Comics and Politics: A Long Partnership

IWTY026_005 I try not to mix my politics with my comics (my writings FOR comics, on the other hand, is another story!). However, the news of Orson Scott Card being hired to write a Superman title peaked my interest. I knew him for being the writer of Ender’s Game…and now I know him as an horrendous bigot (farewell, Ender’s Game, I might never read you again!). For a man who had his most famous book end on a note of how xenophobia is detrimental to mankind, his homophobic remarks and position on The National Organization for Marriage shows he is a horrible choice to be a writer for Superman. Why? Because Superman is antithetical to any sort of bigotry.

Now, politics and superheroes have been going hand in hand, with various degrees of success, since Action Comics #1. Superman was originally shown as a crusader for social reform and protecting the little guy from being taken advantage of. This is a man who would take on slumlords, loan sharks, and corrupt politicians, to name a few of his targets. This being the age of The Great Depression, Superman’s daring adventures were eagerly read by children and some adults, striking a chord for those who felt powerless and marginalized. The popular Superman radio show had a famous arc where Superman and Jimmy Olsen took on the KKK, preaching a message of tolerance. A Superman movie serial, Superman and the Mole Men (coincidentally starring George Reeves as Superman, who would soon star in the television series) did the same, preaching tolerance over fear in the series’ denouement. During World War II, covers boosted morale and advertised War Bonds.

speedy3In the Silver Age, due to The Seduction of the Innocent and the public fallout, The Comic Code Authority was founded. Among the rules was a ban on controversial content. This often meant political opinions. Enter the House of Marvel and their famous series of issues dealing with drug addiction. They knew they had to write a story about it. The Comic Code Authority did everything in their power to stop the issues from selling, to the point that they refused to give it their stamp of approval. That there would have been the kiss of death for any comic book at the time, but Marvel decided to publish it anyways. The books dealing with Harry Osbourne’s addiction to drugs became best sellers. DC soon followed up with the famous “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” issues where Roy Harper/Speedy, sidekick to Green Arrow, was revealed to be an addict. Even before that, Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics had been dealing with political issues. With Hal Jordan as the staunch conservative and Oliver Queen the “radical” liberal, they dealt with America’s problems, including an infamous issue where an African-American confronted Green Lantern over his apparent lack of interest in the problems facing African-Americans. That isn’t to say there weren’t problems at the same time. One of the members of The Legion Of Superheroes, Tyroc, was written as a black supremacist/racial separatist living on an isolated island. This was a result of his creator, title editor Murray Boltinoff, being a known racist. The character later disappeared and would only be revived (and revamped for the better) for The New 52.

In the Modern Era, superhero comics dealt with social issues, expanded gay characters, minority characters, and wasn’t afraid to criticize the dark side to society. Even as I speak, DC has announced the revival of two titles due to the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and the pros and cons to both sides of the arguments. But even then, there has been backlash. This has particularly come from conservatives. With the revamping of Alan Scott as gay and a new Muslim Green Lantern, DC was picketed and boycotted by conservative groups. When Northstar married, there was backlash against Marvel. When Superman declared himself a citizen of the world, and not the US; again conservatives attacked. That isn’t to say Liberals haven’t been above protest. The declared boycott on Orson Scott Card’s upcoming run on a Superman title (albeit one not part of The New 52) is an example. When Frank Miller made several remarks about Occupy Wall Street that were derogatory, even his fellow creators, on both sides of the political spectrum, called him out. Frank Miller also made a graphic novel, Holy Terror, that was so racist and xenophobic that DC barely advertised it.

Now the question is: when are politics in comics okay? Some could argue that it should be removed altogether. That was the case in the Silver Age, where the back pages of comics would have a tame PSA. I’m of the camp that since comics take aspects from real life, they should reflect it somewhat, including politics. But what kind? We can’t let only one side speak; but since comics have been an advocate for social change from the beginning, I think issues calling for change for the better would be best. No exclusion, no hate…leave those for the villains.

And as such, perhaps Orson Scott Card is not the best choice writing for a character who stands for Truth, Justice and The American Way for ALL Americans, regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexuality.

About the author

Daniel Kalban

Daniel is the writer of The Eagle webcomic and aspires to one day join his favorite writers at the Big 2. Until then, he keeps plugging away at various projects, as well as serving as a reporter for Word of the Nerd on various subjects, especially the DC Comics "beat".

Contact him at danielk@wordofthenerdonline.com

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