How To Piss Off Your Readers

(And ensure it will be the proverbial cold day before they spend their hard earned lucre on anything you create.)

This process is simple, and requires only a modicum of effort from you, the creator. First, create a character. Make them interesting, sympathetic, and human (unless, of course, they’re not human, in which case the other two still apply) and then throw them headlong into adventure. Present them with a struggle, preferably one of high stakes: a life or death conflict in which they, their loved ones, and perhaps the world are in mortal danger. Put them through the proverbial wringer, a figurative rollercoaster of highs and lows, of glittering triumphs and guttering defeats. And then, when you’ve firmly established for your readers your protagonist’s heroic ways, when everyone is comfortable with who your character is have Steve Rogers kill an ally and reveal that Captain America has been an agent of Hydra all along.

Y’know, like that.

Ok, yeah, sure. The MCU that “everybody knows” is different from the comic canon. In the former, according to the link immediately previous, Hydra begins (maybe sorta-kinda) as the super science R&D branch of the Third Reich, while in the comics, the roots go back to an ancient secret society of geniuses (mad, or otherwise) infiltrated by aliens (cue wild hair and stoned expression). So Steve Rogers (whether it actually ends up being him, and not an artifact of the Reality Cube, as I’ve heard rumored), is NOT a Nazi. He’s just a life-long agent of a secret and criminal organization bent on world control. Sooooo much better, right?

This is a writing blog, so I’m not going into the entirely appropriate fan reactions to a fundamental undermining of a beloved character’s character. I’m not going into the
social and political spindling and mutilating of which this is but a symptom.
We’re writers and publishers here, and so I’m going to discuss to you the way in which you keep getting paid, instead of alienating your readership with stupid pranks designed to boost falling sales numbers.

The thing about this, the annoying thing about this is similar things have been done. Killed Superman. Killed Jean Grey, or any number of others. Killed Batman, most recently, I believe. And yet death is expected, in the comic world (and in that of genre fiction, I’m not looking at Mum at all, nope, not at all) and it’s often temporary. Or at least overblown.

This? By all accounts, to include the writer’s and editor’s, Steve Rogers has always been, and will always be an agent of Hydra. Cap, the same guy whose first appearance is punching out Hitler. That Cap. The one whose arch nemesis for a goodly while was Red Skull, and who’s foiled more of Baron Zemo’s plots than pretty much anybody else. That guy, is the deepest of deep cover agents for the same parent organization. Pull the other one, gents.

This, fellow writers? This is what you Don’t Do.

Now, if you’ve started a series, and you have a character who comes off a bit paragonish-paladiny in the shiny AD&D sense, it could be a killer reveal that they’re actually in the service of the Death God, or a greater demon of some sort. That works. But if you’re four books in, they’ve handled baddies, and suffered loss, had nose rubbed liberally in defeat, and yet risen to triumph over the forces of evil, etc. And then, at the climactic moment, they haul off and rip out the soul of the innocent they’ve just spent most of a book rescuing, and use that stolen power to tear open a portal to the Nether Hells, you should not be surprised if your books become harnessed as launch devices to get cargo into orbit.

Seriously, character consistency is paramount. Sure, if you have that particular yen, you can show how your beacon of light and goodness gets tarnished by the much of existence, slowly over time, until you can’t tell them from the ostensible baddies they dispatch with little more than a grimace of effort. IF you put in the time. If you develop the chops to do it with finesse, and make clear to the reader that this is a story of descent.

What you don’t do, is take a character you’ve created and developed in one direction, and turn them around in an instant with no warning. What you truly don’t do is take a character created by someone else, and give them a hard face-heel turn after decades of adherence to a strict code of honor and principle. At least, you don’t if you want to sell. And that’s exactly what Marvel is going to find out with this latest adventure.

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57 responses to “How To Piss Off Your Readers

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    And that’s exactly what Marvel is going to find out with this latest adventure

    I think you meant to say misadventure. 😦

  2. I’m entirely convinced they did it to cause such an uproar. There’s more people talking about Captain America in every forum than I’ve ever seen (including for one of his movies). They’re going by the “no such thing as bad publicity” pattern. Shock! Outrage! I must find out more!

