EDITORIAL: Why Super Heros should be Political

The debate is heating up on the role of Super Heros in Politics

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By Josh Epstein - 4/20/2012
It's time to really figure out if Super Heros belong in the political arena.

It can be difficult to find quality discussions on the role of politics in comic books. In the last year, there have been three articles of varying quality that have attempted to address this very divisive issue.

Back in October, Sara "Babs" Lima of ComicVine.com posed the question to readers as to whether not political content in comic books alienates readers. While Lima's article does not attempt to answer the question, she does point to some seminal works in the medium where politics are undoubtedly central to the books' stories and underlying foci.

The real flame war amongst liberal and conservative comic book fans began when Darin Wagner, a writer for Bleeding Cool, penned a narrowly focused article asserting that the comic book industry was overtly liberal and that this "liberal bias" was hurting sales.

The Bleeding Cool article drew attention far and wide, even accruing input from such luminaries as creators Chuck Dixon (an avowed conservative creator who agreed with the article) and Peter David who attempted to counter by stating that the political content of comics is actually balanced, but only those things that readers disagree with draw and retain their attention.

Joe Patrice of Recess Appointment did a pretty good job of refuting the factual errors in Wagner's piece, so I will not attempt to go over that same ground again.

Super heros are at their best when they are relevant to the world surrounding them. Sure, Superman smashing alien overlords bent on the subjugation of the human race can be fun reading, especially if there are massive spaceships being hurled into each other in wonderfully drawn art. I do not mean to say that escapism does not have its place and it's value, but super heroes are more than fictional characters to a lot of people, they are role models.

In a media world packed with far more vapid reality-TV stars than upright citizens, super heroes serve a need in their role as providers of moral lessons to young people, in the same way that fables and parables have in decades and centuries past. Limiting these heroes to dealing with nothing less than Earth-shattering events is akin to stating that the almighty-deity-of-your-choice doesn't care what's going on in your life, he/she/it has bigger fish to fry.

Another way of looking at it is that as the readership matures, they want more out of the comics than brightly-colored cops & robbers tales. As comics have gone further and further away from being "kids books" and deeper into the realm of "literature", supporters of the medium and advocates of its place in literary circles want to see more than simple punch-em-ups. They want content that speaks to the problems that they confront. They want work that makes them feel something other than satisfaction that Batman once again locked the Joker away or solved the mystery-of-the-day.

Layering in legitimate social commentary is one way to accomplish this. It allows a monthly book to speak to the real problems faced by those who occupy the real world. Eventually, readers tire of seeing the same sorts of stories over and over again. As the rise of the 24-hour news networks has proven, people never tire of seeing debates over the issues of the day, and comic books that approach realistic subject matter will have a decided advantage over those that don't in terms of attracting and retaining new readership.

For decades now, Green Arrow has been a decidedly liberal character. His verbal sparring with unabashedly conservative character Hawkman was part of what made the Justice League comics of the late 1970s and early 1980s so much fun to read. Being a child of the 1980s, I didn't immediately understand what terms like "bleeding heart" meant, what "hippies" were, or why every problem couldn't be solved by bashing someone's head in with a mace. Comics, probably more than any other medium, introduced me to the marked differences between various political ideologies.

As Lima's article points out, some of the most highly-regarded works in comic book history have definite, overt political messages. There is not a single work by writer Alan Moore that does not contain page upon page of commentary on the nature of the United Kingdom's political debates. Frank Miller's neo-conservative Batman featured in The Dark Knight Returns proved not only a sales monster, but provided the roadmap for much of the work done on the character over the next decade. Ultimates, the comic book that field-tested many of the character concepts that feature in this summer's Avengers, was fearless when it came to addressing concepts such as media saturation, celebrity, government budgets, and the international "me-too"-ism of arms races. The list goes on and on.

Each of these series proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that while critics may scream (and scream loudly) when comics delve into the realm of political reality, those are the comics which attract real attention and, in turn, create entire new generations of readers.

