In the first half of our roundtable, we discussed our reaction to Captain America’s allegiance to Hydra and how it contributes to his characterization. In this second part of our discussion, we delve into the political implications of his heel turn. What is Hydra’s significance? What does it mean politically, in our world as well as in Captain America’s? We conclude our discussion by addressing these questions.

The writers participating in this roundtable are Jordan Parrish (JP), Mara Danoff (MD), Eric Nierstedt (EN), and Nadia Shammas (NS). The moderator is Kat Vendetti (KV). This roundtable occurred before SECRET EMPIRE #1. This is an edited transcript for the purposes of clarity.

hydra
Image from SECRET EMPIRE #1, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Hydra’s Significance in the Marvel Universe

KV: What is Hydra to you? How do you interpret them?

EN: I saw Hydra for the first time in the movie, so for me they were always allegories for Nazis. The whole idea of the strong overthrowing the weak is just such a Nazi concept.

MD: As unoriginal as this is, I see it as the exact opposite of the classical “American” values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And, y’know, Nazis.

NS: So, this is where things get a little hairy. A divide has been made in the recent comics that Hydra wasn’t really a part of the Nazis; they were another group who had some similarities and used the Nazi party but actually didn’t like them, just used them for their goal of gaining power.

However, I understand that the original creators of the comic definitely intended for them to be analogous for the Nazi party. I think there is a difference though, and an important one, in that Hydra isn’t real. They’re the kind of group that represents the general philosophy of the strong overtaking the weak, and that form of thinking can take many shapes in different groups as time goes on. That’s how I interpret them, and I think that of course while we have to respect the origins, it’s dangerous to equate them to the Nazi party, who are real and some manifestations of that are actually still a thing now.

EN: I don’t think the “reality” of Hydra really matters. Yeah, they aren’t strictly Nazi metaphors, but I think they really stand for any group that takes “strong over weak” as their motto. They might not be real, but they’re a stand in for groups that are very much real.

JP: I agree with all of the above. The Nazi allegory is one that makes it easiest for any reader to come in and understand the general idea of Hydra, but Hydra is also not necessarily synonymous with Nazi. They’re the bad guys.

MD: It’s really hard for me personally to separate Hydra from its original stand in for the Nazi party. If they were simply a group of baddies, I don’t think there would be as much controversy with Captain America secretly being one of them.

EN: Agreed. Why else would we be so concerned about Captain America being created by Jewish artists?

NS: I just think it might be an oversimplification to just go with Hydra is Nazis. I think that not only does it paint over the nuances of this particular arc and the political undertones that are being discussed, but I think that Nazism and its descendants need to be taken seriously and examined. Hydra is a fictional group that yes, has a resemblance, but ultimately doesn’t have any real world applications.

JP: True, but Hydra does also cover a myriad of other “bad guy” tropes.

EN: Exactly. You can see that kind of thinking in groups all over. The Nazis are the easiest similarity, but maybe it would just be best to say Hydra are hate groups, or fascists, or something along those lines.

MD: And given why Captain America gained popularity in the first place, as war propaganda, it’s really hard to see him side with what was so obviously meant to be recognized as a Nazi-esque group.

JP: I think my main stance is that Hydra initially was modeled after the Nazi party, but over the years and comic arcs, they have evolved into a more nuanced group.

MD: Even if they aren’t the same, their concept and creation are tied to this very real and very scary thing.

NS: Hydra is an absurd comic book villain group that have time cubes and magic. Don’t you think equating them with Nazis makes it kind of ridiculous and also kind of a joke? I agree with Jordan. Much like all the Marvel characters, the Marvel villains have moved on from their origins and have changed over time.

EN: They exist in a comic book world. The real Nazis didn’t deal with super-soldiers either. I think of it as, “if the Nazis DID exist like this, what would they do?”

MD: But I guess my concern is that history is still there.

EN: It’s impossible not to see the Hydra/Nazi connection. But just because Hydra existed in a comic book world doesn’t make their inspiration any less frightening.

JP: Mara, I agree about the history. As a longtime fan of Cap I definitely do not want to discount that. I just wanted to include the rest of the badness of Hydra.

NS: Mara, of course, I don’t mean to diminish Cap’s origins and Hydra’s origins in any way. That’s why this part is hairy and a point of contention. I just don’t think it’s fair to say Hydra are Nazis. They’re different, and fascism led to real violence in our real world. We shouldn’t equate a fictional group to them, because there are real consequences to Nazi actions. I just think it’s more of a fair assessment to view Hydra as a group that holds general ideals of bad groups which prey on weaker groups, rather than saying they ARE Nazis. I just don’t want to take away from the seriousness of history by saying these magic-wielding, time-altering villains are the same our actual Nazis.