    It’s stupid. It’s a ridiculous gimmick and it’s offensive. They’re in it for the cash and like pushing their agenda down their reader’s throats. That’s about it.

    • And it’s going to backfire.

    • Robotech_Master

      Marvel has done this sort of thing on a smaller scale dozens of times, subsequently canceling/retconning events with the involvement of later-revealed Skrull shapeshifters or Life Model Decoys.

      It’s not even worth getting upset about this, because past behavior has shown they’ll just reverse it within a few issues with a “Ha ha, made you look!”

      Really, when you consider how far comic circulation has fallen since the “Death of Superman” and Marvel-caused distributor implosion in the ’90s, comic books are barely even a sideshow now anymore. These days, they only exist at all for the purpose of generating bankable IP that can be recycled into movies and TV, where the real money is. Really, they could do whatever they wanted to in the comic books and the vast, vast majority of consumers wouldn’t know or care unless something blew up and went viral like this.

      In light of that, it’s kind of hard to blame them for courting a little controversy in the hope of just getting someone even to notice them. In the end, it’s basically a child acting out to try to get attention.

    • Oh, I’m sure they did it for the uproar. And, yes there are lots and lots of people talking about it. Anyone buying the comic, though? I’ve heard lots of people say they won’t. I haven’t paid attention to most comic books since the ’80’s and the ones I did follow into the ’90’s I dropped when I quit working graveyards at the C-store, so the financial hit of someone like me not buying isn’t going to hit them. But how about the fans they still have (had)? How many are buying and how many are giving them the one finger salute?

      • Robotech_Master

        It’s like I said above. They don’t really have enough fans left to matter, of print comics. They’re not even doing comics for the fans anymore; there’s not enough money in that. They’re doing them to generate new ideas that they might mine for movies or TV later on.

        • Draven

          The thing is, looking at Diamond’s circulation numbers for comics doesn’t give you the entire picture. It certainly doesn’t tell you how many people read a comic electronically.

          • Robotech_Master

            If the ratio of people reading e-comics to regular comics is anything like the ratio of people reading e-books to regular books, only 1/4 as many people are reading them digitally as read them in print. Which doesn’t add a whole lot, numbers-wise.

            My suspicion is that even fewer people are reading them digitally, because the only digital methods I’ve seen for reading comics are far more awkward and unwieldy than reading a print e-book. You zoom in on individual panels or parts of the page, or else you end up with everything really really tiny on even a fairly large tablet or desktop screen.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              For that matter, are the current issues of the print version even available in e-format or where the average fan can find the e-format?

              By accident, I found an e-format Avengers comic on-line but it was about an Avengers team that to the best of my knowledge didn’t exist in the print version.

              Admittedly since I’m no longer a fan of print comic books, I have not gone looking for e-versions of the current print editions.

              Now Amazon has Kindle versions of past DC/Marvel print editions.

            • Draven

              Reportedly, digital comics sales hit $100 million in 2014. I don’t know how many sales that translates to.

      • “Anyone buying the comic, though?”

        Not me. I can’t boycott them any harder, I haven’t bought more than ten comics since about 1994. The last one was 2014.

        Today I was looking at my collection, because the Captain America thing hacked me off so badly. These are very simple stories, the comics. Full of tropes and expected plots, they follow fairly rigid rules. For every character with staying power, there are scores that were tried and eventually faded away.

        I’ve got thousands of comics from the 1980s in my collection. For a decade I collected pretty well everything. Heading into the 1990s, things started to get kind of ugly. DC destroyed its whole universe and started a new, crappier one where heroes were not very heroic, and villains were just plain skeavy. Superman got married. Died, Came back lamer. Batman, he just got weird.

        Marvel then destroyed their universe and started a new, crappier one. Spiderman died. Then he was a clone. Then he died. Then…

        Then I didn’t care. I spent that money on other things. Comics had become stupid.

