As of four days ago, Marvel has declared that Captain America was actually a Hydra Agent all along. For those of you unfamiliar with Hydra, they are a Nazi-like organization bent on taking over the world. They are absolutely evil.
A lot of people are really unhappy with this, including me. I won’t delve deeply into the reasons here, but much of the anger comes from a deep sense that Marvel Comics has betrayed their fans.
Leaving aside how making Steve Rogers an agent of Hydra simply makes no sense (how many times has he thwarted the very organization he’s supposed to be part of? How could he be worthy of moving Thor’s hammer?), this mess Marvel created with a beloved flagship character raises an important issue: what, and how much, do creators owe their fans?
Back in 2012, the ending of the Mass Effect 3 console game upset a lot of the fans, to the extent that BioWare released an apology, and an Extended Cut of the end of the game.
Interestingly, a lot of Mass Effect fans were also upset at BioWare’s decision to apologize and change the ending. They said it destroyed the company’s artistic integrity, and likened it to television producers changing the final episode of The Sopranos because of fan discontent. The critics of the revised ending said it set a dangerous precedent of creative media companies buckling whenever their consumers got upset.
So, what does Mass Effect 3 have to do with the current comic run of Captain America?
I’ll quote a piece of the linked ME3 review by Sparky Clarkson here, because if you change, “game series” to “character” and “player” to “fan”, it resonates perfectly with my feelings about this.
For a game series that had a rich backstory conveyed through dialogue, detailed factsheets, and miles of text, disregarding the lore is a significant act of disrespect towards the invested player. It argues that their interest in the world does not matter, not even to the world’s originators…the conclusion argues that the player’s time and emotional attachment have been wasted.
Right now, a hell of a lot of Marvel fans feel that our interest in Steve Rogers doesn’t matter, and our time and emotional attachment to him has been wasted. We feel duped, ignored, and played for fools. We certainly feel that Marvel owes us, its loyal fans, more than this. But, do they? At what point does artistic integrity trump the desires of the people consuming it?
I’m a writer. I love my characters and tend to have very specific ideas about what should happen to them. But, I also love and respect the people who are generous enough to give their money and time to consume what I create. I wouldn’t be a writer without them. So what, then, do I owe my fans? The answer is easy: everything.
To me, that means that while I have the right to, say, have one of my characters willingly turn evil, I have the moral obligation not to. My readers deserve better than that.
And so do Marvel’s fans. And so does Captain America.