Welcome back to Geek Life! There are only three more to go before my year long trip down memory lane ends. For this installment, I decided that I’d use my soapbox one last time. I’ve railed against Star Wars fans getting mad at George Lucas. I’ve said some really not nice things about comics in the 90s and the fanboys that nearly ruined the whole industry. I was no holds barred in my feelings about what’s been going on with the Avengers, and their new direction in recent years. I’m almost willing to bet my poor old soapbox has developed some really bad back problems from supporting my fat ass over the previous 23 installments.
Comics and Politics… How Real Should Our Heroes Be?
This time around, I’m going to set it off to the side for a good chunk of this article. Don’t worry, I’m going to climb up on that bastard soon enough, but I want to take as fair of an approach to this topic as I can. After all, this installment is very mature. It might even be more mature than the article I did about comics growing up because I’m going to discuss the growing presence of politics (and to a lesser extent, religion) in our funny books. It seems like ever since Marvel’s Civil War, we as fans have had to deal with politics in the news, at the voting booths, on television, and in the comics we buy. I think we should look at the major topics raised over the past few years, and one brand new development recently released in DC Comics’ Action Comics #900. So what do ya say, kiddies? Let’s get started!
As I’ve already covered in my Geek Life article Comics Grow Up, the medium has always had to deal with the sensibilities of the readers. In the 1950s, politicians directly influenced decades of stories when they decided comic books were no longer good for kids. Instead of the readers themselves influencing what their favorite series would show or discuss, the Comics Code Authority decided it for us. As comics progressed into the Silver Age, readers were progressing too. Thanks to social climates of race and drug problems, comics made sure they didn’t ignore this. In more recent years, writers like Alan Moore made sure his political views bled through in his works like Watchmen and V for Vendetta by issuing warnings to those who were too willing to hand more power to elected officials.
In just the last few years, though, it seems that stories are being more geared toward commenting on political climate. Marvel, a publisher that never shied away from expressing their own views, made headlines with Civil War. Readers of Marvel knew for months that something bad was going to happen with the superheroes. Soon, the Superhero Civil War exploded all over the place. However, the biggest headlines was Spider-Man revealing his identity. After decades of concealing his identity to keep his loved ones safe, why on Earth would he do this?
The government wanted to make it illegal for people with superpowers to use them without being “registered” with them. Obviously, this was already a problem with villains, but it was the heroes that had the biggest problem with it. Tony Stark was the hero acting on behalf of the government. His identity as Iron Man was already known to the public. He also claimed his “futurist” nature made it easy for him to go along with the idea because he knew an incident was going to happen that could potentially turn public opinion against the heroes. Sure enough, a tragedy in Stamford, CT was the tipping point. In response, the goverment passed the Superhero Registration Act.
For Peter Parker, he was now an Avenger and an employee of Tony Stark. Aunt May and Mary Jane were living in Avengers Tower and was safe from harm. To say Peter felt obliged to finally tell the world he was Spider-Man is a bit of an understatement. All his success was due to the man who helped the government get this passed.
However, Peter’s hero, Captain America, could not be more against the Registration Act. Cap eventually formed a team of like-minded heroes and create an underground group of heroes that remain unregistered. Much like the American Civil War, friends and lovers found themselves on opposite sides of the issue. Neither side budged and one of the unregistered heroes was murdered by a cybernetic Thor clone when it lost control and actually believed itself to be the missing God of Thunder.
Soon, the battle between those for and against the Registration Act spilled out of the comics and into comic shops, basements, and other typical hang outs for comic fans. I’d like to call this the Super Geek Civil War. Those siding with Iron Man couldn’t understand why anyone who sided with Captain America couldn’t see the legal implications of vigilante-ism. Those on Cap’s side couldn’t believe the other side couldn’t see the potential blood bath that would happen when and if the names of the heroes got into the wrong hands.