In order to continue to push the boundaries of the medium, writers must have the courage to open their characters up to the concerns of the day, address them, and deal with the consequences. The characters will be richer for it, the stories will be more resonant, and the fans will either love it or hate it, but they'll sure be talking about it, and that's an end in and of itself.

Now, Flame War On.

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Priest - 4/20/2012, 6:01 PM
I would think that comic book writers are entitled to write whatever political message they want, if they want. They do have a 1st Amendment right to do so and, like conservative libertarians would point out, the "free market" would decide if their message gets out or not. If people don't like what they are reading, they don't have to buy it.

Anyway, if comic book sales are having any drop because of political messages, I think that drop is very small and inconsequential. Most people simply don't care enough to stop reading a comic book just because of politics. If they story is good and the art is great, that's what really matters.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/20/2012, 6:19 PM
Even though I would consider myself fairly liberal, I would relish seeing conservative ideas presented by some of the more mainstream super heroes out there. Punisher? Agent America? Nick Fury?

If anything, I think that having some of these characters try and frame the argument would both lend new voices to the debate and present readers with some very valuable insight into the issues of the day.
gamecreatorjj - 4/20/2012, 6:28 PM
no they should not, because everyone has their own opinions, and i dont want some message shoved down my throat when im just wanting to read a comic
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/20/2012, 6:31 PM
As individuals (albeit fictional) shouldn't comic book characters have their own opinions as well?
headlopper - 4/20/2012, 7:55 PM
Good article dude!
Wrote this editorial a while back on this subject.
Check it out...

Priest - 4/20/2012, 8:58 PM
Just for fun, I'll catalog the political inclinations of some superheroes (of course, this is just my opinions):

It's pretty well established by Marvel that Captain America is a New Deal liberal democrat. He grew up during FDR's presidency, the president responsible for the biggest socialist and progressive reforms in our government. I know that many times, when asked, he has said that he doesn't pick sides, but by his actions and his words, I would say that he wouldn't vote for the modern republican party.

On the other hand, the Ultimate Captain America is as conservative as they come, he would be a member of the Tea Party.

Iron Man would be a republican war hawk neo-con and laissez-faire capitalist. Obviously, he wouldn't be morally conservative, but he would be the kind of billionaire that would give money to republican politicians so the government keeps giving contracts to Stark Industries. Although I am not sure...because nowadays he seems more liberal.

Superman would be an old school Reagan republican. He grew up in Kansas, 'nuff said. But he would be the ideal republican, that can be tolerant and not push his moral beliefs into others.

Batman would be a conservative libertarian. Perhaps of the crazy conspiracy, listens to Alex Jones kind.

Spider-Man would be a democrat liberal. He grew in NY, he is very socially tolerant.

Punisher would be a conservative republican. Very defensive of the 2nd Amendment.

Daredevil would be a democrat. As Matt Murdock, the lawyer, he has been very much into social justice and community organizing.

Thor, as an Asgardian, is really above mortal politics. If anything, he is a monarchist.

Bruce Banner, as a man of science, would be leaning liberal and voting Democrat. I would say that many scientists find it difficult to vote republican due the anti-science views of many republican politicians.

Luke Cage votes democrat. You know why.

Lobo is an anarchist.

SamWinchester - 4/20/2012, 10:49 PM
I think that politics should play it's part in comic books and all fiction for that matter. If you love the realism of the Nolan "Batman" films and the realism of "Heroes", etc., then audiences should accept that the price of said realism is the differing viewpoints and moral beliefs that people have from all walks of life. You can't have it both way, y'know? Realism without politics? It's like Kool-Aid with no sugar.... just not possible.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/21/2012, 6:09 AM
@headlopper: I enjoyed your breakdown, even if I disagree with certain aspects. I would characterize Iron Man as much more of a "democrat" in the way that Bill Gates is Democrat. He supports government insomuch as it funnels funding to his projects, and utilizes the influence that his support purchases him in order to secure Microsoft's position in the market.

