Thursday, June 2, 2016

And This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things...




No, it’s not Captain America going bad that’s the problem, it’s the action of fans on social media. It’s the actions of the many- large numbers of them likely not reading the book to begin with -getting their pitchforks and torches out and rallying the angry mobs to attack Marvel under ever more and more flimsy and bizarre rationales.


Here’s what we know, and it is absolutely all that we actually know at this time. Captain America lost the benefits of the super soldier serum that made him an ultimate soldier. The effect of this was he rapidly aged until his physical state was closer to his chronological age. The mantle of Captain America was passed on to the Falcon. Captain America’s youth and abilities are restored to him by a sentient Cosmic Cube named Kubik. But Cap isn’t the only character who made a comeback. The Red Skull has returned as well, and he’s made cryptic comments about needing Steve Rogers alive to see his greatest triumph take place. This led to the debut of a newly restored Captain America in a new book. The end of the first issue throws fans the curveball pictured above. Captain America is a longtime Hydra sleeper agent, and his loyalties have always been to Hydra. 

Now, I’ve said in multiple discussions this last week that anyone who thinks this is legitimate, that this is the way Marvel is planning on having Captain America portrayed from this day forward and forever more, has lost their mind. It’s as legit and long term as Superman dying, Steve Rogers being assassinated or aged, or Bruce Wayne being crippled and replaced as Batman by a psycho.

Captain America is probably more popular right now than it any moment in my lifetime. He’s been one of the anchor characters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third Captain America movie outing just became the biggest box office film of 2016 so far. There is no way Marvel is turning Cap bad, and claiming that he’s legitimately been a secret bad guy his entire existence to boot, at this moment in time.

The most popular- and likely -theory I’ve seen so far is that the Red Skull is behind the manipulation of Kubik, and the sentient Cosmic Cube altered the fabric of reality, the past of Steve Rogers, when his youth and abilities were restored to him. It might not be the correct guess, but it certainly makes a bit of narrative sense given the “clues” that have been thrown out there for readers. With the first chapter of the story published and throwing readers for one hell of a loop, the ground has been laid for a potentially amazing story arc.

But, of course, we’re in the age of social media, herd mentality outrage, and the seeking of any rationale to be “outraged” at anything, so anything anyone doesn’t understand or doesn’t take an immediate liking to must be attacked by many.

Some of the complaints have been innocuous if nonsensical. Many of those who are critical have attacked the writing with arguments that just don’t hold water. Some of the discussions I’ve been in or seen this last week go like this. 

Critic: “The story sucks! It’s bad writing!”

Response: “How do you know if the story sucks or not? All we’ve seen is the start of the story, not the story itself. And how is it bad writing?”

Critic: “It’s shock value being substituted for real writing and ideas. It’s a gimmick!” 

Response: “Well, it is in fact an idea, and you can’t say it’s a substitute for real writing since we’ve yet to see the story unfold. Plus, gimmicks aren’t necessarily bad things. A gimmick is neither a good thing or a bad thing, it’s what they make of it that matters and we haven’t had a chance to see what they’ve made of it yet since nothing of the story has been published other than basically the first chapter.” 

Critic: “The story sucks! It’s bad writing!” 

I’ve seen this bit of circular and useless discussion used with a more specific criticism, but one that is equally incorrect as objective criticism. 

Critic: “The writer sucks, the story sucks! He obviously doesn’t know how to write! I hope Marvel crashes and burns big time for this!”

Response: “How can you say he doesn’t know how to write based off of seeing almost nothing of the actual story?” 

Critic: “A real writer writes good stories with the character, they don’t ruin the character. He’s ruined the core concepts that make Captain America who he is. A real writer wouldn’t change who Cap was and ruin him in order to make him fit into a story this stupid.”

Response: “Okay, but he didn’t change Cap’s core character concepts. If the best guesses out there are even close to accurate, this isn’t the captain America we’ve always known. It’s like seeing an alt reality Captain America dropped into the mainstream Marvel reality. Our Cap exists somewhere, even if it’s a sort of parallel time stream created limbo, and the story will likely be how Cap fights his way back into “our” reality or is brought back by his friends.”

Critic: “No, it’s just bad writing! Good writing isn’t changing the core concepts of the character that make him who he is and what he stands for. If you have to do that to make the story work you’ve written a bad story.”

Response: “Okay, but, again, this likely isn’t our Cap. This is an alternate reality version of Cap created by Red Skull manipulating Kubik into changing Steve’s past and creating a false reality around just Cap as his ultimate revenge. It’s like replacing good Kirk with Evil Kirk in the main Trek reality and not telling anyone upfront that this is what you’ve done. You just know something really wrong just happened, and now you want to know how and how it gets fixed.”

Critic: “It gets fixed when they fire the writer. The writer sucks, the story sucks. He obviously doesn’t know how to write. I hope Marvel crashes and burns big time for this!” 

I think one of the reasons I find this line of criticism so off base is because we know for a fact good stories can actually spring from this concept. We know for a fact that you can tell a good story by starting the story out with a swerve that seems like you’re writing the character wrong.