It was getting ugly. Debates got heated. Honestly, it wasn’t much unlike a true debate between two different political parties who hated each other. I have to assume that these debates eventually turned physical. I can remember a debate I had with a couple of Iron Man backers and I know I just wanted to punch them in the face. These weren’t exactly glorious times for me personally, or comic fans in general.
Looking back on it, I think these debates revealed some political leanings by those who took their sides. I’m proud to admit that I am a Liberal, at least socially. I’m also proud to say I’m a patriot, even if sometimes it’s hard. Some don’t understand how someone can be both. Liberals have a nasty reputation for wanting to tinker with things to make the country better while Conservatives like keeping things just as they are because they feel the country is running a-ok as it is. During the Super Geek Civil War, Iron Man’s side couldn’t understand how one person could both uphold, and believe in, the law, and act through vigilante actions. Cap’s side couldn’t understand how a potential total lack of regard for the individual’s, and their families, safety made a whole lot of sense. Cap’s side lived in gray areas that had to be there to provide the most amount of safety possible, while Iron Man’s sides took a hardline on the registration with nothing but black and white thinking.
With Civil War, Marvel did what it always did by putting real life, social issues into their books. While the main focus of the story was the split in the superhero community, Marvel made sure to draw allusions to the Patriot Act and the alleged C.I.A. leaks of agent names and covers. These were major political hot topics. Marvel wasn’t exactly using science-fiction or mutants to explore themes. They were blatantly taking a swing at some of the things going on in our own country. What’s funny is that the series was written by a Scotsman. That probably should tell you how we were perceived around the world.
Still, whether or not Marvel was truly taking a political stand with the Civil War story, it still used ideas like growing social angst, how those with power regard those without, and what happens when a situation is so hot and boiling over with emotional outcry helps feed a certain group of politicians’ need to enforce strict laws as a knee-jerk reaction instead of taking a moment to get to the real root of a problem. Regardless, the story created plenty of awkward situations (like we don’t have enough of those already) among fans when they encountered other fans. We never knew whether or not that guy or girl we’re talking to was on the opposite side or not. I always thought the majority of fans backed Cap, but I could have been wrong about that as well. I mean, after all, I thought Al Gore was going to mop the floor with George W. Bush in 2000.
Just because Civil War eventually ended, it didn’t mean Marvel was done with the use of political parallel in their stories. While the time leading up to, and during, Secret Invasion didn’t really use politics, the eighteen months or so immediately following Secret Invasion certainly did. The Skrull Invasion ended with the Skrull Queen publicly executed by Norman Osborn. The man who was once the Green Goblin was now the hero of the world. With Tony Stark tossed out of S.H.I.E.L.D., Osborn took the keys to the kingdom and became the top cop at a new organization called H.A.M.M.E.R. Using fear and anger directed toward the heroes, Osborn gave himself all the power he needed to do whatever he wanted. It eventually all came crashing down when Osborn’s own fractured psyche led him to taking one step too far.
I don’t think I need to say this “Dark Reign” was Marvel’s allegory to the perception of the Bush Administration. So much post-9/11 legislation didn’t exactly hide the idea of giving up some personal freedoms for the intangible idea of “safety”. Fear for concepts and certain types of people kept people on the edge so they’d gladly trade some things they took for granted to feel that much safer. It was almost like saying our complacency with these wonderful rights and freedoms led us to the tragedy of 9/11. Everything about Osborn’s reign as top cop was focused around twisting the public’s perception of what the heroes did for them. He was saying that our trust and love of the heroes allowed them to do whatever they wanted and eventually led to the Skrull Invasion that nearly wiped everyone out.