Batman, particularly since the Frank Miller era, is a spot-on neo-conservative. Given the number of government contracts that Wayne Enterprises is signatory to, I would think that "accountable government" is the last thing he would want, as it might lead to some uncomfortable questions regarding the allocation of WE funds in certain key areas.

Granted (see the pun there?), since the utilization of Batman, INC this has become much more of a moot point, it stands to reason that any oversight committee that was actually doing its job would have some hard questions for the Wayne and Fox.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/21/2012, 6:10 AM
@SamWinchester: I think you've made my point brilliantly. In order for super hero comics to possess any amount of realism, politics will almost inevitably enter the fray. One cannot discuss the underlying causes for an increase in petty crime without addressing the economic situation, which cannot be done without discussing the political motivations behind certain government actions, etc, etc...
wedontdie - 4/21/2012, 8:15 AM
I think politics are for the wicked... this is why you see posters saying vote for Harvey Dent or how there is a President Lex Luthor.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/21/2012, 8:32 AM
@wedonttdie: True, but there are also instances where Superman has won the Presidency, Green Arrow was elected mayor, Black Lightning was Secretary of Education, and Iron Man has been Secretary of Defense...
Viltrumite - 4/21/2012, 8:35 AM
I've always viewed Superman as a democratic liberal with some socialist ideals in his early years (at least that's how he was initially portrayed, and that initial portrayal is what inspired Grant Morrison with Action Comics) who later mellowed out into a more old-school Republican, which I think suits him pretty well.
I'm saying this as a pretty far-left liberal, but I think Superman would be the kind of face-figure that the Republican party needs nowadays. I would easily vote for somebody like him.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/21/2012, 8:41 AM
@Viltrumite: I would agree with you, if Superman's actions as President (Armageddon 2001 tale) weren't pretty representative of Democratic Presidents. He builds a solar-power system, rebuilds vacant properties into low-rent housing, and reaches out to foreign nations on their own soil in their own languages.
wedontdie - 4/21/2012, 8:45 AM
golden123 - 4/21/2012, 11:03 AM
I would love to see more social issues, politics, and religious content in superhero comics. The idea of a costumed vigilante, is in itself, pretty political. If I was writing an Aquaman comic, I'd have him take on Somalian Pirates, fix oil spills, rescue the shipwrecked, and regulate whale hunting. I'd rather read that over Aquaman fighting the Trench or thwarting some old supervillain. I don't read comics for escapism. Classic, reality warped superhero tales can be loads of fun to read, but they fall short, to me, when comparing them to the thought provoking stories the comic medium has to offer.
marvelguy - 4/21/2012, 12:03 PM
SuperheroEs should be above politics in the sense that we don't have a government that we need to overturn. We expect Spider-Man and Batman to stop street thugs, and Superman and Thor take on aliens and cosmic threats.

We don't need Peter Parker trying to cure poverty or sociopathology. These heroes are at their best when they stick to swashbuckling and interpersonal drama.

We relate to Bruce Wayne because of his personal tragedy and wanting to avert others his pain. We don't relate to his giving money to politicians or funding relief groups.
That's what the real world is. They are realistic at times, while not living in our reality.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/21/2012, 1:20 PM

Funny that you bring up Aquaman. @DocFalconer on Twitter (aka the only life-long Aquaman fan I know) and I mentioned the Deep Water Horizon drill as something that Aquaman should absolutely be addressing.

I would agree with you that the medium is at its best when provoking discussion of real issues.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/21/2012, 1:21 PM
@marvelguy: the type of stories you address are really just heroes dealing with symptoms, as opposed to really trying to correct problems. For example, WHY is the crime level in Gotham City so high? Why SHOULDN'T we be interested in what causes Bruce Wayne chooses to support with charitable donations?

Do you know many people in the real world who do not have opinions on at least one charged political issue?