        That was 1994, roughly. Twenty two years later, we have Captain America is a Nazi. Now, I care again. Except now I’d care to see them go broke, for deliberately setting out to f- over something I once loved. It’s been dead twenty years as far as I’m concerned, but they’ve dug up the corpse, dressed it in an SS uniform and now they’re dragging it through the streets.

        It’s malice. It’s an attack on my ideals and my life. It’s an attack on Western values and dreams. A very stupid one, which will rebound upon the perpetrators, but the malice is real.

        I will not forget. If I get a chance to spike these guys, I’ll do it. Most of the people who care a damn about comics seem to feel the same. That’s some major karmic build-up waiting to fall. The impact will be felt, I’m sure.

  3. Laura M

    I just saw Civil War last week. I am now really upset.

  4. Robotech_Master

    Technically, Hydra is an ancient secret society infiltrated by aliens in the MCU, too. Or so Agents of SHIELD has revealed this season, anyway.

  5. morrigan508

    I devoutly hope that it costs them PILES of money, and causes people to loose their jobs.

  6. BobtheRegisterredFool

    It’s fine.

    Captain America’s origin is very tied to a specific time and place. His execution has been diverging the more the readership has lost contact with that time and place.

    Last decade if he was done by a bunch of people in their twenties to forties, they would have been thirty years out of date. They would have to have been fortunate in family upbringing, or have deliberately studied history well to have much of a grasp. Rumor indicates that it shows.

    White man must be a Nazi? That is certainly today’s fashion.

    • Draven

      it is, pure and simple, gutting the soul of a character, and following a pattern that the comics side of marvel has set up repeatedly over the last decade or so…

      … and is exactly why i don’t buy comics anymore. Their loss considering at one time i was buying all the x-books, cap, iron man, and several other series at newsstand prices…

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Rogers must necessarily be a fanatic, and there are really only two plausible alternatives. a) He is a progressive working ultimately for FDR. b) He is an American who cannot live at peace when someone is at war with America.

        b) cannot be the case, as otherwise he would have done in the fifties and 2000s what he did in the 1940s. The former was retconned, and the later never was depicted at all.

        Americans Progressives were essentially the same as Italian Fascists, and were deeply into eugenics.

        Steve Rogers was an a) fanatic, who posed as a b) in order to carry out FDR’s progressive agenda. However, FDR died before the plan could come to fruition. So Rogers had to wait for the next real opportunity, and allied with the comic book Nazis as being the closest viable substitute.

        • Robin Munn

          b) cannot be the case, as otherwise he would have done in the fifties and 2000s what he did in the 1940s. The former was retconned, and the later never was depicted at all.

          You’re confusing the character with the writers’ misunderstanding of the character here. The Steve Rogers that they portrayed would, and did, do in the fifties what he did in the forties. That that was later retconned, and that they didn’t have him doing it in the 2000’s, doesn’t change what the original character was. It only proves that the modern writers have no understanding of patriotism, courage, and honor.

          b) most certainly is the case; the fact that the modern writers have failed to depict it doesn’t change who the character really is.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            Yeah, but the sensible approach doesn’t let me claim that Rogers’ alternate true gay Nazi personality was caused by FDR molesting him. Or insist that the MCU is obligated to do a movie about Bucky dealing with the mess.

            I’ve never been enough into superhero comics to have reason to think that the contemporary creators had much worth.

            Nazi Rogers? Agree, amplify, and bounce back with a suggestion that might poison pill it. Maybe bizarre racism about Rogers’ Irish heritage. You know, it is awfully brave of x and y to finally admit how all the New York Irish were secretly for Hitler.

  7. I can’t help wondering if that infamous panel with cap uttering, “Hail Hydra” might not turn out, some time down the road, to be an ironic jape.

  8. TheMightyEmu

    You know, DC has made foolish, dull, or just plain boneheaded decisions regarding their characters and continuity; but Marvel seems to do it out of -spite-.

  9. Christopher M. Chupik

    Worst of all, it’s not even worth getting outraged over. It’ll be resolved lamely in a few months time and Marvel will have gotten the attention they crave. They’re trolling their fanbase, that’s what we should be outraged over.

