Keep politics out of comics? Why start now?
As we enter this election year, I’ve been seeing a lot of online calls for creators and companies to keep politics out of comics.
I can see why it might be difficult. Politics can be hard to define.
While there are certainly people who will seize any issue as an opportunity to gain power, many “political” topics are deeply personal to folks on both sides – and some even have more than two sides! This seems wrong, since all political arguments can be neatly divided into either Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, but I digress.
Many longtime readers yearn for a time when comic companies didn’t do crazy things like replace an established white, male character with, say, an African American, teenage girl, like when Riri Williams picked up the Iron Man mantle from Tony Stark. They remember a less controversial transition from the ’80s, when James Rhodes stepped into the armor. (Yes, Rhodey is also black, but at least he was a dude.)
Maybe they want to go back even further, to comics’ earliest days, when Captain America did politically neutral things like punching Hitler on the cover of his first issue before the United States was even in World War II. DC heroes like the Justice Society of America staunchly supported the U.S. war effort and battled villains representing the Axis powers.
Cap continued to eschew political entanglements in 1973, when the head of the villainous Secret Empire was revealed to be a high-ranking U.S. government official. When the man committed suicide in the White House, the government tried to cover it up. Cap reacted without drama, ditching his stars and stripes ensemble and adopting the identity of Nomad.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby steered clear of potential landmines in character origins like the Fantastic Four getting powers while trying to beat the Communists into space or the Hulk emerging during a test for a new and improved nuclear bomb.
Lee said he based the X-Men’s Professor X and Magneto on the philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, with the rancor mutants faced from non-powered humans mirroring the Civil Rights Movement. But surely Stan didn’t mean to inject politics into these fantastical tales.
When DC added Green Arrow to the “Green Lantern” title in the ’70s, the latter’s conservative leanings could have clashed with the former’s liberal beliefs on their ensuing cross-country journey. But Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams dodged those bullets with innocuous plots about slumlords, corrupt mining companies, overpopulation, drug abuse and racism, including the debut of a black Green Lantern (a man, at least. Whew).
Perhaps Batman was fed up with politics when he formed the Outsiders after the JLA refused to enter a foreign country to save his friend Lucius Fox during a revolution. In 1984’s “Batman and the Outsiders Annual” #1, the team clashed with a patriotic politician, who questions the media’s description of the team as heroes since “we know how the media lie, controlled as they are by the far left.”
There certainly are political themes in contemporary comic stories, some of them promoting ideas with which I disagree. While there’s something to be said for listening to opposing points of view, if I find a particular series objectionable, disturbing or not entertaining, I tend to stop buying and reading it. Admittedly, it’s less dramatic than rage-Tweeting and demanding all politics be removed from the stories.
That would also eliminate any stories or characters that do reflect my values and beliefs on “political” issues.
Perhaps some of the people who want politics out of comics really just want rid of politics with which they disagree. If a political topic was one they supported, maybe they wouldn’t be so irate.
But that just seems hypocritical.
Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”