A conversation that likely happened between two executives at Marvel Comics or two 12-year old boys that like comics — same difference in terms of story telling acumen and judgment regarding what would appeal to readers, really:
Executive 1: You know what? Captain America’s boring. He just does all that stuff that’s good, and kind of patriotic, you know? That’s just kind of, ugh.
Executive 2: Yeah….
1: You know what would be really cool, though?
1: If, like, Captain America were like a secret Nazi! Like, all this time, when he was punching Hitler, and Nazis and shooting Nazis, he was actually, just, like, one of them! Pretending to be a good guy in order to get everyone to trust him so he could turn around and BAM! Nazis take over!
2: Oh man, that would be so cool! No one would expect that shit! There’d be a huge big one-page shot of Cap looking right at the reader and saying Heil Hitler! Nobody would know what to do! People would be sooooo shocked! It would sell all the copies!
But, you know, people are kinda skittish about Nazis.
1: They are, aren’t they? Hmmm….
2: Well, you know, we could replace the Nazis with Hydra—just like they did in the movies… Where they made Nazis into puppets of Hydra, and it was all really about the generic idea of control and power and freedom, and that the masses can’t manage themselves, rather than, you know, racial purity, genocide, Imperialism, Nationalism, and how these forces can be used to generate truly terrible societal behavior. You’re right…we probably want to stay away from that.
1: Hydra! Yes. Fascists. But safe fascists! It’ll all be about personal freedom! Like in the movie!
2: Oh man, this is such a good idea…. We have to do this.
In case you do not yet know, a while ago in the ongoing Captain America series, Captain America got done made a secret Nazi — well, a secret Hydra — so a secret fascist, and this story has now spilled over into the broader Marvel Universe in the new Secret Empire mini-series (and its various tie-ins).
I don’t think that I have to tell anyone this was a bad idea.
This was a bad idea.
The current political climate in America and Europe makes this storyline potentially rather politically charged. And this has not gone unaddressed by Marvel — they claim this story is not political. Sigh. Ignoring the fact that all works of art are inherently political, reflections of their time, and have meanings authors and publishers may not intend, it’s literally a story about political ideologies set in a fantasy version of our world. This statement suggests, very strongly, that the storyline and its themes are poorly thought out and clumsily executed.
But that is not what I want to focus on today. Today, I want to focus on Marvel’s response to the fact that this story arc was a bad idea as a product to be sold to an established fan base and a broader readership. For, you see, the market keeps telling Marvel Comics that this was a bad idea.
And Marvel’s response is to tell its readers/consumers to ‘be patient’ and wait until the story is over before passing judgment — i.e. “buy all of this stuff you know you do not like, or want, right now, and maybe it won’t be absolutely terrible, and you won’t hate it. But whether it was worth your time (and cash) doesn’t matter, because we will already have your money.”
It is not my job, or anyone’s job, as a consumer of a film, or a book, or a videogame, or what have you, to keep buying something I do not like, or want, because the person selling the thing says ‘trust us, it’ll work out.’ One has something bordering on a defective psychology if one continues to invest in something someone does not enjoy, or want, or need.
The bottom line is: Marvel erred. They guessed wrong about what would actually be liked by, and appeal to, their readers, and broader markets they might have hoped to tap with this story line. And now they have to fix it. Or take their lumps and move on to a more marketable story.
Moreover, if broader consumers/readers — those who won’t buy the comic because it has simply been released — had any reason to trust Marvel’s storytelling, Marvel would not have to implore potential readers to give it a chance. Heck, even the regular readers wouldn’t be so ready to express their dissatisfaction. But consumers/readers can’t trust Marvel’s creative choices with respect to these kinds of crossovers, or ‘events.’ Especially those that make contact with political themes or conflicting socio-political ideologies.
Civil War (the comic story) was terrible (and so was the Film). Civil War II was worse. And there’s a god-awfully stupid, convoluted, stake-less crossover ‘event’ every year. And every year it is not only stupid, but booooooorrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnnngggg. And anything that is supposed to be emotionally stirring, or have a deep impact, is retconned out almost immediately. Remember when Spider-Man revealed his secret identity at a press conference? And then after Civil War was over, there was a deal with Mephisto in order to reset everything — because Spider-Man’s true identity being public knowledge is bad for telling the old, tried and true Spidey stories? The reaction to Secret Empire‘s Cap is a secret Nazi—storyline will almost guarantee a similar retconning. So, why bother buying it? It isn’t compelling on its own terms, and it will have no lasting narrative consequences.
And this is what lets you know Marvel really got it wrong: the Marvel regulars are the people who kept reading through the narrative garbage-fires like Civil War. And even they can’t stand the pile of burning plastic and rubber that is the new Captain America arc.
So, you know, you probably shouldn’t buy Secret Empire (or the Cap comics for a while). You’ve no reason to believe the story will work out well, and so no reason to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt and your money. Marvel though, are just doing what they’ve been doing for a long time now: marshaling your financial support on two fronts: brand/character loyalty you really shouldn’t have anymore, and poorly conceived and executed ‘shocking’ tabloid-style plot twists — “Captain America is a secret Nazi!” — to generate interest in their properties. And this strategy is, finally, beginning to fail.
It’s probably just a blip. Before too long, the fans will be saying: “Secret Empire wasn’t that bad…” and return to happily giving Marvel their money for more boring stories.