MD: I feel like a lot of their iconography is based within Nazi propaganda and motives. Even if they aren’t the same. But I see your point; the conflation of history and reality is a serious issue in any media’s fiction. So I do totally see where you’re coming from, Nadia.

EN: That’s exactly what I was going to say, Mara. The Nazi influence is there, but they’re not the same.

MD: But I guess where we differ philosophically is that I have a hard time seeing Hydra in that vacuum, even if I agree.

EN: The movie even makes it harder — once the Red Skull takes over no one even says “Nazi.”

NS: I’m not saying they aren’t Nazi-esque. They definitely are and their origin speaks to that. I just think saying “Cap is a Nazi now” because Cap is in Hydra is kind of murky waters, and saying “Hydra is the same thing as Nazis” is again kind of an oversimplification. I interpret them as any group who tries to gain power through the philosophy that the strong must overtake and rule over the weak.

READ: SECRET EMPIRE is in full swing. Catch up with our review of SECRET EMPIRE #1!

MD: I do think it’s interesting that, despite Hydra not technically being a Nazi organization, people automatically associate this twist with Captain America being a Nazi member. Like, the usual connotation for the layperson is this association, which does concern me a little.

EN: Yeah, but if you’re a non-comic fan and you hear Cap is in Hydra, it doesn’t mean anything. You say Cap’s a Nazi, and it has impact.

JP: Well, Hydra has been marketed as Hydra=Nazi for a while. So I think that’s where a lot of that comes from.

NS: Mara and Eric, completely agreed. I think a big part of it is because of the success of the movies. It spawned a lot of new fans who might not realize the differences and evolution of Hydra versus Nazis.

JP: But, as Eric said, it is an easier distinction. Plus, sometimes even longtime readers have issues distinguishing between the two.

EN: That’s the problem with Hydra having decades of history — you start looking for ways to simplify things. “What’s Hydra?” “Oh, they’re basically Nazis.”

NS: I agree, and I think that’s problematic for this particular storyline. It diminishes the real world suffering brought upon by the Nazis. However, it’s great marketing.

MD: I guess it makes me frustrated since if this is the association, why would you put a character like Captain America in dialog with it?

NS: I feel like Mara’s question opens a huge can of worms, haha. And I think again, a HUGE part of it is Nick Spencer being super political and trying to get the readers riled up and thinking.

JP: Yeah I definitely think he wants people riled up

MD: Agreed

EN: Oh yeah.

Hydra
Image from SECRET EMPIRE #2, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Hydra’s Role in Captain America’s Characterization

KV: The Southern Poverty Law Center defines the alt-right as the following: “The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew ‘establishment’ conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.” Considering the rise of the alt-right movement, what are the implications of having Captain America on the side of Hydra, who are often equated with similar ideologies?

MD: Oh it’s obviously speaking to the rise of extremist views within society today. But that’s why I’m frustrated with this plot twist — because of that image and the history, essentially.

JP: Regardless of whether or not this gets reversed, I think it gives them more legitimization. The one guy who stands for American ideals now stands for the side who crushes the little guys by a show of power.

MD: Exactly! This can so easily be skewed as a positive for people who believe in the very real world connotations of Hydra.

EN: I think it’s a reflection of those alt-right tendencies being in America now. If Captain America is really a reflection of America, then he should show everything it is. This is something that’s going on right now, and having Cap act somewhat in line with it lets people look at just how much impact it’s had on the country and what that really means and entails.

NS: I think that’s Nick Spencer’s intention. I think he’s forcing us to look at the most iconic symbol for American morality and liberation and questioning where we have moved from there. Again, this calls into question our idea of national pride. While America has absolutely done wonderful things and we are currently doing even better by questioning our actions and the actions of those in power, I see a change like this as Nick Spencer asking us to question our national identity even more. It makes us wonder, if there was an ulterior motive in his actions, maybe there were in some of our own? With the rise of a more divided political climate, and Captain America being a representative of our past, wouldn’t it serve to use him a device to see how we got to where we are?

MD: That’s such an excellent point. But again, my question in return is, while it’s great seeing him as a mode of political commentary, is further doubt and darkness needed at a time when there’s so much of it?

EN: I don’t think he’d have as much impact if he didn’t. There are a lot of issues and problems in America right now, and having Cap be the ‘All-American Hero’ isn’t really accurate. In a sense, it’s pretending everything is fine, and that means issues don’t get dealt with and looked at. Making Captain America, of all people, dark forces us to look at what this means.

MD: Of course it’s not accurate. But it rarely ever is. The “American Dream” is just that, a dream. But it’s the idea that it’s supposed to inspire others. That’s what matters to me personally.

EN: But you can’t just have the idea either. If you just focus on the ideal, you don’t see the reality.

