An article complaining that superheroes are too "liberal" reminds us why they exist in the first place.
I love superheroes. Always have, always will. I’ve read comics all my life, collected toys and T-shirts, watched the cartoons and went to the movies. I’ve moved around a lot and it’s comforting that no matter where I was or what I was going through, I could pick up a comic book and still see my old friends, fighting to do the right thing.
Years ago, when Facebook was new, I friend requested many well known comic book artists and writers with a little message saying I was a big fan. Most, if not all, accepted. So for years now, I’ve been privileged to see original pieces of art, insights into the industry, and their own personal anecdotes. It feels like I get to be in the room with movie stars.
Chuck Dixon is one of those people. Ideologically, he and I can be very different but we do see eye to eye on many issues. He doesn’t always talk about politics and when he does, he isn’t prone to hyperbole. I remain a big fan of his stuff.
Dixon wrote a piece with Paul Rivoche for the Wall Street Journal, talking about how hard it was being a conservative writer in the comics industry and how it led to him being “blacklisted.” He blamed his diminished work load on “left-leaning” editors and an agenda of “political correctness” that he didn’t wish to adhere to. This is a very simplified encapsulation of course, and Dixon and Rivoche make other points, but this was the theme of the editorial.
It was a pretty good piece, refreshing and insightful. For a fanboy like me to glimpse into the world of these story creators is pretty cool. While I don’t doubt his point of view, he does go a little over the top with a conservative persecution complex, saying it’s time to “take back” the comics industry. The only thing that stuck in my craw was the implication that “Liberalism” was ruining comic books, and therefore superheroes. We’ll touch back on that.
Fox News got a hold of the piece and televised the “conservative persecution” angle, “IS THE FAR LEFT HI-JACKING OUR SUPERHEROES?” Another comics professional, a well known and admired artist, friends with both Dixon and myself, posted it on his timeline and added a note saying, basically, “Are you kidding me, Chuck?”
Flame World War, 700+ comments, involving many famous comics industry professionals, all arguing Left/Right. It was awe-inspiring to me. A political back and forth involving names who have produced a lot of work I admire. Dixon showed up, and while he wasn’t about to take shit from anyone, he was reasonable and explained many of his points well.
However, it needs to be said that superheroes are not the entire comics industry. Superheroes are the most famous aspect of the comics industry. They are the hook used to get page views on what is more or less an ideologically skewed memoir on a workplace. Dixon had to know this piece would be burning more than a few bridges for doing so.
Incidentally, Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics, Tom Brevoort, has stated that Chuck Dixon isn’t blacklisted by the company. He admitted though, that he foresaw future reluctance of editors wanting to work with him in light of his article.
Superheroes are now a mainstream part of not just American, but worldwide culture, far more than they even were before. The biggest selling movies, video games, toys, what have you, are related to superheroes. It’s an enormous business, and the publishers and corporations in charge hold to conservative tenets.
In the 90’s, Image Comics was formed when several well known artists broke away from Marvel due to unsatisfactory treatment and compensation for their work at the company. Image became wildly popular, and blazed a trail for the remainder of the decade that the rest of the industry followed.
Many critics note that the initial style of Image was flashy with little substance. Having said that, the company has evolved into a substantial force, and not just with their superheroes, like Spawn and Savage Dragon. The Walking Dead started as an Image comic.
But what Image set the precedent on was creator-owned properties. What an artist created at Image was kept by them. It was this caveat that attracted top tier talent, turning the company into a real alternative to the “Big Two” of DC and Marvel. Creating your own livelihood and owning it? Starting your own business? Becoming a “job creator?” These are all conservative ideals, are they not?
It’s accurate to say, as Dixon did, that the comics industry experienced a downturn in the 90s, but to blame it on “Liberal” ideas is incorrect. Comic books experienced an enormous surge in the early 90s with the formation of Image; the Death of Superman storyline; the introduction of a major Batman villain, Bane, whom Dixon had a hand in creating; and the proliferation of gimmick covers using poly-bagged trading cards, holograms, die-cut designs, or whatever else on the covers.
