Marvel Comics’ Captain America: Steve Rogers has made news in recent months because of its premise: the All-American hero Steve Rogers turns out to be an agent of the fictional evil organization Hydra.
The comic book storyline so far is as follows: the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, is revealed to be a sleeper agent for Hydra. Issue #2 explains that Captain’s evil nemesis, the Red Skull, utilized a supernatural being called a Cosmic Cube to essentially rewrite Captain America’s past, convincing Rogers’ mother to attend Hydra meetings in New York, while bringing along a teenager Rogers. In issue #1, while carrying out a mission to apparently rescue a hostage from a gang of villains, Rogers whispers the infamous line “Hail Hydra.” Without going into detail regarding its various iterations, suffice to say that Hydra is part of the Nazi machine. In the Marvel movies, Hydra is the scientific wing of the Schutzstaffel, commonly known as the SS, tasked with developing new weapons for the Third Reich during World War II.
The series has attracted major attention, including criticism by fans who do not want to see Captain America become an agent of Hydra. Part of the reason stems from the character’s origins: Captain America first appeared in November 1941 in Captain America Comics #1. He was a super soldier whose raison d’être was supporting the Axis powers (the cover of said comic shows Captain America punching Adolf Hitler). The character was created by two Jewish-American cartoonists working for Timely Comics, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Now, turning Captain America into an agent of a Nazi-related organization has been regarded as some fans as offensive. Even more so because 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the character’s debut.
The plot twist has also attracted mainstream attention. For example, Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort was interviewed by Time magazine about the reasons for the plotline. Meanwhile theWashington Post ran a piece that explains how “the comic-book reading world is buzzing because it looks as though the ultimate symbol of American heroism is a double agent working for the bad guys.”
This is fiction of course, but there are real world parallels, albeit less dramatic ones perhaps. In past years, there have been several military and intelligence U.S. officers that turned out to be agents working for other governments. Edward Snowden is a prime example, as he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and leaked classified information about global surveillance programs carried out by U.S. intelligence services. He then fled to Russia. Another example isAna Montes, an analyst who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency and in 2001 was arrested after having spent 16 years spying for the Cuban government. More recently, this past April a U.S. Navy flight officer, Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin, was arrested due to “espionage charges over suspicions [that] he passed secret information to Taiwan and possibly to China.”
To be fair, there are plenty of other instances of individuals in sensitive positions in other governments that were similarly imprisoned for spying on behalf of the U.S. One prominent example is Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, who worked for the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence. He was arrested and imprisoned, before being released as part of the December 2014 re-start of bilateral relations between Havana and Washington.
There is something morally devastating about discovering that a military or intelligence officer, tasked with protecting a nation, turns out to be an agent that works for “the enemy.” Captain America is, as his name shows, supposed to be the epitome of American patriotism and justice. As Marvel’s Brevoort explains, “there should be a feeling of horror or unsettledness at the idea that somebody like this can secretly be part of this organization… You should feel uneasy about the fact that everything you know and love about Steve Rogers can be upended.”
The same can be said for individuals like Snowden (we will leave for another time a discussion on whether he was justified or not for leaking intelligence secrets), Montes, and Lin, as well as Trujillo on the Cuban side.
Ultimately, Captain America will probably revert back to fighting Hydra instead of fighting for it – for instance, he could turn out to be some sort of double agent. As for the aforementioned real life cases of espionage by members of military and intelligence agencies, it is highly unlikely that it will be revealed that they were working for their home governments all along as part of some disinformation intelligence operation. Now that would be a plot twist.