MD: I definitely see your point. I guess to me it feels like the idea has been lost in this plot. If that makes sense.

EN: And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Spencer is saying, “we’ve gotten so wrapped up in this, we’re losing what America is supposed to be.”

MD: I guess I just feel like there are better ways to go about it than the way it was handled.

JP: I think there could be a happy medium. Captain America was created to inspire hope and morale, but his creation was also sparked from political/world events.

NS: I completely agree. I also think that it’s not entirely fair to say that individuals might be emboldened by Captain America’s stance. He’s obviously betraying every single other Marvel hero. I don’t think there’s any illusion of actual support on Nick Spencer’s part.

JP: I agree, but a lot of people also aren’t keeping up with what actually happened. All they know is that the first issue ended with Captain America saying “Hail Hydra.”

READ: Not sure which SECRET EMPIRE tie-ins to pick up? See why we think SECRET EMPIRE UNITED #1 is a must-read for fans of the event

NS: Speaking to your earlier point, Mara, I think that’s just why it’s so important. It was a dream. We have to wake up and face the truth about our actions, history, and our identity in order to evolve as a nation. The American Dream was never perfect. Optimism isn’t wrong, but can be blinding

MD: But in these times, don’t we need some optimism to keep fighting? There’s a difference in acknowledging problems than just saying everything you’ve fought for is a lie

EN: Nadia, I agree completely. It’s like how schools tried to say black people enjoyed being slaves, or gloss over the Japanese internment camps and the loss of the Native Americans. You have to see all the dark things because that’s how you push towards the light.

NS: Romanticization of the past can be dangerous, and I think undoing that in this change in Captain America is an attempt to have us re-evaluate ourselves. I think there’s a fine line in seeing our mistakes and having the optimism to believe we can avoid them

MD: I guess for me, hope and romanticization are vastly different.

EN: Seeing your mistakes should push you to not make them again. It’s why the concentration camps are still standing.

NS: I’m not advocating an American self-hatred by any means. I’m saying I think Spencer wants us to have dialogues like this, and make people who might not have thought of these things think about them, or those who might go to Captain America comics for nostalgia to re-evaluate that impulse.

EN: That’s a really good statement.

NS: I don’t think he’s looking for us to lose hope. That’s why there’s a story, that’s why it doesn’t end with Captain America being Hydra and killing everyone. There’s going to be a redemption down the line, and it’s how Spencer chooses to handle that that decides where the hope comes in.

MD: True. But intent can easily be misconstrued. And that’s where my problem with the story comes from.

EN: So you feel the intent gets lost?

MD: Yes.

JP: I can see that. It does feel hopeless if we’re looking at this story without our end expectation that Captain America will turn out alright.

MD: It reads more to me like a ploy to sell.

NS: That’s a fair view I think. Spencer has been under fire from both sides of the political sphere. It’s a difficult line to handle, but I do think it might be too early to argue that he has done badly or if he’s pulled it off.

EN: And if it is a selling ploy it’s the same as Hal Jordan killing the entire Green Lantern Corps or Superman dying. It doesn’t have the same social impact as Captain America, but it’s designed to make us reevaluate our viewpoints. Is having no fear dangerous? How much can we rely on someone to save us?

MD: But I feel like if [Spencer] is trying to go for a really strong critique of the system, it appears (again to me) slightly off-putting that this type of story can be so easily compared to these ones intended for shock. It makes it seem like it really was just to surprise readers, which is sad to me.

NS: Well I think shock is just the gateway. Besides, when we learn about dark things in history, are we not shocked by them? I don’t think shock and political commentary are mutually exclusive.

JP: No, I don’t think they are either, but I see where Mara is coming from. It does come across as a surprise factor first, especially considering the way the first Captain America issue ended. But I don’t think that takes away from what Nick Spencer is trying to accomplish. However, I also think we need to wait to see how this arc ends before coming to a full, hard judgment.

Captain America
Image from SECRET EMPIRE #3, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

 

What Are the Parallels to Our Modern Day?

KV: Do you see any modern commentary in SECRET EMPIRE?

EN: I very much see it in the way Captain America took over. There was so much dialogue about how he was the only one who could save everyone, and then things went to hell when he did. It made me think of how I keep reading about Trump voters who thought he would fix everything and are now saying they’re regretting their decision. And it also brings fascism to mind as well.

MD: I completely agree with Eric. I don’t want to tie it too much to modern politics, but I believe current events have heavily informed what has gone down. Maybe not the space battles so much though.

JP: You mean we don’t have space battles right now?? Darn. But yes, in all seriousness, I totally agree with Mara and Eric. SECRET EMPIRE draws a theme from current events for sure.

EN: Though does this mean Spencer is going use Captain America as a sort of Trump stand in?

