Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Super-Heroes and Political Science

Comic Book Scholars:

A top-notch political science journal is putting together an issue that will examine super-heroes over a variety of issues. For example: the impact of real-world events on comic book story lines, vigilantism vs conventional notions of law and order, the treatment of class, sex, race in superhero comics. You get the drift. We had no idea these issues were treated seriously in comic books or graphic novels.

Which superhero series addresses issues like this most eloquently or adequately? What superhero would you choose to focus on?

Here is a very interesting piece by Jay Stringer on superheroes.

12 comments:

Jerry House said...

Well, I understand that Captain America becomes the President this month. For real.

Despite their personal angst issues, most superheroes live in a black/white world; I really would not want any of them solve real-world issues. One possible exception: Wonder Warthog should take on Congress. They deserve it.

Ron Scheer said...

The six-gun justice of the western can be read similarly.

Charles Gramlich said...

Salem Press publications has been dealing with some of these issues for quite a long time. I did a number of articles on comic books and characters for them. Several just recently came out.

George said...

I always considered BATMAN as a response to mundane police functions. Sure, Bruce Wayne is a vigilante, but how can the police hope to deal with a criminal like The Joker?

Good Ol' Ant said...

Comics have dealt with social issues since the 1960s, at least (when we were all looking for "relevance" everywhere), and -- I'm sure it could be argued -- have dealt with them even before that.

In the 1960s, partly in response to the enormous success of Marvel's Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, etc. (the "superheroes with problems," as folks dubbed them), DC comics started to alter its approach to superheroes. Green Lantern and Green Arrow teamed up in a series of adventures dealing with "real-life" issues. (One famous cover showed Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy--the equivalent of Batman's Robin--shooting up: GA discovers that the young man is a heroin addict.)

For the past 25 years or so, DC has been emphasizing the "dark" aspects of Batman and confronting the issue of vigilante justice vs. adherence to the rule of law. Superman usually represents this latter position, and he and Batman have sometimes clashed over this dichotomy. (Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT -- not necessarily to be confused with the movie of the same name -- takes this difference to epic levels in a graphic novel from, I believe, the late 1980s or early 1990s.)

One could argue that Wonder Woman, by her very nature -- a female superhero -- raised political issues. (She wears those bracelets to remind her of when women were enslaved by men.) Then there's the whole psychological nature of comic-book characters. (Wonder Woman came under scrutiny for its women-in-bondage aspect and a certain amount of whipping and spanking. But I digress.)

What's-his-name's SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, which came out in the 1950s, was an indictment of comics (but mostly for their "unhealthy aspects" in turning kids into juvenile delinquents); that made comics in general "political," as they were the subject of congressional hearings (which led to the institution of the Comics Code). Books by historians like Les Daniels have traced the chronology of comics and commented on these issues better than I could.

Sorry to sound pedantic.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not at all. This is precisely the sort of response that is helpful. Jay Stringer over at DO SOME DAMAGES, recommended the WATCHMAN series, which we will look into. Our only comic book store without 20 miles is gone which makes it more difficult.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Interesting theory. Patti, politics and political events are often the central theme in comic-books. DC, for instance, has come out with issues where Superman interacts with the US President and Capitol Hill during a particular crisis. Likewise, one can't help get the feeling that Justice League of America, another DC output, might have been loosely fashioned on the League of Nations post-WWII. The S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Nick Fury of the Avengers, from the Marvel stable, is yet another instance of a secret intel organisation that takes on global crime and terrorism. The one superhero who has probably addressed geopolitical issues, at least during the 1960s-1990s period is Superman. Batman, on the other hand, is a vigilante who has largely been confined to fighting crime in Gotham but his role as the keeper of peace at home cannot be overlooked. Batman and Superman have joined hands in World's Finest Comics and together they have fought all kinds of foes including aliens.

Chad Eagleton said...

Comics are like everything else. Some are fluff. Some are entertaining. Some are depressing. Some are just bad. Some are entertaining, but about larger issues.

If this sort of thing interests you, read Grant Morrison's "Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Teach Us About Being Human".

Cap'n Bob said...

I was deeply into comics in the late sixties and early seventies. My favorite character was Spiderman precisely because he had a lot of personal problems and angst. Sure, so did all of the Marvel characters at the time, but his seemed more genuine, perhaps because of his age.
DC tried a series called The Hawk and the Dove in an attempt to reflect the society of the day, but it was preachy and didn't last long. Many years later the vigilantism was used as a springboard to attack superheroes, a la The Expendables, and have them declared outlaws. Worse, they were hounded by lawyers trying to collect for wrecked cars, buildings, and lamp posts that had been destroyed during battles with super villains.

Kieran Shea said...

Here's what you find in Venn diagram of crime fiction + superhero awesome-ness.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Ultimate_Evil

Todd Mason said...

Patti...I'm late to this party, as with many of your posts, but this is a bit like saying, I wasn't aware that these matters were treated seriously in film, or television, or crime fiction. OK...what did you think they were talking about instead? Particularly when, say, Joe Lansdale or Rachel Pollack were writing 'em, and others of us were reading them, whom you know to be not the most unsophisticated of audiences?

Particularly as one moves away from superheroes and into more realistic or otherwise less, well, heroic comics, such matters are dealt with at least as frequently, but yes, well, the matters you describe have been at least occasional meat for even the more conventional and kidsy hero comics for a half-century, now...the pertinent heights scaled by the Hernandez Brothers in LOVE AND ROCKETS or by Alan Moore in WATCHMEN and many others (V FOR VENDETTA, etc.) or Ed Brubaker...or look back to Jules Feiffer and Ron Goulart and Richard Lupoff writing about these matters, and certainly Feiffer doing strips about them...

Todd Mason said...

Wow. Amazon and other online booksellers (and actual bookstores) can hook you up with Moore and the Hernandezes and much else...