The writer who sparked endless controversies
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Nick Spencer has been a divisive writer for Marvel Comics, even if his name isn’t well-known outside of dorky comic circles. There are two main social justice controversies Marvel has had to contend with in the last five years, and Nick Spencer was at the heart of both. It speaks to his talent as a writer that he managed to annoy all sides of the political spectrum without being petty, mean-spirited, or insulting.
Captain America: Sam Wilson saw the mantle of Captain America passed to the titular black hero, which drew the ire of people who lean more traditional. They saw Sam Wilson’s anti-establishment rhetoric as being un-American, and his protection of illegal immigrants as being almost treasonous. These criticisms appear both in and out of the comics, as Sam Wilson is bombarded with Twitter hate inside the Marvel universe and in the internet of the real world. Accusations of pandering were thrown around, and Spencer ended up with more than a few death threats and calls for the end to his career. Spencer depicts the racism and hate that illegal immigrants face in America, with Sam Wilson’s sidekick being a refugee from Mexico, and it ended up being more than a little predictive when Trump’s wall started (and then suddenly stopped) being an idea.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Spencer also spearheaded the Secret Empire comic event, which had Captain America (the original Steve Rogers) become a secret Hydra agent. This time around he was slammed from the more progressive side of Twitter, accusing him of humanizing or even endorsing Nazism, or of being inconsiderate to a character that was built by Jewish scientists to fight Nazis. There were more calls to end his career and more wild conclusions about his political leanings. The power of Secret Empire is showing how dictatorships start, with both control over and relentless criticism of the media as Steve Rogers gives suspiciously Trump-esque speeches on-air and at the United Nations.
The truth is, Nick Spencer is a rare breed: a comic writer capable of portraying immense nuance in characters and world. In Captain America: Sam Wilson, Spencer doesn’t just approach the difficult topics of illegal immigration, national identity, or the state of race relations in modern America; he questions why they exist. The people mad at Sam Wilson have legitimate concerns about the guy, but those concerns are inflated by news companies and radio talk show hosts. At the same time, Secret Empire shows how brutal, oppressive regimes are founded; they are not elaborate military takeovers with rolling tanks and waving flags, but are brought on by a subversive and deeply creepy influence over the way people think about politics. His character nuance also appears in Astonishing Ant-Man and Superior Foes of Spider-Man, both showing the cycle of crime that the justice system and individual personalities perpetuate.
Despite being widely loathed by “politically engaged” people on the internet—right or left—Nick Spencer has never been more relevant. As Trump’s rhetoric becomes scarier, as voices in the left call for an end to free speech, and as people become increasingly divided by politics, his comics are a call for a basic level of human decency to the people you disagree with.