Captain America’s Plot Twist Can Be Reversed, But The Fan Rage Can’t

When Marvel revealed Captain America was a “HYDRA agent” last month, I laid out a theory as to what the book would reveal in its second issue. It wasn’t really difficult to figure out where this particular arc was going if you’d read a comic book before. And while I was right, Marvel is still in hot water with people who take comic books far too seriously.

First off, it must be done:

Why, precisely, anybody thought this villainous turn would be permanent is baffling. Superheroes have “shocking twists” all the time. The Joker was the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Spider-Man turned out to be a clone, Cap had his shield taken away because he shot the President, and so on. This is so commonplace, it’s become a joke among fans.

But the reaction to the Cap-works-for-HYDRA storyline came unusually hot and fast. Almost immediately, #SayNoToHYDRACap began trending on Twitter, fans vandalized Marvel’s Wikipedia page, and even former Cap writers were dragged into this mess against their will. Hate mail started coming in almost immediately, and some of it crossed a line from which the angrier pockets of fandom will have a hard time retreating. One Marvel editor complained about being emailed Holocaust imagery.

Captain America may have been created by two Jewish men, he might have been introduced as punching out Hitler, but he’s still a fictional character. His political allegiances, however temporary, don’t fundamentally matter except as fodder for thrilling stories. That fans were using real images of horror and pain to gripe about a plot twist is, frankly, an embarrassment to comics fans and a reflection on the fact that geek culture desperately needs to change.

Geek culture tends to have a defensive stance, a reaction born out of the fact that for a long time, if you liked comic books or Star Trek or computers, more than a few people believed something was wrong with you. That cultural attitude has faded as the Avengers have topped the box office and everybody now plays video games on the computer that sits in their pockets. But the defensiveness has not only stuck around, it’s begun hardening into a nasty reactionary streak that’s becoming more and more vicious.

The most obvious example to point to is the ongoing vitriol flowing through the video gaming community, most recently to blame for the firing of Alison Rapp. But there’s also the overreaction to the upcoming Ghostbusters movie, the fits Star Wars “fans” are throwing because a woman might be a Jedi, or the ongoing Sad Puppies arguments among SF readers.

It’s good to be passionate about the things we love, as geeks, but it’s also important that geeks remember that the things we love are incapable of loving us in return. They are artworks, they are products, and they can speak to us on many levels, but they are ultimately just things, and we need to react to them accordingly.