By weird coincidence I was binging Stargate SG-1 after not having seen it in years just as this story was breaking across fandom news sites and social media. I say it was a weird coincidence because it was within a day of the news breaking that I hit the season three episode Shades of Grey. If it doesn’t ring a bell, let me refresh your memory.

The SG-1 team members are attempting to work out a deal with an alien race that has denied Earth access to their advanced technology in the past. They had just saved the aliens from being wiped out, so their hope was to leverage this gratitude. The aliens refuse to share their technology. Angry at hitting this wall once again, O’Neill steals alien tech from the planet before SG-1 returns home through the Stargate.

This leads O’Neill to be discharged from the team and the military. Daniel visits him in his home to try to find out why he’s acting the way he is, and O’Neill blows him off. He makes it clear that this was how he worked before SG-1, and he was tired of having to be diplomatic and getting nothing for Earth from it. As you’re watching a show where alien tech has altered the minds of the team members in the past or even had them replaced more than once, a first time viewer might start wondering what’s going on and how this can be happening.

Heading into spoiler territory- it was a scam. A rogue Earth organization was operating off world to steal alien tech; even in some cases from allies of Earth. It was a plan to get O’Neill into their group so that he could break it up and largely end a story arc that had been running through the show for some time at that point. O’Neill was never being written wrong or written in a way that threw away his core character traits for a story, we just weren’t let in on what the story actually was until we let it unfold before our eyes.

In all of genre and across various mediums of storytelling, there have been a lot of stories where a character has “gone bad” or “gone wrong” and the story, sometimes quite good ones, have been about finding out why what we’re seeing has happened and seeing how the “right” way of things is restored. Have there been bad stories written along those lines? Of course, but we were only able to tell if the stories were good or bad once they’d actually been completed, not after we’d barely seen more than the first chapter, and this story has really shown us little more than the first paragraph of the first chapter.

What we’re seeing right now from some quarters is the equivalent of people watching the first five minutes or less of a story like Shades of Grey (or the Buffy episode Superstar), refusing to watch the rest of the show, turning it off, and then complaining that they got everything wrong, they ruined the characters, and the story was bad. They couldn’t possibly know anything for a fact with regards to the characters, the story, or whether the writing was good or bad because they would have never seen anything beyond the hook at that beginning. The people losing their minds the most over this can’t know what they’re talking about either, because no one has seen the anything of the story beyond the four-minute hook.

I’m honestly at a loss as to how this concept is flying over so many heads. If you’ve been a fan of fantasy, science fiction, comic books, or any number of other genre materials (like, say, spy thrillers)  that have used a modified sci-fi concept for their stories, you should know this drill. We know that there are alternate reality versions of most every character we love floating around somewhere out there. We’ve even been introduced to them. We’ve met the evil version of the JLA, we’ve seen the evil(ish) Avengers and New Warriors that exist in an alternate reality where Egypt conquered the world, and we’ve had more than a few stories involving encounters with alternate reality characters who somehow fell into the mainstream reality.

  


This isn’t much of a stretch from there. This is one character that has likely had just his personal history changed. This is Donna in Doctor Who turning right in Turn Left and having an alternate reality bubble formed around her. We’re just not being let in on the fact from the get-go of what’s going on here because the fun of following the story will be seeing the mystery unfold. The other difference (assuming this is the reality altering effects of Kubic) is we’re not seeing the alternate reality bubble. We’re seeing alternate reality version of the character pulled from the bubble in order to replace the character we know. It would be like having evil Kirk replace normal Kirk at the start of a story where no one let the viewers in on what has happened.

I can see some people saying they don’t like the concept itself. That’s perfectly reasonable. Stories involving alternate realities or characters stuck in bubble realities aren’t everyone’s thing. It’s completely valid for someone to say it’s not their thing because they just get turned off by the gimmick of alt reality characters and/or the shock value of the gimmick since they’ll always find a way to return reality to normal and alt reality stories of this nature- where the wrong reality is wiped away in the resolution –aren’t something they can get into because they ultimately have no consequences.

But saying a story is bad or a writer doesn’t know how to write based on a story that hasn’t even been published yet and that you’ve never read? No. Chill out, guys.

But, while I may find some criticisms of the concept and the story along these lines nonsensical, I think those positions are the heights of quality discourse when compared to the people who are really losing their minds this last week.

I’ve seen some people trying to make the argument- some in extremely long editorials –that since Hydra has been connected to the Nazis and Captain America was created by two Jewish creators that making Captain America a Hydra agent is antisemitism if not sympathizing with Nazis. To that I can only ask- Have you lost your minds? Do any of you pushing this nonsense actually have any idea of what actual antisemitism really is? 

Antisemitism at its core is deliberate forms of hostility directed at or prejudice towards the Jewish people. Dumbing the definition of antisemitism down to include starting a story out with a ‘WTF?!?’ hook moment of the sort we saw here is way more insulting than what you claim to be an example of "antisemitism" here.. Oh, and the writer is also apparently homophobic for doing this as a reveal rather than giving Steve a boyfriend. But as (frankly) dumb as I think the attempts to push this narrative to excuse or promote phony outrage is, there’s an even worse group out there. There are people out there who are losing their minds over this so badly that they apparently think death threats are warranted. 

