Captain America has a long history of punching and arguing with Nazis, and it looks like he’s been dragged into that same situation yet again. This time, it’s not in a comic book.
Over the weekend in Washington, D.C., white nationalist leader Richard Spencer was punched in the face while speaking to a reporter. The punch, which didn’t land perfectly but still caused Spencer to tear up on camera, has been remixed by Twitter and Reddit users and set to hundreds of songs.
Among self-professed liberals, two ideological camps have emerged in response to Spencer getting clocked: some have celebrated the anonymous vigilante’s actions, and others, including Nick Spencer, the current Captain America writer, have said punching anyone, even a man who believes non-white Americans are inherently lesser people, is reprehensible. To be clear, no one in the debate claims that Spencer is anything other than a Neo-Nazi; the only thing up for debate among liberals is whether the public should celebrate him getting sucker punched on the street.
Spencer’s speeches have been widely met by white viewers raising their arms in a Nazi salute and chanting “Hail Trump!” He has gleefully called the American press “Lügenpresse,” or “lying press.” That term was commonly used by the Nazi party to describe any critical coverage.
In 2013, Spencer told Vice, “Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.” He has advocated for what he calls “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and candidly believes in white supremacy among other ethnic groups. In the past, when asked if he is a neo-Nazi, Spencer has simply called Nazism antiquated, rather than evil.
That all brings us to Nick Spencer, whom Richard Spencer retweeted to his followers over the weekend. Nick Spencer is the current writer on Marvel’s Captain America, and he was headlining the book in 2016 when Steve Rogers was controversially revealed to be a Hydra double agent. Hydra, of course, is Marvel’s quasi-Nazi collective, which specializes in the occult as Hitler’s followers once did — though, of course, in the Marvel universe, that stuff is real. Spencer also writes Sam Wilson Captain America, who fought a fleet of liberal caricatures after they attack a Tomi Lahren stand-in.
Once Twitter users got wind of Nick Spencer’s tenure in comics, including the current Captain America run and Image’s truly exceptional The Fix, they began calling for Marvel to remove him from Captain America’s books. That request didn’t get very far.
Under Nick Spencer’s guidance, Captain America’s relationship with Hydra has become, well, complicated. Though it was later revealed that Spencer’s “Captain America was a Hydra agent all along” stunt was just that, a stunt, Marvel has undoubtedly used the striking image of Steve Rogers sympathizing with Marvel’s Nazis to promote its books. Many fans have pointed out that Nick Spencer has no qualms about linking a patriotic superhero to a white supremacist group, but he believes punching white supremacists is simply bad optics.
When hundreds of Captain America fans thundered into Spencer’s Twitter mentions, demanding he be removed from the title, Spencer responded by citing Captain America #275, in which Steve Rogers reacts with horror when a Nazi is hit with a glass bottle at a demonstration. Rogers corners both the Nazi in question, and one of the protestors inciting violence, and chastises them both as equals.
It’s a deeply weird selection of panels, and the morale appears to be that violence of any kind renders someone’s intentions useless. When the two guys try and jump him, Captain America ducks out of the way and says, “Two of a kind.” From Cap’s viewpoint in this particular issue, wanting to punch someone for being a Nazi makes you pretty much also a Nazi.
Those who say Nick Spencer should be removed from Captain America for discouraging violence against Nazis are forgetting that Marvel, along with the rest of American institutions, has a long and strange history of shifting viewpoints. Captain America, as evidenced even by classic comics, hasn’t always been an Inglorious Bastards-style vigilante, and both Spencers in this conflict support a Captain America who would protect the delicate faces of racists and anti-Semites.
If you’re a comic book fan who is bummed out that Nick Spencer and Captain America aren’t more gung-ho about beating up fascists, there’s luckily a ton of media available to fulfill that desire vicariously, and there are always heroes like Batman, Punisher, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, both Hawkeyes, Magneto, and Wonder Woman. Even Joker draws the line at Nazis.
Alternatively, you can also attend one of Richard Spencer’s white supremacist rallies and attempt to sock him in the eye again, because, and I’ll say this as clear as I can: fuck ‘em.