The year 1993 saw my last summer in my hometown before I’d move to New York City. I’d recognized the comics market heating up, and had been buying books for the sole purpose of selling them off for the last couple years. My big “store” was a table at the local flea market. There was a whole section of guys selling comic books. The previous year, these other guys had all been selling sports cards, but that craze had died down. That was a warning sign right there.
It didn’t take books long to become worth a lot of money in a short time span. I learned to buy low and sell high using comic books. Collectors figured out that I was the only dealer who’d buy, meaning I could set my own price to pay and then sell that item for a couple bucks less than the next guy. My table made more money than other sellers, and I helped finance my future move with the scads of cash I was pulling in every Sunday.
People bought multiple copies of many different books, because they were all so special and guaranteed to be worth a ton of money. Sellers, of whom this writer was one, speculated upon, and bought and sold comic books as per demand. What was hot must be owned, and a dealer table without those “hot” books, like poly-bagged Superman #75, was quickly passed over.
Naturally all this couldn’t last and soon collapsed under it’s own weight. I was one of the lucky ones, and had sold off everything before I moved cross country. Other friends doing the same thing got stuck with boxes of books that nobody wanted anymore. You can now find many of those “hot” books in bargain bins, usually for less than a dollar.
What followed was a market crash in the comics industry as a whole. Certain books were driven to high prices by speculators on the short term market. Buyers were certain they had a long term investment only to be left holding the bag when the savvy or lucky sellers all jumped ship, made a little richer.
Add to that some cutthroat tactics by distributors, and overall dilution of product, and you had a lot of retailers stuck with product they couldn’t sell back. By the time the comics bubble burst, it would close the doors forever of somewhere around 90% of comic book stores. That can’t be blamed on progressive ideas.
That is full on capitalism, folks. I did what I had to in order to make more money than the next guy, moved product as fast as I could, and I didn’t worry too much about what happened to whoever bought my stuff when the bottom dropped out of the market.
Hell, I even hired a kid to haul the boxes of books and merchandise to and from the flea market. All of five bucks. It meant I didn’t have to carry anything and he’d run errands for me. He sure as sugar deserved more than that, but I knew nobody else was hiring so I lowballed his pay and sat back like a King. Neither did it matter to me the industry crashed, I got mine, screw them.
And so, after the crash 1993, the comics industry was hobbled. Many readers outright dropped books and members of the general public felt duped by the “Death of Superman” stunt. At one point, Marvel Comics went bankrupt, and ended up getting purchased by a toy company it started a few years previous. None of this can be blamed on progressive ideals.
Superheroes were the afterthought in all of this. The comics industry had become about the flash and bang, the quick buck, and it bit them in the ass. Stories suffered greatly, and many great books from the 90s weren’t about superheroes at all. Politically, they had very little to say, it was all splash pages and motion lines.
Vertigo, an imprint for mature readers, flourished with titles like Sandman, Constantine, and the absolute must read, Preacher. Yeah, we saw a lot of progressive ideals forwarded in these stories, but they were pre-dominantly not about superheroes.
Sin City and 300 were published to great success, by staunch conservative Frank Miller, the artist behind The Dark Knight Returns. This last story is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest superhero stories ever told and the beginning of the modern age of comics. The last 25 years of Batman and successive superhero films wouldn’t be possible without it.
Superheroes began crossing over in a major way to other media forms in the 90s. While the comics industry struggled, superheroes were doing just fine. Batman paved the way not only in the movies but on television. The animated series of the character was followed by one for Superman, and eventually the entire Justice League. Marvel followed suit with the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and an Avengers cartoon. Warner Brothers and other big corporations made lots of money.
That’s how it’s stayed up until the present day. The old 90s superhero cartoons still run in syndication, along with brand new ones, and superheroes own the movies. Marvel is a money monster, far from the wounded beast it used to be. All those cheesy 90s cartoons have been transformed into blockbuster films. Now, for the first time, traditional comic books are not the primary home of superheroes.