NS: I’m not sure if it’s a direct jab at Trump, especially since his election was so divided, but I do think it’s more about how we as Americans tend to put a lot of emphasis on certain figures as saviors before knowing their true intentions. Nick Spencer has been highly critical of President Trump since before his actual election, so I certainly expect some commentary there. But I’m not sure if Captain America is that Trump stand-in.

EN: Maybe he’s a sort of reactionary figure? Like Hydra starts implementing things, and it somehow riles enough that he rejects them?

MD: I would be down for that. I mean might as well now that we have the plot twist, commenting on how much damage charismatic leaders can really do.

JP: I think it would be more in Captain America’s character to do something like that versus him actually being the stand-in.

EN: It’s also very symbolic as well — the American Dream breaking free of all the political BS.

NS: I just don’t want to get into the dialogue where we infantilize Trump voters or say they all thought Trump was a perfect hero or something like that. I think that Captain America is more of a stand-in for any person a nation puts too much hope and emphasis on without realizing the dangers of that. History is full of figures like that. It can also be a discussion about American interventionism and how America can be viewed by some as the “world police” and the protectors of freedom internationally, while that might not be entirely accurate or benign. Knowing how political Spencer is, I think that there are likely layers of metaphor that will become clearer as the series goes on.

WATCH: We spoke to Nick Spencer himself about SECRET EMPIRE at Five Points Festival!

EN: But if it is about interventionism, does that mean Hydra also represents America? That by trying to control everything, we lose sight of the meaning?

NS: That’s an excellent point, Eric. It becomes difficult when you imagine different interpretations for the same figures, but I’m just imagining all the dialogue where everyone talks about how Captain America was going to save everyone, and specifically when some of the villains discuss the fact that they were placed in a secret prison and the truth was hidden from the people. It’s definitely not the first time in history we’ve seen that concept in action. But again, I do see how viewing this in that lens makes it too complicated.

JP: Plus, then we have to consider the whole crushing the little guy to be master ruler, and that definitely opens a can of worms.

NS: Well, to be fair, have we never done that as a nation before? Definitely not in a fascist way or in any way like the Nazi party, but we’d be wrong to say we’ve never held a “might equals right” mentality before.

EN: I think you might argue we had it during Vietnam. People thought that war would be over quickly because of the American military.

EN: I did find the villain thing very symbolic. Everyone is looking to the heroes to save them, and suddenly here come the bad guys saying, “Don’t trust them, they did terrible things.” It’s almost like an early warning.

MD: Yeah, no, America has definitely done some awful stuff. There’s no denying any of that. But I don’t think Nick Spencer’s intention was to go that deep with the villainous routes.

Captain America as an Agent of Hydra: The Bottom Line

EN: I think that while everyone was shocked about Captain America’s turn, it brought up a lot of issues that are making people look at the world differently. Sometimes, a symbol has to be corrupted so people don’t take it for granted.

MD: I definitely see why people like this change in character. However, I believe that given Captain America’s history, it comes across as a cheap thrill disguised as social commentary. It does raise questions and prompt discussion like this one, but it also spits in the face of what the core values are of this character. But as it has been brought up by these lovely people, it’s still really early in the story’s arc. Hopefully Spencer will navigate these troubled waters well and make a story for the ages.

JP: Cap has always been and will continue to be one of my favorites, and, while I am not a fan of Hydra Cap, this is making us all take a hard look at what Captain America has always portrayed and what he will portray going forward. I cannot wait to see the ending of this foray into the dark side, as I think Spencer hasn’t shown us yet all he can do.

NS: I want to state that America is a relatively young country with a lot to learn. Due to a shorter past, we often look to the future. That’s why I think it’s important to evaluate what actions we have taken and use that in our future. We haven’t always done the best, but we try to do the best for ourselves I think. We’re certainly idealistic, and I think that Spencer is definitely asking us to look back in order to move forward. In terms of the character, most fans are familiar with the fact that companies do this kind of thing all the time. It’s best to enjoy the ride and see what happens. Hopefully, the team will be able to pull this off with nuance and a light hand for maximum effectiveness. Until then, I’m in support.

EN: Yeah, it’s a very American trait to look to the future and shy away from the past. But if this book does get people to look back and learn, then it’s all worth it.

MD: I don’t think the past should be ignored, obviously. If you do, you’ll just end up repeating it.

2 Comments

  1. McKenna Pipher

    August 1, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    america did commit genocide- against native peoples.

    Reply

    • Kat Vendetti

      August 1, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      Hi! That statement was meant to come across as “we’re not saying America has never committed genocide.” We definitely acknowledge that is an atrocity that has happened. Thank you for pointing out that unclarity!

      Reply

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!