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.