Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 hit comic shops a week ago, and comics Twitter has been aflame ever since. SPOILER ALERT: The issue revealed that Captain America was an agent of Hydra, and interviews with writer Nick Spencer and editor Tom Brevoort suggested that this wasn’t a gimmick or a fakeout and that Steve might have been a sleeper Hydra agent all along.
And so the war began. A few idiots harassed creators and made death threats. Creators got indignant and defensive. Valid, thoughtful critiques were dismissed out of hand. Everyone got SUPER mad, and all sorts of blocking, muting, and fiery language ensued based on which articles someone retweeted. It’s exhausting to watch, and seems to be taking an emotional toll on many people.
Now, I know that a few dummies on both sides, the threatening trolls and the dickish creators, are never going to change, but everyone else in the middle of all of this probably can, and thus calm it all down. And I’m sure this piece will catch on like wildfire because everyone loves a call for calm and rational thought. I jest, of course; I’ve been writing on the internet long enough to know that angry pieces do SO much better. But for the few of you reading this (thanks, by the way!) maybe we can learn some things and help tone things down a bit.
So, here are my thoughts:
1) Creators are being harassed and threatened. That is NOT COOL.
And also indefensible. Harassment and threats are terrible and wholly uncalled for in any situation, much less over a comic book. This should not be minimalized or swept to the side; this is a scary, unpleasant situation, and entirely undeserved for those dealing with it.
2) Because of this, creators are upset.
And understandably so. Threats are frightening, and seeing their colleagues dealing with this must be unpleasant and perhaps bring up memories of their own past experiences with harassment. As such, they’re a bit defensive. They want to defend their friends, and also take a stand against this sort of reaction generally.
3) There are legitimate, valid critiques of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1.
And of all comics, really. But this issue especially. Marvel turned Captain America into a Nazi, basically. That’s going to upset people. Particularly Jewish people, who have written some very thoughtful, emotional critiques of the issue. Moreover, it’s all obviously a stunt; whatever Marvel may say about Captain America being Hydra for real, this is comics. It’s going to be undone, probably sooner than later. Captain America was created by two Jewish men, and punched out Hitler before America even entered the war, so turning him into a Hydra agent for a brief story/sales gimmick is going to irritate some people.
4) Some folks are conflating the harassment and the criticism.
And that’s not cool either. They are very different things. Harassers are a bunch of idiots, while critics have valid points to make, and are part of art generally. If you make something, you will be reviewed and critiqued. That’s how art works. Conflating harassment and criticism is a way to dismiss all criticism out of hand, which is dumb at best, and willfully ignorant at worst.
5) Others are conflating harassment and calls for representation of marginalized groups.
And this is just super dumb. The superhero genre is not great at telling stories that star anyone other than straight white dudes, but some people seem to think that wanting more diverse characters, be it gender, sexuality, or race, is “fan entitlement” that goes hand in hand with harassment. This is obviously stupid.
So what can we do? Well, we all can chill out. Things have gotten heated and it would behoove everyone to take a step back and try to get some perspective on the situation. For those who are outraged at the fan reaction, separate the trolls from the legit criticism and maybe listen and reflect on why people are upset about the comic. They’re not trying to crush freedom of speech or squash creators’ ability to tell a story; they’re passionate, often well-versed fans with valid points, and Captain America means a lot to them.
For those who are outraged at the issue, and the comic book creators who defend it, consider that death threats are ridiculously uncool and scary, and that it must be difficult to see your colleagues deal with that. Also remember that they are human beings, and that a tweet or a retweet is not the sum total of who they are. Moreover, these are people who love telling stories, and being defensive about their ability to do so unfettered and without fear is a fairly natural response.
Now, I don’t want to create a false equivalency here. Yes, a lot of people are getting upset on both sides and I think that we could all do with a little bit of calming down and moving forward, but the whole situation highlights some systemic problems within the superhero industry and its fandom. This current bout of harassment is awful and contemptible, of course. However, while people are understandably upset about harassment right now, harassment is a daily problem for those who write about and critique comic books, especially women and people of colour; threats are the norm. It’s also the norm for female comic books creators. That all of these folks, mostly men, are vocal about harassment only now feels a bit disingenuous, and this combined with the conflation of harassment with legitimate viewpoints and calls for diversity is very frustrating indeed. There’s a degree of privilege at play here that doesn’t sit well with me, as well as a degree of punching down. Critics are upset at the actions of a massive corporation, and those who back the corporation so wholeheartedly while dismissing these critics are definitely the Goliath of this scene. In many ways, this situation has turned into an avenue for gatekeeping and downplaying marginalized voices.
At the end of the day, though, everyone could benefit from a cessation of hostilities. Let’s just be kind, and remember that threats and harassment are terrible and that reasonable, well thought out criticism is good and healthy. People can disagree without being jerks about it. Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz are going to tell their story, and some people are going to like it and some people are going to think it’s dumb and problematic, and there will be various discussions therein. Let’s be civil, try to see the other side, check our privilege, and just be reasonable human beings. It’s not that hard.