Cape Talk #3: Scandals!!

WARNING: This article is just riddled with spoilers. If you haven’t read Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Justice League #50, or DC Universe: Rebirth #1, then read at your own risk!!


Captain America and Bucky…More Than Just Pals?

Twitter erupted the last few days in a call to Marvel to give Chris Evans’ Captain America a boyfriend. Not just any boyfriend, though – specifically, Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier.

Fans perceiving a homosexual subtext between the two best buds is not a new phenomenon. Tumblr has been producing fanart based on the notion for years. And not just with Bucky, either – Cap can be seen snuggling Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. In fact, in the latter scenario, they’re not just gay, but parents, with none other than a very young Peter Parker as their son.

The idea may be shocking to many long-time comic fans. The Cap and Bucky relationship idea is strongly fueled by the movies, which has brought in a lot of new Cap fans. Many fans whose perceptions of the characters has been shaped by the original material may not see it. However, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings more diverse fans into the fold, there will inevitably be different ideas among consumers concerning what they want from Marvel.

Plus, if you were gay, come on. You’d totally want to be gay with Captain America.

You just want him to wrap you up in those strong arms.


Captain America: Agent of HYDRA

No sooner had the “Captain America being gay goes against his established character” tweets pushing back against the boyfriend hashtag begun to die down, then Marvel author Nick Spencer dropped a bomb on readers of Captain America when he revealed that the Sentinel of Liberty has really been an agent of Hydra all along.

Captain America, totally not doing anything gay

First of all, can we agree that Cap’s new costume is pretty great? I think we can, because it is.

Fans online are, naturally, outraged (about the HYDRA thing, not about the costume). But although Spencer claims that this is not a twist which will be undone in the next few months, us older comic fans know better. Nothing is more ephemeral in this world than shocking twists in comic books. Generally, the timeline on these things reverting to the status quo is 1-2 years. Take Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, becoming the new Captain America. Although Sam continues to wear the red, white, and blue today, note how it only took a couple years before Wilson was demoted to “second Captain America,” Rogers’ name stamped on the title, and Wilson himself reduced to the third largest character on the cover.

Poor guy barely comes up to Steve’s shins

Let’s not forget Steve Rogers’ big death followed by his second (or third, depending on how you count) funeral back in 2007, following the first Civil War event. After a couple of years (during which time Bucky, freshly resurrected as the Winter Soldier, became the new Captain America), Cap returned, having in fact never died because he’d been shot with a “time bullet” because comics.

Poor Sam. So anyway, my advice to you is: if you don’t like this twist, don’t sweat it. Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 makes multiple references to how a sentient Cosmic Cube has recently fiddled with Cap’s life, leaving ample room for a cosmic rewrite down the road. But if, like me, you’re keen on the idea of an evil Captain America who’s been somehow working against the US of A’s interests this entire time, enjoy it while you can. This character’s still frozen in ice; sometimes the light just filters through a little differently.

And stop tweeting Ed Brubaker, creator of the Winter Soldier and former Captain America writer. Motherfucker doesn’t even write for Marvel anymore.


The Joker Is…*Mystery Intensifies*

Meanwhile, much more interesting, and possibly permanent, changes are happening at DC. I’ll start with the one I find much less likely to stick around. Back in Justice League #42, Batman sat his spandexed rump down in the Mobius Chair, an extremely uncomfortable-looking piece of flying furniture which also happens to be perhaps the greatest store of knowledge in the universe. So Batman, being Batman, immediately asks the chair who the Joker is.

Of course it’s not. Honestly, I’d have been more shocked if he said “Okay, so that’s Eric Lee, 322 2nd St, Apt 1B? Got it, thanks chair!”

So fans have waited an agonizing eight months to find out what Batman learned, which DC promised would be revealed in Justice League #50. And although DC came through on that promise, what we got was the answer to the question we asked for and not so much the answer to the question we wanted.


Three Jokers? I have to admit, for the moment I’m a little relieved DC hasn’t simply given Batman’s greatest nemesis a regular Christian name. For one thing, if Joker’s name was going to be revealed, it could only rightfully be done in Batman’s own book, not Justice League. But also, one of the Harlequin of Hate’s greatest enduring traits is that he’s a mystery the Dark Knight cannot solve. Plus, the fact that his background is a blank contributes to the sense of him as an anarchic force of nature without making him supernatural, which would clash with Batman’s own regular street-crime aesthetic (however colorful his kind of “street-crime” may get).

“What I like about Batman is that he’s more realistic.”

For the moment, however, I think Geoff Johns’ little twist is intriguing and makes a certain kind of sense. After all, several Batman stories have suggested that the Red Hood persona, which was Joker’s original nom de crime, was in fact an identity passed around different criminals. This is the explanation given in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ celebrated Batman: The Killing Joke. In this story, a possible origin for the Joker is revealed as a failed comedian who was slammed with terrible tragedy on the same day that he was slated to wear the Red Hood. It’s worth noting that this story is implicitly referenced in one page in Justice League #50 which has a panel of Batman staring at a wall of monitors with Joker’s face, reminiscent of a scene from that classic graphic novel.

Ultimately, do I think this will permanently change how we see the Joker? Nah. Comic fans treat the Joker like the Joker treats Batman – it’s too much fun not knowing who he is, so we don’t want to know. But it could be fun watching Batman chase his tail again.


Who Watches DC?!

Okay, this is the big one. The big enchilada. If you really don’t want something very big spoiled for you, this is where you should definitely stop. Because this is the big red “do not press” button on DC’s continuity, and they’ve gone and pressed it. If you haven’t read DC Universe: Rebirth #1, and you don’t want this spoiled, go out and grab the book before you continue any further.

Are you ready? Okay. Here it is.

DC is integrating Watchmen into its regular continuity.

Even Batman has a look on his face like “wtf is this shit”

In a stunning move, on the last pages of Rebirth #1, Batman discovers a happy face button with a drop of blood trailing across its face embedded in the rock wall of the Batcave. Meanwhile, on Mars, we are treated to a watch reassembling, as familiar words from the last issue of Watchmen reappear in the captions.

Of all the so-called scandals I’ve chronicled in this edition of Cape Talk, none really bothers me except this one. It’s an open secret that DC Comics essentially reneged on their agreement with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in the 1980s concerning the iconic graphic novel. Rather than the rights to Watchmen reverting to its creators after a short period of time, as was intended by the language of the contract, DC – a company with a problematic history when it comes to creators’ rights – used a technicality to retain the rights to the already-iconic characters indefinitely. It was such an egregious corruption of their original agreement that an incensed Moore vowed never to work for DC again, a promise which he has kept for the intervening thirty years.

Time spent, presumably, in carving the perfect wizard staff

And so it was with this bleak history in mind that I watched with pursed lips as, decades later, DC released a slew of cash-grabbing sequels to the only comic book placed in TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest modern novels. And it was with mounting irritation I watched Zac Snyder’s action-heavy spectacle interpretation of Moore’s originally somber and thoughtful noir saga. Because ultimately, I always believed Moore and Gibbons’ characters were safe from DC’s usual circus of mega-hyped “event” stories hammering at an already hopelessly confused continuity. So I’m kind of shocked to see the company so shamelessly pushing Moore’s cast of grotesques out into that publishing world that has more in common with P. T. Barnum than Raymond Chandler.

This is the one event I most hope is temporary, and the one which I most fear won’t be. Twists come and go, but once a character is swallowed up by the DC universe, they are never, ever spat out again.

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