  10. Um. 616 Hydra is totally a nazi organisation. They were founded by a literal nazi (Baron Strucker) who was doing nazi work with Hydra resources. Granted, Hitler tried to tear it down because apparently Strucker wasn’t being Nazi Enough, but, later, when Hydra was nearly destroyed, Strucker rebuilt it with S.S. soldiers

    When the Red Skull (personally recruited by Hitler, and who once challenged Hitler because he was not Nazi Enough) became affiliated with it, he literally said he intended to use Hydra as a tool to raise the Fourth Reich.

    Trying to downplay Hydra’s actual origin and purpose in comics and lessening the blow of the reality of terrible writing softens this abominable thing that Marvel has allowed to happen. It’s outright honest to goodness antisemitism. Even if they reveal that it was a hoax somehow in the very next comic (and all the press they’ve done assures us that not only is this REALLY Steve Rogers, but that there have been hints that this was true for years), the damage is already done. Marvel, a leading company built by Jewish people in an industry built by Jewish people, just desecrated the history and Jewish origins of a beacon of hope by and for Jewish people everywhere. For crying out loud, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon received death threats for creating him a full year before the U.S. entered the war. They later fought in that war.

    So please, please, do your research a little better. Hydra is LITERALLY nazis, and Nick Spencer and Joe Brevoort have made Captain America their golden poster boy.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Using the Nazis as comic book villains at all arguably contributes to undermining knowledge of their historic evil, madness, and stupidity. At this point, they are stock villains. Whenever Hollywood doesn’t want to establish motivation, or figure out a plot viable enough to be profitable, they use Nazis. The name is debased when people think ‘death rays’ and not, say, the opportunity cost in murdered communists. (Because a different power block, not poisoned by those ideologies, might have been able to end the USSR. Before the USSR could put Mao in charge of China.)

      Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Leopold are in decreasing order the greatest mass murderers. When we forget how they carried those out, we make a occurrence more likely.

  11. Returning to the book idea: this is exactly why I stopped reading the Anita Blake books. The first victim of character assassination was Richard, then Jean Claude was gutted and Anita turned into a nymphomaniac. What had been a very enjoyable and different look at urban fantasy/monster hunting starting a gifted and conflicted woman devolved to porn.

  12. Robin Munn

    My response to Marvel’s latest idiocy:

    “No, you move.”

    • Robin Munn

      And, not because I think anyone here will fail to get the reference, but more because I just gave myself another excuse to post this:

  13. Looking at it from a purely narrative standpoint, I have difficulty with the plausibility of any character being a sleeper agent for that long without ever being suspected. Even Kim Philby, who may have been the most effective double agent in history, was under suspicion for much of his career and escaped prison only by deft political maneuvering and a willingness to throw the others in his network, like Guy Burgess, to the wolves.

    And there have been no leaks from the Hydra side? If Rogers was doing anything–even passing along information–for Hydra, then at a very minimum his handlers knew (one assumes that he outlived several in such a long career) and the people who used the data could make some canny guesses as to the source. No member of Hydra ever tried to make a deal by outing Rogers? Please–not even cults are that hermetic.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      What if Rogers had instead become the Secret Master of Hydra? If he didn’t have the skills to take over from FDR when he died, he could have coopted Hydra to either grow a replacement, or wait for similar circumstances to reoccur.

  14. Christopher M. Chupik

    And of course, the peanut gallery:

    “Mr. Damien Walter ‏@damiengwalter · May 25

    People are up in arms about Captain America being a fascist? Did they just now notice?”

    This is the sort of man who has made The Guardian the bastion of journalistic integrity it is today.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/26/guardian-admits-rogue-reporter-fabricated-interviews/

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Rogers must necessarily have supported or failed to entirely oppose FDR. FDR was a progressive. Italian Fascism was a deliberate adaptation of American Progressivism. Just going by the quote, Walter is showing remarkable historical literacy, for him.

      • Because anybody who thinks it’s more important to fight Nazis than to focus on local politics is totally a fascist….

