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The Comics Scandal that Fueled the Heathen Visibility Project

A fire needs both fuel and a spark. I've written and spoken about the spark that sparked the Heathen Visibility Project many times. That spark was observing a lack of good usable heathen images on the net. But the spark might not have caught fire if there was not already fuel laid ready to burn. In this post I'm writing about the origin of two of the the Project's key ideas, "symbol subversion," something the Nazis were doing to heathen symbols, and the goal of the Project to counteract that, "yield no cultural space to Nazis." I came up with both of those phrases in reaction to the HydraCap scandal, before I started the Heathen Visibility Project.

In 2016 a PR hack for Marvel Comics set the internet on fire by telling Time Magazine that Captain America was really a Nazi. In short order, the hashtags NickSpencerIsHydra SayNoToHydraCap NotMyCap and LeaveCaptainAmericaAlone took over Twitter. Brevoort was the PR hack, Spencer the guy responsible for the HydraCap storyline. I shared a silly meme on Facebook of the character Nick Fury saying "We recognize Marvel has made a decision, but seeing as it's a dumbass decision, we've decided to ignore it." The 68 comment and uncounted subthread fest that followed led to my first use of the phrase "yield no cultural space to Nazis," which would become the tag line of the Heathen Visibility Project.

The most basic problem with the HydraCap storyline is that was a betrayal of the intent of the original creators. Captain America was created as anti-Nazi pro-war propaganda at a time when the USA was not yet at war against Nazi Germany. Captain America #1 featured Cap punching Hitler in the face-- a foreign leader the US did not at that time consider an enemy. America could easily have gone the other way and sided with Germany. Captain America was created by two Jewish men who wanted to influence American public opinion toward war against Germany. Further, Cap was clearly a creator insert character for Jack Kirby, who made Capt. America an artist as well as a soldier. Kirby went on to serve in WWII as a scout, going in alone and unarmed in advance of Allied forces to sketch Nazi fortifications. In one incident, he was surprised by 3 German soldiers armed with guns, and he killed them all with a knife he took from one of them. Kirby WAS Capt. America-- first he dreamed it, then he did it. To take his creation and say Cap had been a Nazi all along was a slap in the face to his creators.

By the time I'd done explaining the issue and linking to news, two disparate groups of my Facebook friends were working together in a way I'd never imagined. I have a lot of righty friends from the publishing industry and the Libertarian Party, and also a lot of lefty friends from the pagan community. My righty friends were calling Nick Spencer a Holocaust denier, my lefty witchy friends were casting formal curses, and then my righty friends started suggesting curses for my witchy friends to cast. America was united by a common enemy.

At the time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was running trailers for a new Captain America movie, which is probably why Time Magazine wanted an article about Capt. America. Brevoort may have been of the PR school that says any publicity is good publicity. A speculation on the net was that perhaps he was jealous of the movie division because it made more money than the comics division, and he was trying to tank the movie out of spite. A theory I read at the time was that it was the opposite, they were trying to torpedo the comics and make bank off the movies because of a pay dispute with the dead creator's family, which made no sense even from a math perspective. Either way, he didn't succeed.

In the Facebook post I mentioned above, I encouraged my friends to only boycott the comics division and not the movies, since only the comics division was running the Nazi storyline and movie-Cap was still the beloved character we wanted to support. I compared Hydra-Cap to New Coke, and reminded people of the power of the market to demand the product we wanted and to not demand the one we didn't, and how consumers had successfully used that power to get back Classic Coke.

Of course comics fans knew that there would eventually be some other storyline, but Brevoort had not been talking to comics fans. He had been talking to readers of Time Magazine, a general audience that would mostly include fans of movie Cap, rather than comics Cap. Brevoort had said in the Time interview that the HydraCap storyline was not going to resolve quickly and would go on for years, and that Cap had been a Nazi all along, but the public outcry was eventually successful and Marvel Comics ditched HydraCap. However, in the meantime, before Marvel decided to respond to the public and call the whole thing off, they doubled down by trying to make comics store employees wear Hail Hydra shirts. The word problematic is overused, but it applies; Hydra meant Nazis from the beginning and Hail Hydra had always been a stand-in phrase for Hail Hitler. Making retail employees wear Nazi slogans for their jobs was somehow supposed to generate good publicity? Well, that backfired, as it deserved.

