Thursday, December 02, 2004

Comic Politics

John Hinderaker has a post on Karl Zinsmeister's new Iraq war comics. Hinderaker calls comics "a medium in which the liberals will have a hard time competing."

Hinderaker--who's a pretty cool guy--should take it as a badge of honor that he doesn't know about the inner-workings of the comic-book world. This little subculture is pretty much dominated by people with moderate to strong liberal leanings. (Not that there's anything wrong with it!) Comic book writers have been proponents of progressive politics dating back to the start of the Cold War and moving all the way through present day. For a good example of where comic book writers are at politically, see this piece on the comic book world's reaction to September 11.


Ink Stained Wretch said...

That's interesting. I haven't read any comics since the late 1980s so I haven't seen how they've evolved since then. But I'll take the Galley Slaves' word for it that they've gone left-wing in the last decade and a half.

Still, this is a pretty recent phenomenon if it is true. The comics I read -- the Marvel and DC ones -- were conservative boarding on reactionary. They posed a strict manichaean view of good and evil.

The heroes selflessly protected society from the villians that sought to do it great harm. These heroes were proud patriots, not internationalists. They did not challenge their government or their society because both were represented in the comics as inherently good, decent and worth preserving.

Superman and Captain America would personally go on missions for the president. Batman worked with local law enforcement in Gotham. The Avengers were actual government employees.

Economics was rarely discussed but the attitude was laissez-faire: the poor you always have with you. The Iron Man comics actually had a corporate giant as its hero. Batman was surely among the wealthiest 1%.

On cultural issues, the comics were generally silent too, but presented a kind of quiet conservatism similar to 1940s movies. There might be romance but any sex was discrete and off-camera. Everyone was heterosexual. Alcohol and drug use was verboten.

Minorities were visible but their status as such was rarely noted. Color-blindness, not affirmative action, was the norm.

As for the villains, there were no root causes at work here. They were plainly bad, bad people and incorrigible recidivists to boot: in a word "evildoers." The heroes were obliged to use unilaterally use deadly force because the danger the villains presented was too grave to try to negotiations. Besides the villains would probably cheat anyway. Collateral damage might happen, but it was generally forgiven.

In extreme cases, readers would thrill as the (Frank Miller) Batman, Daredevil, the Punisher, Wolverine and the Spectre simply exterminated bad guys in ways that would give ACLU lawyers conniptions.

Some did break this mold, like the X-Men and the Watchmen, but they were the exceptions, not the rule. Even there super-hero action counted for a lot more than polemics.

Maybe it has changed since then. But there was a time not that long ago when superhero comics were the single most conservative element of popular culture.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading some of the Marvel Essentials collections of the first few years of Marvel comics like Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider Man, The Avengers and the Hulk, and I have to say they are pretty conservative, or at least very reliably anti-communist. And this is clearly anti-communism, not xenophobia or racism; again and again Asians in Vietnam and Red China and individual people in Russia and other Eastern European states are portrayed as victims of the communists or heroic resistors against them, and several times communist agents and apparachiks are turned against Red tyranny by the example of Bruce Banner's or Tony Stark's magnanimity and human decency, and then fight side by side with our heros against the commies. I found this refreshing, as comics now (of which I have only a limited knowledge) seem pretty left wing and politically correct.

Anonymous said...

As a babyboomer raised on the Superman of the '50s and the beginning of the Stan Lee reign of Marvel, I was thoroughly steeped in the comics culture of the time. And it reflected each decade surrounding it.

It should be no surprise that the current output reflects both the coarsening culture AND the historical deficits of young authors. For example, The Punisher--a vigilante wreaking havoc on criminals for the death of his family--has evolved to 1) a psychotic Vietnam Veteran whose men committed atrocities e.g. scalping the dead; 2) lives in a world where political and business corruption is a given, not an anomaly; 3) puts to gruesome death a preacher who, of course, is fanatically anti-homosexual, while having no apparent qualms in dealing with a homosexual sheriff--in rural Texas; 4) battles an island horde consisting of former Delta Force, Seals, Green Berets, etc., which implies the military produces trained killers as opposed to honorable warriors (see #1).

This may be due to the author being from Ireland. Or perhaps the creators work in NYC. In any case, comics as a genre has changed drastically.

Anonymous said...

The fans are no picnic either.