How “Captain America” stripped this week’s internet outrage cycle clean away from “DC Universe: Rebirth” (SPOILERS ABOUND)

At the end of last week, Warner Bros./DC  was collecting all of the ire mainstream comics fans could muster. By Wednesday morning, all anyone could talk about was Disney/Marvel.

366074._SX640_QL80_TTD_It went something like this:

Last Friday, spoilers leaked for “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1, which launches DC Comics’ latest hard-reboot of its continuity (DC: Rebirth #1 arrived in stores the morning). Written by Geoff Johns with art by Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank and Phil Jimenez, the one-shot issue sets up a new, line-wide status quo.

This is not too surprising. The last time DC rebooted their line was their much-hyped “New 52” relaunch in 2011. It felt gimmicky, it largely read  gimmicky. And the Justice League seemed to fight each other all the time rather than any bad guys. (And Lex Luthor somehow ended up on the team.)

Sales were good, then plummeted to pre-52 levels: Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, which I discussed here, consistently sells over 100,000 copies a month, and Justice League moves around 70k, but most DC titles hover between 55,000-20, ooo a month. So they rebooted again.

A few of the SPOILERS were not too shocking:

  • Wally West, a pre-New 52 fixture, returns, screaming about how nobody remembers him (and stole ten years from everyone’s life, because comics).
  • There seem to be three Jokers
  • The World War II era Justice Society existed and nobody remembers them

It was the sort of thing that indicates that DC is bringing back its multiverse, with lots of different worlds and realities.

The multiverse was always one of the most enjoyable aspects of DC Comics. Not only did it make all of their stories “true,” it opened up the imagination: What was life on Earth-4 like? How are the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Superman different?

No, what really cheesed off the nerd nation was the idea that all of this universe manipulation was due to Dr. Manhattan, a character from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ ground-breaking 1986/87 series “Watchmen.”

“Watchmen” is considered, by many fans, to be something of a sacred text, what with being one of the best and most influential (for good and ill) superhero stories ever written.

It has always existed outside of DC continuity and, until now, DC has respected that.(Though they did crank out a bunch of largely uninteresting prequels called “Before Watchmen.”)

But with Batman finding the Comedian’s yellow smiley-face button  and the strong implication that Dr. Manhattan has a hand in this universal shake up.

It reminded me of a great line from this fantastic movie about the shlock-meisters at Canon Films: Cannon films “always resembled something, minus the good taste.” Right now, Superman and Batman and the rest of the DC stable resembles Superman and Batman, minus good taste.

Add to that the nearly 30-year war between Moore and DC and it was a sharp reminder “Watchmen” remains, for good reason a sensitive topic.

And in light of how disgusting and torture porny DC Comics has felt over the past 15 or so years, this interview creative chief Geoff Johns, in which he calls dragging “Watchmen” into DC continuity a critique (“I think ‘Watchmen’ is a great book, but I don’t think a cynical take on superheroes is the truthful one Everyone says that’s the realistic look. I reject that because I think people at their base core are good,” Johns said) seemed more than a little disingenuous. (Not to mention an epic troll of Moore himself.)

Or as one wag on twitter put it:

And yet, by lunch Wednesday, Marvel managed to turn in the nerd-outrage machine, focused on DC mere hours earlier, towards itself, as  Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 revealed that Captain America had been an agent for the spy organization HYDRA… since World War II.

Cue Buzzfeed pieces like this one

and tweets such as this:

Though given that Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie in the movies) has been Captain America for a bit in the comics, I did like this tweet:

Now, I happen to quite like Nick Spencer, the writer on “Captain America: Steve Rogers.” I think this is pretty obviously a File-000-8e161summer-sweeps style stunt to goose sales. Some people agree with me.  Spencer even hinted at a Man in the High Castle situation in this interview.

Even if it was a little Silver Age-style weird, there was something vaguely unpleasant and depressing about the Captain America thing. Chris Evans has done a bang-up job portraying Cap as a fundamentally decent guy.

(I mean, when I said I was hoping for comics that weren’t like movies, I guess I should have been more specific.)

And I have always loved the characterization of Captain America as an embodiment not of America the nation but America the ideal. As Frank Miller was had him saying, ““I’m loyal to nothing…but the Dream.”

This plot twist felt like a cynical gut punch, albeit an easily reversible one. The “Watchment” thing felt far ickier.


(Much more entertaining?  Google #givecaptainamericaaboyfriend.)

Then again, both Captain America and “Watchmen” are commodities, intellectual property to be dispensed for maximum profit. And both moves are designed to get people talking. Which they are. A hate-click is still a click, no such thing as bad publicity, etc.

If these sorts of moves make a buck, one should always, always expect more of them in the future.

Which is to say: Vote with your wallet, always.

Author: Joe Gross

Joe Gross has covered books, movies, music and culture for the American-Statesman since 2002. He tweets at @joegross.

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