Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cap is a Write-In for President In a Comic Somewhere

As we head into election season, the online media looks for click-fodder, and Marvel and DC think up events that will get headlines rather than sell some damn comics...

Was I surprised to read on a mainstream news site that Captain America is going to become President of the United States in the "Ultimate" version of the Marvel Universe?  Well, yeah.  I mean, that's a pretty drastic idea.  Of course, I haven't followed the Ultimate universe in a while, and last I checked they'd also killed off Peter Parker, half the X-Men, and, I think, basically gone "dystopian" with their version of the world.  So, you know, whatever.

I mean, Cap over in the mainline Marvel U pondered a run circa 1980 (we got Reagan instead, who, while charming, couldn't have taken Batroc the Leaper).  And Superman was elected President in one of those "Imaginary Stories" back in the day, Lex won the election in 2000 as a third party candidate (with Superman's childhood pal, Pete Ross, as VP), and Morrison made a version of Superman President who appeared as recently as Action Comics #9 (Volume 2).  And, Superman has been the Prime Minister of Russia over in Red Son.  And that doesn't include the dozens of times Superman went crazy and declared himself either king of the gorillas, some locality or of all the Earth.

Back in the 1970's, Batgirl served in Congress for a number of years (it was insane).  And, of course, one must never forget DC oddball youth-culture-appeal character Prez Rickard.

and the President thought he'd really discovered something when he watched  his first Kubrick movie...
So, basically, comics are full of crazy-brained stunts and goofy ideas about our elected (and not-elected) leaders.  They always have been, and I guess they always will be.  I'm glad that superhero comics aren't above the sort of wacky story telling that leads to stuff like Batgirl running for office, but I'm an old reader and seeing Cap sworn in as President on a write-in vote doesn't exactly blow my mind.  I hope younger readers feel differently.

I guess the number one thing I can say is that at least this election we aren't being asked to buy another "great" Dan Didio idea:  DCU Decisions - the series so bad I didn't even finish the first issue as DC tried to identify each superhero's politics in the clunkiest, awkwardest, dumbest fashion possible.  But, which, given the level of discourse I see on Facebook, is probably closer to accurate than I want to think about.

DC tried to do some handwaving about how this was a mature, adult story...  unfortunately they just couldn't pull it off.

Is there room for politics in comics from DC and Marvel?

Nope.  Not really.  Or at least the audience can't handle it.

That's not to say I haven't had some interesting discussions with folks at this website and others, but there's nothing like flipping over to Yahoo! News and seeing that "Superman Now Hates America" when DC publishes yet another poorly considered story and I spend two or three days via email trying to explain to friends and family what that was all about after the 24 hour news outlets have had their way with the story and I have to (fruitlessly) explain that Superman is not a real person who has decided to appease terrorists or whatever (it gets old) and by the time they've emailed me, it's pretty clear no explanation is going to change the narrative put in place by the freaked out newscaster.

But it's a world of pre-conceived ideas and where single words that mean little to some are absolute bombshells to others.

If you'd asked me a few years ago, I probably would have said "oh, yeah, sure!  Comics are for adults now! Throw that stuff in there!"  But superhero comics may not be the marketplace of ideas you'd hope for in a world where disagreeing with someone politically immediately gets you slapped with the "Nazi" label.  It always requires writers and editors that can handle ideas with grace or else stand the heat when some boob on cable news decides Captain America's stance on nuclear proliferation is anti-something (probably American).

It can be done, and it can be done with mainstream superheroes, and when folks in the 1980's were suggesting comics weren't just kiddie stuff, as I've said before, I think they were able to look at the commentary of books like Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and see that even if there wasn't some overt stance on a particular issue, Batman could handle social and political satire as part of the world in which Batman lived (and, indeed, his return appearance was a response to much of what was lampooned).

But DC isn't in that mode these days, and I doubt Marvel has the stomach for it either.  That's be asking the readers to put on their critical thinking caps and try to get their heads around an author's intent rather than simply immediately getting their hackles up when faced with anything remotely challenging to them as a reader.  But that might keep readers from being able to simply get mad and accuse someone of Nazi-ism for not agreeing with what their pappy taught them.

Anyway - Cap is President in a low-selling superhero comic.  So we have that going for us.

1 comment:

Jake Shore said...

I think there's room for politics in DC and Marvel. I just think it's rarely done with any thoughtfulness or subtly. And I think it's ridiculously one sided.

Speaking as one of the people who has been annoyed with some the politics injected into comics lately, I think you're right that there is often a knee-jerk overreaction in some quarters to the perception that superheroes are going political. But I also think you dismiss or underestimate the intentions of the creators and editorialship who, in my view, are very intentional about what they communicate and who they communicate it through (not merely concerned with artistically exploring their characters).

It's not a coincidence that Captain America and Superman are used as mouthpieces for politically left opinions. It wouldn't be enough for Hank Pym, Wolverine, Aquaman, or even Wonder Woman to sound off Democratic talking points (no one would care). It's got be the big guys representing the stars and stripes. In my view, there are many creators and editors who want to use these characters to say something about America, what it means in their view, what they don't like about, and how it should be different.

Look at way Marvel used Captain America to smear the Tea Party as racists. Even worse, after 9/11, Marvel published a Captain America series called "The New Deal" that overtly drew a moral equivalency between the 9/11 terrorists and America. It even suggested that we were ultimately responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Most recently, DC decides to celebrate Superman's 900th issue of Action Comics with the David Goyer writing the infamous (and stupid) "citizenship" story where Superman says, "Truth, justice, and the American way" -- It's not enough anymore. The world's too small. Too connected." And therefore he renounces his U.S. citizenship.

Now, one can try to justify that on an artistic basis, but given that the story was basically written around that statement, it seems pretty clear to me, the story was conceived to agitate and/or create buzz and controversy.

I would go so far to say it's an attempt to deconstruct an element of Superman's character than some on the Left aren't entirely comfortable with these days. I mean, Superman's statement says it all. Does that mean I think Goyer and Quesada are commies who don't love their country? No, I just they have their politics and an agenda OR they can't see past their politics, so nothing about those stories seems out of place. But I doubt that. After all, Goyer co-wrote "The Dark Knight," which was one of the smartest politically allegorical films I've ever seen.

Anyway, I'm gonna shut up now before I make your point for you. :)