Fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s created by the world it’s created in, as you could learn in any English class. People put a lot of heart and soul into the things they make, and they often have an important intent to their works. This isn’t to say the author is the final word on something, but when you’re turning Captain America into a Nazi, you’ve clearly taken a wrong turn into Don’ts-ville.
That isn’t a superlative, folks. The superhero symbol of America created by a Jewish man specifically to punch Hitler in the face was turned into a Nazi. Specifically, he was “revealed” as a secret member of Hydra, an in-universe Nazi-born organization, in “Steve Rogers: Captain America #1.” Nick Spencer, a Marvel writer since 2014, even went so far as to explain in an “Entertainment Weekly” article that this wasn’t a product of mind control, an imposter or someone acting through Captain America. This was quickly backtracked in the next issue revealing no, someone just messed with his memories. Which apparently isn’t mind control. Go figure.
You’d think Marvel would have learned their lesson from this debacle, except now Magneto is also teaming up with Hydra. I’ll say that again — Marvel’s most famous Auschwitz survivor is now teaming up with Marvel’s most famous Nazi organization.
Look, I understand that when writers take someone else’s work, they will change and tweak and adjust things to fit their sensibilities, vision and sense of style. Sometimes, they even change important parts of the plot or character. For example, Raven in the Teen Titans cartoon was a very powerful magician, compared to the comic’s Raven who could astrally project. But these changes respect something about the original work. For example, Raven’s position on the team is strengthened in the action-packed cartoon because she can fight with everyone else using her cool shadow magic.
But taking characters made by and for Jewish people and aligning them with actual Nazis, with actual people who actually want them dead, you are actively spitting on everything that made that character possible. It isn’t even good for shock value or the scandal — you’re saying you care more about how your edgy twist will shake things up than about the character, their creator or your audience. You’re saying patting yourself on the back for your “creative twist” is more important than the negative impact your work will make on the world.
Because these changes say something about those characters and what they represent. Having the embodiment of justice and everything good about America sympathize with fascists says something about how you view justice and America. Having a Jewish character — one whose motivations and worldview have been shaped by their time in a concentration camp — align themselves with Nazis says you don’t think that experience was hurtful or powerful enough to make them anti-Nazi. It says you don’t think the effects of the Holocaust were bad enough or lasting enough to have seriously impacted the people who lived through it.
It isn’t even just Marvel’s comics making these poor adaptational decisions. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, Magneto’s children — better known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver — caught hot water for their adaptations in Age of Ultron. In the comics, they are the children of Magneto and a Romani woman he met in Auschwitz, and their roots as Jewish and Romani heavily affect their outlooks on life. So when their characters were made Hydra test subjects in the movie and their Jewish and Romani heritage was erased, they are saying that backstory wasn’t important enough to adapt. Sure, in the comics it’s a huge part of why they feel like outcasts and why they view the world the way they do, but it’s not important enough to make it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’re saying that their being Jewish and Romani was less important than Peter Parker living with Aunt May or Bruce Banner’s magic expanding pants.
And let’s address the elephant in the room. Hydra is, and always has been, a Nazi organization. It was created in the comics as part of the Nazi party, participated in the Holocaust and held the same ideals as the Nazi party. It has its own agenda, but even in the latest Captain America movies, that agenda has been one of fascism and eugenics. The racial part of their ideology doesn’t come up in the same way, but they were created in the 1940s as a Nazi stand-in for Captain America to fight in his comics — as a separate entity from the real fight of the soldiers. Put another way, Hydra is to the Nazis what Captain America is to America.
It’s not hard to respect your characters’ origins and intentions. Good guy or bad guy, characters can grow and change without sacrificing the things that make them that character. And if you want to tell a different story, just tell a different story.
And stop making characters Nazis.