Why would super heroes, when told realistically, be any different?
TheGambitFreakIsBatmanOfCBM - 4/21/2012, 1:34 PM
I read comic books for escapism, not realism, I'll leave it at that.
TheMyth - 4/21/2012, 2:13 PM
Depends on the extent. Yes, real world social problems are acceptable, as are heroes taking a stand in those issues. It does more for grounding the fiction in reality and further develops a character, whether you agree with their stance or not. However, it should never come to the point where a character comes out with a firm standing within a political party (conservative or liberal or the myriad off-shoots of either one) nor declare who they intend on voting for. People in this age have enough trouble thinking for themselves.

Most of the people I meet day to day have no opinion of their own politically or religiously, theirs is one created by someone else and they've adopted it. Most commonly it's the popular opinion of their family or friends, while many more than you'd think will allow aspects of culture to make those same decisions for them. We don't need naive youths forming their political, or religious views for that matter, influenced by their favorite superheroes. As silly as it sounds, you know that there would be many of those fans of Batman or Spidey who would align their politics to more closely match the characters. Even those with a strong sense of identity could not help but to be influenced by the repeated application of a stimulus, especially when said stimulant is contained within an adored fiction.

Let's say you are an active liberal. As such, you likely hate anything Rush Limbaugh has to say. So you tune in to his radio show on a regular basis to listen to what you feel are his asinine opinions and analysis' of the trappings of the modern political environ. You do this so you can stay informed and stocked with ammunition against his supporters and it serves as debate material when debating with others. After a while, even though you object to his views, the repeated influence will begin to sink it whether you want it to or not.

I like my heroes making decisions on what they feel is morally right or wrong, not what is right or wrong based upon their political party or religious affiliation. Leave those associations for the villains, who employ them the most.

Such ideals are divisive and paint a person into a corner anyway. I'm a pro-life, gun loving, gay marriage approving(in a legal sense anyway), anti-religion-especially-in-government, free-healthcare-advocating, American... and there's more but I think the point is made. What political party do I belong to? Our heroes should be the same. They belong to the "Think for Yourself" party, and should stay as such.

Nice article, very thought provoking. Kudos.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/21/2012, 3:20 PM

I tend to agree with you that, in the event that books do deal with politically charged topics, they should steer clear of flat-out endorsements of a given candidate or party.

If anything, I'd love to see team-up books have two characters who naturally fall on either side of a particular issue attempt to deal with some of the symptoms created by that issue while discussing their opinions on the causes and possible solutions to the overarching problem.

In other words, I think that if done well, it could create some of the more engaging dialogue in comics, and that young fans would be well served by articulate writers showing them how to have the debate in a way that doesn't involve simply shouting talking points and denying the validity of the other side's argument.

The idea of having ideologically opposed characters working together to solve the problem would be a specific bit of stimuli that, in my opinion, is worth pushing into the public consciousness.
LP4 - 4/21/2012, 5:34 PM
Nope. Don't wanna see it in my comics :)

That being said, Oliver Queen GA is extremely liberal and I believe Hal Jordan GL was meant yo be GA's polar opposite thus a hardcore Conservative. Plus Hal having been in the military and all= Conservative most likely.

I'm Conservative myself and I would LOVE if Supes were a conservative. Some signs point to him being conservative and some signs point to him being liberal. Him growing up in Kansas with that "mom and pop" mentality, attending a local methodist chapel every week and running an organization up in a JLA satellite makes him seem more on the Conservative side. But he was also a close friend of JFK, he resides in a New York styled city- Metropolis and him technically being an immigrant...i can see him being more liberal on the issue of illegal immigration.

LP4 - 4/21/2012, 5:38 PM
In closing, I would say Superman is a combination of conservative and liberal ideologies. But for the record, you asked me that question years ago, I always figured Superman was the liberal while Batman was the obvious conservative. But upon thinking it over more and more, Supes is both liberal/conservative =D
leftcoastpunk - 4/21/2012, 5:48 PM
@essexfactor - thank you for putting basically all my thoughts out there and saving me the time, especially the observation on those that don't think for themselves and basically let someone give them an opinion (if you can even call it that at that point) I like comics including social issues to a point, I think doing that gives them a bit of depth and grounds them a little, but keep agendas out please.
LP4 - 4/21/2012, 5:49 PM
To further eloborate. I mentioned the local methodist chapel thing with Clark Kent as a sign of conservatism because let's face it- Republican/Conservatives are well known for basing most of their decisions on their RELIGIOUS convictions. And the jla satellite thing just reminds me of Gingrich's silly "moon base" idea =P

I would also like to add to the chapel thing with Clark Kent that the Kent parents were an EXTREMELY God-fearing farm couple, that is a fact that tends to get overlooked by people.