These days, Marvel has returned to the good old fashioned idea of heroes saving people from major threats. They aren’t so worried about registrations or entrusting one man with all the power. The election of President Barak Obama provided a lot of opportunities for comic publishers to do some fun things to take advantage of the historic event. Obama revealed that he was a huge comic book and sci-fi fan. Never one to let this sort of situation slide, Marvel produced a special story within The Amazing Spider-Man #583. In it, Spidey (Obama’s favorite hero as a kid), saves the soon to be inaugurated President from the Chameleon. The issue was offered with a variant cover of the new President hanging out with Spider-Man. Anyone hoping to gobble up as much memorabilia from Obama’s election grabbed as many issues as they could. The first printing of the variant cover skyrocketed in worth. The second printing became even more valuable. Eventually, the issue went to six printings.
The Obama cover didn’t meet with much opposition or complaint. No one denied the historical significance of the election, but every now and then, a change in the nationality of cartoon or comic book characters creates a hellstorm of coverage that, quite frankly, sickens me.
In 2007, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was preparing to go from animated series/comic book/toy line to a live action, big budget movie. The thing is with movies is that, for it to be as widely accepted as possible, sometimes elements need to be changed in order for more people to relate to the characters or situation. One example of this is coming to theaters in a couple months. In Europe, Captain America: First Avenger will likely drop the “Captain America” part. What does a French guy care about Captain AMERICA as much as he might care about the “Avenger” aspect of the story and title.
Anyway, Hasbro announced that the “Real American Hero” part of the G.I. Joe mythos was going to be dropped from the title. The idea was to make G.I. Joe a more international strike force against evil. While we all remember growing up with G.I. Joe being a rough and tumble American force fighting against the terrorist group Cobra, but we also have to remember that times were very different back then. I’m not sure how else to put this, so I’m just going to say it… America and our ideals and culture isn’t exactly a high commodity anymore. Our involvement in certain arenas has kinda soured some on America.
Pundits like Glenn Beck and John J. Miller aren’t exactly looking at it as a marketing technique to expand the sale of through and through American characters to other markets. Beck looks at it as teaching children to embrace a “one world” government and hate America as a country. Miller views it almost like a group of mercenaries with no national connection. Does this mean that these guys also believe fans of G.I. Joe sans “Real American Hero” are contributing to some sort of anti-American movement? Do they really believe that a cartoon character will make people HATE America?
When I see arguments like this from foolish Nationalists, I can only shake my head and wonder if they can honestly believe in their own comments. Was it a slow news day that day? Beck, in particular, was really revved up for this topic. In his statement about the change in the brand name, Beck used words like “bullcrap”, called the U.N. a “toothless bunch of pansies”, and finishes up by saying “some are trying to indoctrinate our kids into hating their own country, turning us into some one-world-government nightmare; hating America, turning it into a dirty word.”
Ugh… I don’t even know how to move forward from here. I guess it’s time to pull out that soapbox I’ve been saving. I’m kinda curious who the hell really believes much that comes out of Glenn Beck’s mouth. He’s shown on several occasions that he’s just a windbag who doesn’t always have the facts. Because he still has some facts, he’s not even in the same league as Rush Limbaugh who just spouts hateful opinion with nothing to back anything up. So, Beck uses anger against pop culture to attract as much attention as possible. I mean this guy once had a stand up comedy act that I wouldn’t watch even if some jerk had my wife captive and about to kill her if I didn’t. I believe he thinks of himself more of an entertainer than a news guy, but he fails on both counts.
However, Beck doesn’t quit there.
Lucky me… I was already planning on this type of article when something truly interesting happened in Action Comics #900. Superman, once the beacon of truth, justice, and the American way, renounced his U.S. citizenship. His reason was simple – he wanted to be a citizen of the world. He has these powers, why can’t he help make the world a better, safer place? Why does he only have to save Americans? It doesn’t make sense for him to turn a blind eye to a world that has a lot of problems.