Death threats.

Over a comic book.

Over a concept twist that’s likely as legit and “permanent” as Captain America being dead, Superman being dead, Bruce Wayne being crippled for life, and Peter Parker turning his back on crime fighting forever more.

Death threats.

Wow…

The amazing thing is that these members of fandom have gotten so twisted in their irrational reaction to this that they’ve not simply limited the death threats to writer Nick Spencer and others connected directly to the book. James Gunn has probably become one of the more loved fan favorite figures out there since he directed Guardians of the Galaxy, and longer than that for us Troma and horror fans. He posted on his social media a comment about the silliness of claiming that a writer writing a story in 2016 that you don’t like has destroyed your childhood. He didn’t even defend the concept; he just pointed out that this rationale- thrown around for every round of complaints about just about anything these days –is ridiculous.

He’s been accused of antisemitism, people have said he should die, and people have said his pets should be killed.

Wow…

While I’ve not seen the same lows yet reached on his Twitter, Clark Gregg’s Twitter feed has started to fill up with much of the same stupidity over a comment that was the most innocuous comment I’ve seen around this so far.
 


More and more, as the internet communities grow and social media grows, this is why we can’t have nice things. The herd mentality- the often very idiotic herd mentality -that brings out the worst and the most vulgar in many. You also sometimes see way too many people encouraged to join in on the stupidity by the false sense of bravery they get seeing so many others acting like pitchfork and torch wielding fools.

From time to times we see it push some creative people away from wanting to be interactive with or accessible to fans. Sometimes it’s just on the social media front, sometimes it’s even on the convention circuit. We also occasionally see creative folks say that doing ‘X’ story or concept just isn’t worth the hassle and headaches due to the reactions they know it will provoke from the very angry, obnoxious, and seemingly growing factions in fandom that think that their dislike for something justifies any and all behavior from them. At this point, some people are starting to just not want to have to deal with the worst of the SJW and entitled fan crowds.

And, honestly, I blame Marvel a little bit for how they promoted this after the fact. This is not permanent. Hell, this is comic books. Death isn’t permanent. Well, okay, maybe Jean DeWolff’s… Why should anyone in their right mind think something like this is permanent? When the news was breaking and news sites- not comic book news sites, but actual news organizations –started reporting on this and the outrage in some quarters, people who don’t read comics or who haven’t read them in years were sharing the outrage stories and, in some cases, adding to the outrage.

That’s the time you talk about the pitch. Entice the readers with the tease of telling them that something is in fact very wrong, but they were going to have to follow the story to see how it went wrong and how Cap comes back to us. Instead we got the writer and some others at Marvel doing seemingly everything they could to let people infer from their words that this is legit, this is Cap from now on, and this is actually in new Marvel cannon the way it’s always been. The writer has even been doing interviews where he’s seemingly happy that people started getting outraged and stating that this is now Steve Rogers and this isn’t being resolved in a story arc or in six months’ time. This is, by his words, the real deal now and it will have reverberations throughout the entire Marvel Universe.

Now, I can believe that it’s not getting undone in just one arc or in six months. Personally I figured it’s going to be twelve to eighteen months.  I can also believe that there will be some in-cannon fallout from this that impacts the Marvel universe. Reality itself hasn’t been changed, just Steve. Whatever he does from now until the proper Steve Rogers is returned affects the Marvel Universe. But don’t even sell this like it’s straight up cannon, he’s always been this secret Hydra agent (Thor’s Hammer anyone?), or that evil Cap is Marvel’s Cap from now until the last issue is sold. No one who follows or who has followed comic books and also possesses functional brain cells is buying that, and it’s a little insulting to think we will. In the meantime, Marvel is just inciting the groups who are filled with people who don’t qualify for the above descriptors.

It’s an event. Hype it as an event. But hype it as what the story most likely will be, and that’s how Steve’s friends bring him back or even how Steve himself somehow fights his way through the unreality to face off against the Red Skull and his Steve Rogers in order to take back Captain America’s name. Hype that and don’t use the jerk around the fans version of the hype. Because when you do, you’re contributing to some of the stupidity and even a little bit to the dishonesty that makes people hate gimmicks like this. It’s that kind of hype with the bad gimmicks that have turned off some readers over the years, and you really don’t need to turn off more of them on purpose. 

Jerry reads. Jerry writes. Jerry tries to sleep when he can.Yes, I know, very boring. But Jerry will be checking out ConCarolinas this weekend, so that will be fun.

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2 comments:

  1. I plan to wait and see how it unfolds. Who knows, it may turn out to be one of the best Captain America stories ever. Who knows?

    Bobby

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Best or worst... Either way though it should actually see print before people proclaim it's a horrible story or not. And great, horrible, or anywhere in between... I cannot figure out how anyone can get so bent out of shape over this to issue death threats to people or pets.

      O.o

      Delete