Comics and Conspiracy: The Mining of the Lunatic Fringe

Why is it that off-the-wall conspiracy theories hold so much interest for comic writers and readers?

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By Josh Epstein - 4/26/2012
Recently, in an interview with New Empress Magazine, controversial comic scribe Mark Millar was asked about the inspirations behind the Ultimates. As those who read our Digital Time Machine piece last week will remember, the Ultimates is without a doubt the most driving influence in comics behind the creation of the new Avengers movie. The book essentially cast actor Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury years before Marvel Studios even existed, much less began to plan their broad-spanning super-hero epic.

The most fascinating nugget in that conversation was Millar's revelation that the inspiration for the Chitauri aliens (the featured foe in the first Ultimates arc) were the writings of David Icke. Now, if you've never heard of Icke you can probably be forgiven. His name is largely unfamiliar to those who don't spend much time around the various conspiracy theory websites, which is understandable, as those sites appeal to a particular demographic of disaffected or otherwise dissatisfied segment of society. Icke's books, with titles such as Lift The Veil and The Biggest Secret, are purveyors of a theory that there is a secret society of reptilian aliens who long-ago infiltrated the bloodlines of the most powerful families on Earth, such as the House of Windsor, the Bushes, etc. According to Icke, these shape-shifting scum have been perpetrating a plan to rid the world of as much of its human "infection" as possible while positioning themselves to be the masters of a diminished human race.

Wild, isn't it?

And yet Millar's Ultimates is not the only book to draw its inspiration from these sorts of tales. The recent reinterpretation of the Asgardian mythos in the Thor film has them not as extradimensional deities, but as residents of a planet far, far away or, in a word: extraterrestrials. This goes to another long-running conspiracy theory, that humans of ancient times were, in fact, visited and influenced by "sky gods" from outer space. The current run on Aquaman, in which he faces a long-forgotten species from The Trench speaks to a particular theory that supposes that humans were not the first advanced species to develop on Earth; others, faced with environmental change, retreated to safe, secluded environs and are in the process of reemerging. Grant Morrison, currently writing such mainstream icons as Superman, made his bones, so-to-speak, with books such as The Invisibles which is a veritable cornucopia of conspiracy topics, from the suppression of extranormal abilities, to secret societies, and on and on it goes.

So why is it that these out-in-left-field type of theories seem to hold so much interest for comic writers and, indeed, comic readers?

I believe that the answer lays in the "cape" comic fan's innate desire for something more than the mundane world offered up in the daily newspapers and on network television. We would like to believe that super-humans do exist, but that their existence is being kept from us by some secret cabal who want to keep us hopeless. We would like to believe that our governments have contacted extraterrestrials but keep it from us out of fear of some sort of massive societal change that would upset their carefully constructed applecart. As outlandish as these ideas may sound, they too began on various conspiracy websites and newsletters and have even made their way into scripted comics such as X-Men and MiB.

What does all of this mean for the average comic-book reader?

It means that, if you want an idea of what stories you're going to be reading five years from now, or if you want to write those stories, one could do worse than to occasionally step outside the boundaries of the "safe" internet and go peering down the rabbit hole. You never know, you may run into one of your favorite writers down there. Perhaps you already have.
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3 Comments
TheMyth - 4/27/2012, 12:01 AM
lol, you went with one of the more outlandish theories out the gate. I'd never heard that particular one.

I'd say the reason for a connection is, in a nutshell, creativity. I also agree this is compounded by the hero complex and desire for something more. I personally like the connection, as it encourages free thinking and imagination.

While many conspiracy theories like the first one in your example, are quite silly, you'd be surprised to find out about the things people call conspiracy that are actually true.

Nice article.
TheCapelessCrusader - 4/27/2012, 11:48 AM
EsseXFactor, Thanks for the read. If you have some thoughts on other good books that have mined CTs for their stories. I'm hoping to make this a regular feature over on capelesscrusader.org
rjblaskiewicz - 5/11/2012, 11:43 AM
Keen observation, Josh. I think you are right. (I study conspiracy theories professionally.) Have you noticed that the bad guys in conspiracies theories are essentially Bond villains? Sitting in their underground bunkers, making earthquakes happen, crashing global markets, etc. There's also a sense in which they are sort of deities...the real world is an expression of the will of distant puppet masters...sort of like the gods on Olympus. You can see how setting up that type of narrative would translate easy into comics. The forces who would oppose those powers would have to be EPIC! CapelessCrusader, you might want to look up "Conspiracy Films" by Barna William Donovan, a good coverage of pop culture conspiracy in film. A number of stories that I would not have immediately identified as conspiracy theories pop out, and it might help you see your comics in a new way. Send me an update at gmail if you do a series on conspiracy theories in comics, and I'll give you some linky love at skepticalhumanities.com.

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