Does this make sense to Glenn Beck? Oh, hell no, it doesn’t. The guy uses this as an example of our country becoming unrecognizable. This sort of action is “indoctorinating” our children into believing America is “baaaaad” and “we need to grab hold of our children” because “we’re losing our country because we’ve lost them” and he needs to “target young America with information”. So I guess a guy created by a couple poor Jewish guys (and Beck doesn’t exactly have a great track record with Jews), who came from a whole other planet, who just so happened to land in Kansas is American and ever believing he is anything other than American is evil. I have to wonder if Glenn Beck thinks Superman is our secret weapon against the world when we need to impose our will on everyone else, or if he even knows that Superman is from a different planet. Either way, Glenn Beck might be from another planet himself, and he’s certainly the secret weapon that usually leads to a sour mood from me.
What irritates me the most is that people like Beck and Miller can’t understand a logical or story-driven progression leading to something like this. These people still believe that we are the absolute best country in the world and we’ve never done any wrong. Even when general concensus from several other countries or studies on our educational programs, work ethic, or value of our currency says otherwise, they don’t see the things we need to improve upon. In the case of Superman, people should have moments when their love of God or country is questioned. It usually strengthens that love when there are moments of weakness or contemplation. As people with free will we shouldn’t just be content.
Worse than anything, it seems Beck just doesn’t understand that these characters are fictitious. They are not real people and the situations involving the changes have nothing to do with anyone’s feelings about our country or plan to make children believe in “one world” governments. G.I. Joe wants to sell more toys overseas and make movies. Superman doesn’t want his power to be owned by one country. That’s all there is to it. To make such a big deal out of these things are idiotic and painful to hear.
We’ve always heard that religion and politics are taboo topics in many social and professional situations. It’s true because these are topics that elicit the most emotion from people. Even those who consider themselves atheists or anarchists have opinions that they strongly defend. However, when it comes to fiction, politics and religion play huge roles. Both played major roles in Star Wars. They play major roles in works like The Iliad. Even the Bible uses a little politics mixed in with a majorly religious story. When looking at the Bible and other religious texts, while their status of fiction or non-fiction can always be debated by people more qualified than me, they still qualify as stories.
When it comes to comics, the use of politics came naturally as the audience grew older as a whole. It only makes sense because we live in a very political world. There isn’t a day that goes by that one of the top stories in the news isn’t political in nature. Whether it’s war, or inflation, or gas prices, we’re faced with situations that are political in nature. That’s not even taking into account that the climate between Conservatives and Liberals is at a potentially dangerous peak.
There’s a simple reason why these two topics are often used in any form of literature. Stories give readers the ability to see the world from different perspectives. While science fiction often puts both religion and politics into terms that are different, our minds recognize the themes and we use these situations from the story to ponder our own points of view. What I think a lot of these jerks who are making such big deals out of the G.I. Joe or Superman “de-Americanization” aren’t realizing is that comic books aren’t just for kids anymore. They think this is part of some scheme to have kids grow up thinking *gasp* that we are just one part of an entire world, or creating some kind of anti-American sentiment. They couldn’t be more wrong.
So, to answer the question “How Real Should Our Heroes Be?” I say they need to be as real as possible. If that means that they will challenge our opinions on how the world works, so be it. The reason why we have heroes is because these figures take chances and stand for their beliefs. It’s up to us to figure out if we have the same ideals.
How can we form our own opinions or educate ourselves if nothing goes past a superficial set of ideals in the characters we read? How can we live our day-to-day, 21st century lives if nothing grows up from 1955 mentality? It doesn’t matter if your hero is Holden Caufield, Superman, Jesus, or even Abraham Lincoln, they need to be as real as possible. It’s irresponsible to think they should be anything less.
That does it for this installment of Geek Life! We are almost to the finish line now. Come back in two weeks for the penultimate Geek Life that will lead us to the epicenter of geekdom for a solid ten years now. Ever since it aired with the wonderful oder for “All kids out of the pool…” Adult Swim has captivated geeks with savvy senses of humor. From its humble beginnings to the nightly empire it holds now, I’m going to cover the history some of my most favorite television of all time. Care to come back and take a dip with me?