At one point during my interview with Jess Fink our conversation turned to the idea that flawed works of art can serve as inspiration. Fink mentioned how she was inspired by Tijuana Bibles but that she knew they were deeply flawed. Being a socially awkward person, I brought up that I felt it was important for people to acknowledge that they are inspired by and like things that aren’t necessarily good. The example I gave was Marvel’s Captain America movies. There are pieces of them I want to like as a comic book fan but as someone who appreciates good writing and acting it is hard for me to appreciate them as a whole–especially the first movie. It felt like a series of montages and cliches.
Fink countered that she actually liked Captain America but that perhaps she was “reading too much into it.” Both of us being terribly awkward people let the thread of conversation drop. A day later it hit me that Fink was likely talking about the now popular theory that the Captain America trilogy is actually a love story but not between Captain America and Agent Carter but instead between Captain America and Bucky. I was bothered that I had misread the conversation, especially because I feel Fink’s work has pushed the boundaries about who comics speak to. I was so annoyed that I followed up with Fink to see if my suspicions about her take on the Captain America film franchise were correct.
“First off, I agree with your criticisms about the first movie. It’s mostly a montage and it’s campy but somehow not campy enough to be interesting. I didn’t like the movie at all until I watched the second Cap movie, The Winter Soldier,” Fink wrote me in an email. “The second movie is really where all the relationship dynamics and the enthusiastic fandom for Steve and Bucky’s relationship comes from (it’s also just a much better movie). There are so many typical romance tropes that are present in the narrative that women and queer people have picked up on. The directors have said they don’t want to put a pin in how people define the relationship which leaves a lot of room for fans to interpret things. After seeing the second movie I went back and re-watched the first one and realized that most of the motivation for Cap to go after the big baddie is to avenge his friend Bucky. The second movie is also all about saving Bucky, who has lost his memory–it sounds like the plot of a romance novel! Two characters out of their time period, long lost childhood friends, one has memory loss, the other assumed his friend had died, the only way Bucky can regain his memory is by Steve’s love for him. Bucky takes the role that would typically be reserved for a romantic interest in a romance novel.”
The theory that the Russo Brothers, who directed Captain America 2 and 3, included a thinly veiled romance between Cap and Bucky has taken on a life of its own. Fans across the world, looking for some sense that Marvel is not just speaking to a straight white audience, have heaped praise on the idea, while pushing Marvel to confirm the relationship. Marvel has not gone that far but the Russo’s have refused to deny it. “People can interpret the relationship however they want to interpret it. . . .” Joe Russo said in an interview last year. “People have interpreted that relationship all kinds of ways, and it’s great to see people argue about what that relationship means to them. We will never define it as filmmakers, explicitly, but however people want to interpret it they can interpret it.”
Of course there are major detractors of the theory–conservatives who don’t want the “gay agenda” to infiltrate comics, and “purists” who would rather think of their comic heros as they were presented in the stories they read as children. Both of these groups have been vocally opposed to moves made by major comic book companies to better represent diversity.
“There is a huge fandom based around this relationship and a lot of times I hear ‘Why not go make your own comics? Why do Cap and Bucky have to be gay?’ Fink wrote. “I think that question is where the problem lies. Queer people are interested in pop culture just like everyone else, the only difference is they never get to see themselves in it. We are tired of not getting to join in the fun, or seeing the only queer characters killed off or only mentioned in passing. We are tired of being treated like there is something dirty or raunchy about seeing gays in media at all. And that’s where mainstream publishing is being left behind.”
Fink said that while it’s taking mainstream comics an excruciatingly long time to appeal to a diverse group of people, fans looking for real diversity can vote with their wallets. “There was a Kickstarter recently for a webcomic called Check Please, it’s a comic about a college hockey team, but the main character happens to be gay. The comic asked for $32,500, it’s received $398,520,” Fink wrote. “Proof that there is an overwhelming demand for queer representation in media and yet still it’s something mainstream publishers won’t touch for fear of offending their straight male audience.