        What he’s talking about is the usual slander of “anybody who is patriotic is a fascist and a total Nazi” junk.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          *Very deceptively cherrypicks data regarding impact on Americans…*

          Everyone who makes that claim about patriotism deserves the thanks of all Whites, for helping to make Fascism great again. #TrumpTrain #BLM #LGBTBBQ

          • Careful, sir, your sarcasm is showing…

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              I honestly do think that:
              1. Gay Nazi character derailment isn’t much compared to the long established character derailment.
              2. The value of official comic canon was already so low that this did not make it worth less.
              3. Carelessly applying labels like ‘white supremacist’ tends to make a white supremacist faction more politically viable. I do not think that such could long coexist with the Republic in the future, and hence must oppose such factions.

              Suppose a writer had acquired in depth knowledge of the original Cap runs, WWII counter intelligence, relevant law during each decade of the twentieth century, WWII era American mores, modern counterintelligence and counterterrorist events and techniques and maybe everything violent the communists were ever involved in. With that as a foundation, I might accept retconning the WWII arcs to make a principled argument that Cap would not do x to communists or Muslims for the same reason he refused to do x to Nazi sympathizers during WWII.

              Doing only part of that, as Marvel has been doing for years, looks lazy and uninformed at best.

              That said, the forties were seventy years ago. The general public doesn’t read the same stories now they did then. The conventions of the superhero genre were not as developed then. The writers then were not restrained by DC and Marvel’s libraries of IP. The Cap stories first had to meet the needs of militaristic propaganda. Building interesting comic book stories around modern ideas about proper use of force, whether those of leftwing rights activists or rightwing counterterrorists and peace officers, would probably be challenging and require a great deal of innovation. Or maybe I’m a dumbass, and it would be very easy to do.

              • ” Building interesting comic book stories around modern ideas about proper use of force, whether those of leftwing rights activists or rightwing counterterrorists and peace officers, would probably be challenging and require a great deal of innovation. Or maybe I’m a dumbass, and it would be very easy to do.”
                It depends on the audience and the writer. The problem is, most people don’t have training on use of force, and could care less about the justifications for use of deadly force and the proper escalation of force, and getting it right would require research (or military/police training). In other words, unless you can convince Mr. Kratman to write for Marvel (and Marvel to let him do so) we’re unlikely to see that sort of comic book story done any time soon – or at least done well any time soon. I expect a lot of “muh feelz” and modern liberal handwringing morals though.

  15. “I recognize that you’ve made a decision. Since it’s a stupid ass decision, I choose to ignore it.”
    – Paraphrasing Nick Fury. (One of the things that bought the MCU a lot of trust– I was among those banging my head against the wall when they said they were making Fury black. It’s the kind of stupid, racist change that Marvel’s been doing for ages. Turned out to be like when that Daredevil movie made Kingpin black– they got someone who could do the character. Told me that they might do stuff that looks like the usual “oh we’ll just make a character into a token” junk, but they’d keep the character. Now DC just needs to get a prior service Marine to help write a Jon Stuart series and we’re gold. Why a series? Because their movies suck, and the camo-green Green Lantern could carry it. Especially if they use it to bring in some Static Shock and an actual Batman series…..)

  16. They mistake pedagogical propaganda for the divine poetry of inspiration.

    The propagandist says: “We need more [fill in object of progressive condescension here] superhero role models for people to read, box let’s look around and find a character that we can turn into [fill in object of progressive condescension here] .”

    The storyteller says: “Hey, did you see that guy you know the one… Shaft. What if we made Nick Fury like that guy?”

    It’s the difference between pushing a little old lady because you’re a fag, and pushing a little old lady because she’s standing in front of the speeding bus.

    • Oh good Lord. I’m back on the touchscreen, with predictable results.

      I don’t know where the “box” came from in the second paragraph.

      And in the last place it shouldn’t be a cigarette, it should be “because you’re a thug.”

      Sigh.

      Side note: Is there anyone else who uses “faggot” in ordinary speech? I don’t mean in the Milo Yiannopoulis-tour sense, but in the bundles of wild blackberry for hugely culture and bonfire kindling meaning? I got a shocked look recently on that one.