What Do Creators Owe Their Fans?

In case you hadn’t heard, Issue #1 of Captain America: Steve Rogers came out this week.


The very last panel of the comic tells us that Steve Rogers aka Captain America is an agent of HYDRA (the Nazi like evil agency that hopes to liberate the world by subjugating it under its control). And according to Nick Spencer, the new writer for Captain America,  Cap has always been a HYDRA Agent and it’s not the usual comic book trickery (mind control, alien duplicate, etc.).

WTF ?!??

The Internet was outraged by the new issue and I have to say, I was too. I had planned to pick up this issue, but now I won’t.  The question came up on Entertainment Weekly Radio this week “What, if anything, do Creators Owe Their Fans?” This got me thinking since I now am a creator and have characters who have a definitive image in my mind.

What Do Creators Owe Fans?

In a a word, nothing.  The characters, plot, and setting come from the mind of the creator; he/she is the final arbiter off what is and isn’t in world.  That doesn’t mean the creator is infallible and won’t make stupid decisions, but it’s his/her stupid decision to make. Everyone laments that George R.R. Martin constantly kills off characters just as you get to like them and that is his prerogative.  In order to finish anything (music, fiction, art, movie), you have to have a singular vision for the piece.  We’ve all seen films that seem to completely lose their voice and tone and it’s not surprising when we hear after the fact, the studio made numerous changes to the story in order to please the audience.  I’m not saying that creators are immune to any suggestions of improvements – authors have editors, directors have producers, etc.  But such suggestions have to be incorporated in ways that don’t compromise the integrity of the piece.  Which brings me to my point:

Creators Owe A Responsibility to the Integrity of the Work

This is what makes me mad about this whole thing. Marvel and the writer are pulling a huge publicity stunt that shits on the integrity of the work. There is seventy five years of back story that now pretty much makes no sense whatsoever. Captain America is defined by his ideals; they are in direct opposition to what this twist represents. It’s almost like saying Batman murdered his parents or Spider-Man killed Uncle Ben.

I’m not saying that you can never make a huge (apparent) change in a character. But it has to be earned. You have to see that the seeds of the change are planted well in advance. The most masterful example I can think of this is the character of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books. J.K Rowling did an exceptional job of posting clues that made you wonder whether Snape was really aligned with Voldemort or Dumbledore. Yes, there’s a big reveal at the end, but it puts every single one of the clues she had laid out well in advance in proper perspective.

Compared to other comic book stunts in the last two decades (The Death of Superman, Bane Breaking Batman’s Back, The Death of Captain America), this one does not feel earned. In each of the three events I mentioned, they were set up well in advance and were logical conclusions of the events. Captain America’s death at the end of the Civil War, while shocking, was logical; the stakes in Civil War were high with superheroes losing their lives or imprisoned. Shooting the symbolic leader of the Anti-Registration side was a logical consequence. Again, in each case, the “twist” was earned through a multiple book arc.  And each of these were reversed in an equally (well, almost – there’s a bunch of comic book “magic” that justified the events) earned arc.

If you really insist going down this ridiculous plot line, we should have at least seen points where something didn’t happen the way it should have, shadowy conversations with hidden people, or even an investigation. Anything that could plant a clue. This twist is the worse and cheapest trick. It’s the comic book equivalent of  the “It was a dream” season on Dallas in the Eighties. It’s lazy, sensational story telling simply aimed at making a buck or generating buzz.

Who Cares? It’s Just a Comic Book.

That’s true; it is just a comic book. If Marvel wants to shoot themselves in the foot, so what?

The fundamental truth is that the stories we read or the shows that we watch are a huge part of who we are and who we want to be. The human race has been telling stories almost from the time we invented language. Our perception of the world and our role in it are shaped by stories. Stories give us frameworks for morality or social mores. The characters are either role models or cautionary tales. Captain America has been a role model for so many people (myself included) and messing around with role models should not be done lightly.  It’s a sad commentary on our society that we can’t seem to have any truly good guys any more. Look, I love anti-heroes as much as the next guy, but do we really have to drag all of our heroes into the muck? Can’t we have a least a few heroes that are honestly good and not morally adaptable?  Must everything be about shocking people or creating buzz? Can’t we have nice things? Can I stop asking rhetorical questions?

In true comic book form, this will probably resolve itself down the line (it better!), but I’m deeply disappointed in Marvel. I was thinking about picking up the comic book again, but now I absolutely won’t do that. Sure, they have created some really bad plot lines in Captain America (Cap-Wolf or the one where meth basically bonded with the Super Soldier formula), but while they were bad ideas, at least they made sense in the plotting of the comic and the result of a logical progression. This twist is the equivalent of ending a story with “And then, I woke up”

I just hope that I wake up from this horrible plot twist soon.


1 Comment

  1. Pete DiMarco
    May 28, 2016

    Hi Mike-
    You may want to check this out. Pay extra attention from 1:25 to 1:49 and the end of the clip.

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