Nice article by the way @ Josh Epstein!! :)
LP4 - 4/21/2012, 5:52 PM
@Leftcoastpunk- I agree with you 100% buddy, I prefer political agendas STAY OUT of comicbooks. Don't want those subliminal messages hidden by my favorite childhood heroes, it would seriously ruin their image for me whether conservative or liberal. I prefer they just keep it out
leftcoastpunk - 4/21/2012, 6:05 PM
@LP4 - thanks bro d;-) It happens so often with our favorite actors, athletes, musicians, etc. Good god, can something from our childhood stay pure please!
LP4 - 4/21/2012, 6:22 PM
@Leftcoastpunk- Yeah bro no worries, I totally know what you're talking about, it's ridiculous. Sometimes I wish celebrities would just do their job and entertain but they start talking politics and it seriously often times puts me off from them.

Ghostt - 4/21/2012, 10:08 PM
comic books and politics are intrinsically intertwined.

Comic books deal with good vs. evil and issues of right and wrong. The root of politics are opposing sides discussing what it is right or what is wrong.

TheCapelessCrusader - 4/22/2012, 6:04 AM
@LP4: I can understand your reasoning for Superman being conservative, but I'll have you know that THIS liberal-leaning fan happens to hail from a small "ville" in Kansas, works in the private sector, and is a former serviceman.

In other words, circumstance doesn't always tell us everything about a character's leanings. I'd say we'd all be better advised to look at a characters words and actions.

I do get the reluctance to have heroes portray a particular point of view, but I think as long as it is balanced and stays away from talking points in favor of actual reasoned conversation, it could be valuable.

Let's face it, "kids today" don't know nearly as much as they should about the pressing issues of the day, particularly the ones that spend the majority of their time reading their favorite funnybooks.
LP4 - 4/22/2012, 7:41 AM
@TheCapelessCrusader- Yes but also the fact that Superman operated the JLA satellite which was spying on the world for crime could be perceived as similar to wire taps.

I'm in a similar situation- Born and raised in California the most liberal/democrat state in the U.S, I grew up VERY poor (not rich) and my mom is an immigrant. All the qualities of a liberal. But i'm a Conservative :)

I'd still say the values that were instilled within Superman since he was a child account for something. A person's upbringing can sometimes affect their social views to an extent. Superman had a very Conservative upbringing so i'm sure he has some social views that lean more to the right side of the political spectrum. I wouldn't say Superman is completely 100% liberal

TheMyth - 4/22/2012, 1:11 PM
LP4, I agree with the analysis of Supes political alignement, and I'd take it step further in that I can't think of a single comic hero I'm familiar with who has clear-cut political leanings... and that's a good thing! I like that my heroes will think for themselves rather than allow an agenda to dictate their actions.
LP4 - 4/22/2012, 5:27 PM
@EsseXFactor- Thanks and yeah I agree, I can't see any hero or person for that matter being completely of just one party or just one line of thought. Realistically, humans possess many differing social views ;)
CorndogBurglar - 4/23/2012, 6:04 AM
I don't need politics shoved down my throat in comics. At least not someone's personal view. If they are going to place politics in comics, then do it like Civil War. Present an issue, in this case whether or not the government is taking away too many civil liberties or not, then show both sides of the argument having valid points, and leave it to the reader to decide for themselves which side they stand on.

Other than that, I don't need some writer placing a slanted view on something and then force feeding it to me. These are comics. If I wanted that I would watch MSNBC or FOXNEWS.

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