In short, there is nowhere for a conservative writer to take comic books “back” to. Conservative writers helped start the movement of superheroes into other media, and conservative ideals helped this along. The market crash, the way the comics industry reacted to same, the actual publishers themselves, all subscribe to conservative ideals of capitalism, taking over the direction of superheroes and raising their profile in society. And this isn’t a bad thing.
What was the “conservative” age of comics anyway? There weren’t any major black superheroes before 1960. Early comics were absolutely rife with racism. The Comics Code Authority was imposed during the McCarthy era, ostensibly to protect children from juvenile delinquency from undue influence of comic books. Seems a ridiculous premise now, if you’re not Wayne LaPierre, but DC was quick to jump on board. Their biggest competitor at the time was EC Comics, run by William Gaines. His books centered around crime, ghosts, and monsters. And what do you know, the CCA ended up shutting him down.
And what do Dixon and Rivoche mean by opposing “political correctness” in comics? Lately, opposing same has become synonymous with various dog whistles used to rile up a conservative base. Todd Kincannon is a perfect example of the kind of person who rails against “political correctness.” More and more, that’s an excuse to act like an asshole and say awful things, because you don’t like being “politically correct.” Better to leave that idea alone these days.
Meanwhile, they’ve missed the point. Superheroes are about morality, not politics. Politics are included in their stories, yes, but it doesn’t matter if they are Red or Blue. Superheroes are concerned with doing the right thing, first and foremost. What values they do hold can be considered both liberal and conservative.
Liberalism certainly isn’t kryptonite for superheroes, they have always embraced progressive ideals. Don’t believe me? Okay, let’s review,
First, the DC Comics roster:
– Superman is an immigrant and technically an undocumented one at that.
– Batman is vehemently anti-gun.
– Wonder Woman is the ultimate feminist and an environmentalist to boot.
– Green Lantern explores the cosmos and relies on imagination, willpower, and creativity to overcome obstacles, most importantly fear.
– The Flash teaches us that although you need to think fast at times, there can be horrible consequences if you act too quickly. Flash Fact!
– Aquaman is King of the Seas and concerned with the preservation of the oceans.
Now let’s look at Marvel’s superheroes:
– Iron Man gave up manufacturing weapons when he saw the effects they had on people and focused on using his wealth and genius to help people through technology.
– Spider-Man is a science nerd whose mantra is “with great power must come great responsibility.”
– The Fantastic Four are regularly involved in stories about the advancement of science to benefit humanity.
– Thor celebrates figures from humankind’s oldest mythologies and constantly runs with the theme that there are things beyond our knowledge, and that our world needs protection from ourselves as much as outside threats.
– Namor the Sub-Mariner is King of the Seas and concerned with the preservation of the oceans.
This is not to say that superheroes must be liberal or progressive, that’s silly. But it’s equally silly to suggest that conservatives need to “take them back” or, as Fox implied, that they are “losing our superheroes to the Left.” That’s ridiculous. You may as well say you’re losing the sport of baseball to your political rival. Conservatives don’t own superheroes. Neither do progressives. Superheroes, like baseball games, are for everyone.
Rail against the the comics industry, sure. I’ve no doubt that Mr. Dixon and Mr. Rivoche encountered difficulties due to their ideologies. I don’t know them personally, but in my experience, when people claim discrimination due to their political beliefs at work, there’s always more to the story than just that.
Superheroes are about morality, not politics. They are our modern mythology, our escape into a world of wonder. They still have a way to go, especially with minority characters and female heroines dressed in bikinis a little too often, but they can still represent the best of all of us.
They may not be real, but superheroes remain an integral part of our entertainment. They should remain there, not in politics.
“Superheroes can’t exist in the real world for a reason. It’s because the real world needs real heroes.” ~ Dave Lizewski, Kick-Ass 2