Wow, people haven't been this angry about a Captain America book since he was killed in 2007. And understandably so, because in today's Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, something even worse happens to the Sentinel of Liberty: he is revealed at the end of the comic to be a Hydra agent, and apparently has been so for some time.
Before I give my feelings on that, let me say the rest of the comic was fantastic. Steve back in action, Sharon Carter and Rick Jones guiding him from afar, Free Spirit and Jack Flag back at Cap's side... just wonderful. Steve back in action, being the hero, taking too many risks, and especially Steve and Sharon's loving and mutually admiring relationship, all depicted wonderfully in both Nick Spencer's dialogue and Jesus Saiz's artwork.
But, of course, that's not what the furor is about. In flashbacks, we see young Steve and his mother Sarah befriend a mysterious woman who lures them into a Hydra meeting, a seed which bears fruit in the final page reveal: Steve saying "Hail Hydra."
Shocking. Disturbing. Revolting. Antithetical to the character. An insult to his Jewish creators.
All this is true.
So why aren't I more upset?
Because I'm confident this WTF ending is setting up a storyline for the ages. Let me explain...
I read a lot about writing fiction—definitely more than I actually write fiction—and one of the most frequent tips to motivate your story is "torture your babies." In other words, imagine the worst thing you can do to your beloved main character and then make him or her face it.
So what's the worst thing you can do to Cap? Worse than killing him (which has been done... ahem... to death), worse perhaps than even killing his loved ones? Make him compromise his integrity. Make him into the opposite of what he is, an agent of tyranny instead of its tireless opponent.
That's how you really hurt him. Whoever did this to him in the story—the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Doctor Faustus, Kobik the Cutest Cosmic Cube Evah, take your pick—knows that. And Nick Spencer, Jesus Saiz, and their editors Tom Breevort and Alanna Smith know that too. They're making Cap face his greatest internal threat yet: a danger to his own identity. The fact that this goes against everything Captain America stands for isn't a problem—it's the point.
And that's how you set up an epic redemption story, which is what I hope Spencer and Saiz are going to give us. And when Steve recovers from the brainwashing, false memories, hypnosis, or Cosmic Cube shenanigans, even though he shouldn't hold himself responsible, he will. He tortures himself much more than anyone else could when he is forced to compromise his principles, even if he could not control it, because he feels he should have been able to control it.
I'm not upset by this comic because I see it as Steve Rogers' greatest test ever, a test I'm confident he'll pass, but not without going through hell first. And that could be a truly amazing story.