That part hadn't happened yet when my Facebook page became the public forum provided a lot of the raw materials from which I created the Heathen Visibility Project. As people discussed on my post, it was  apparent that if Marvel could make Capt. America a Nazi they could also do it to Thor. That prompted me to talk about symbol subversion, another phrase I use a lot when talking about the Heathen Visibility Project. Symbol subversion is taking a good symbol like Capt. America, or Thor's Hammer, and making it bad. I had already been fighting symbol subversion and other Nazi-related ills as the manager of an online Asatru forum. The literal Nazis of the 1940s had appropriated a lot of symbols from historical heathenry. Asatruars held many debates among ourselves about which symbols could be reclaimed and which could not, and we had decided to fight for the Hammer. It was literally the symbol of our faith, as it had been in historical times. It was not acceptable to allow Thor's Hammer to be lost to Nazis. The Capt. America character had already been portrayed lifting Marvel-Thor's Hammer, which in the Marvel universe meant he was "worthy," a Galahad-level grail knight of pure heart and faultless deeds. To say this pure-hearted warrior was a Nazi, implying Nazis could be "worthy," could not be borne.

May 28, 2016, I posted, "We must yield no space in popular culture to Nazism. The Hammer must not be associated with that in any way. There are real life Nazis already trying to appropriate it as a symbol. They are not pretend, and they are not harmless, and the fight against them must never falter."

And Marvel's Thor himself, a character clearly based on one of our actual gods in Asatru and other heathen religions, could have been the subject of similar subversion by Marvel Comics just as easily as Cap. There are deep historical and religious reasons not to allow Thor's Hammer to be claimed by Nazis, and not by neo-Nazis either.

As I pointed out in my fateful Facebook post, Nazis aren't imaginary and they aren't confined to the dusty pages of history. They are real and they are dangerous, and neo-Nazis still exist and should not be encouraged.

One of my friends pointed out the comics stories were all fake. I replied, "That's the definition of fiction. But ideas matter. Symbols matter. Mythologies, national narratives, and personalized heroes matter. The ideals to which we strive to live up matter."

The fact that public outcry actually worked in the case of HydraCap and that fans, the general public, and the great storehouse of pop culture symbols eventually got back our Cap unscathed and un-Nazified should encourage us. It means that it is actually possible to fight symbol subversion and win.

I thought of the Heathen Visibility Project due to matters which were completely unrelated to the comics scandal. As I mentioned, I'd already been fighting symbol subversion, but I had been doing it largely in private, among my fellow heathens. For years, I had noticed that when news outlets illustrated an article about Asatru, they often illustrated it with either a Marvel Comics Thor image or a photo of a white supremacist march. It had always irritated me, but I hadn't thought about trying to do something about it. When I launched the Heathen Visibility Project, I had just been searching for Asatru related images to use for my first Heathen Calendar, the 2017 Calendar. I was working on that in 2016, just after participating in the public reaction against HydraCap. As I did searches for heathen images, I had realized why so few news outlets used real heathen related photos: because there weren't very many available. Those were the things that I had in mind when I began the Project. But I quickly fell back on the two phrases I had used when I first started talking about HydraCap: "symbol subversion" and "yield no cultural space to Nazis." And when I was invited to speak about the Heathen Visibility Project at Pagan Pride, I thought again of the original Captain America and made the main motif of my speech "punch a Nazi in the face." So the spark for the Heathen Visibility Project was performing online searches for heathen related art and photos and not finding much that wasn't either Marvel or Nazis, but the ideas and experience of the HydraCap scandal provided ready-made fuel. With that fuel and that spark, we lit a fire that has never gone out.

I already cared about American symbols and culture before the comics scandal, of course, which is why I published my now out of print book American Celebration. But the HydraCap scandal and our conversation about the Hammer, symbol subversion, and denying Nazis the cultural space of search engine results by occupying it ourselves united my interest in American symbols with my heathenry in a way it had never connected before. I'm pleased to see all the other people joining in on the Heathen Visibility Project. I'm also enthused that a louder voice than mine is taking up the topic of symbol subversion of American symbols and will be publishing a new book on that soon, which I plan to review. Both that book and the Heathen Visibility Project are part of the push to fight back against symbol subversion. The HydraCap scandal was like the proverbial stone that started the avalanche.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thanks and you're welcome! Lots of people have been participating in the Heathen Visibility Project. There are also other groups o
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    First off Thank You for fighting that HydraCap storyline. That was so very contrary to everything I knew about Captain America th
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