just one book.

    It is in the mildly curious where the industry can grow. Entice these people, show them the joy and inspiration of heroes, hook them for the long run with good stories; don’t push them away in six or twelve months when the novelty of what brought them in is discarded for the next shiny object.

    Better yet, start making books that kids can enjoy. Bring in a whole new generation of readers who will be inspired by these characters. They will support movie franchises and other media for decades to come, but they must be reached with a message that resonates, something that hooks them and brings a sense of wonder.

    Rebirth is the first superhero book to do that for me in a long, long time. The return of my favorite character in his iconic costume felt like a homecoming for me.

    Make no mistake, I am on the fence about the reveal that took place on the final pages of Rebirth, but I have faith in Johns and his ability to tell a good story while rebuilding a universe. He is one of only three writers whom I think could pull this trick off. The other two are Marv Wolfman, because he’s done it already in Crisis and Grant Morrison, because, well, he’s Grant F-ing Morrison. (Yeah, you’re right, if Morrison did it, I’d only understand a third of the story, but my mind would be spinning trying to figure out the rest of it.)


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