The GeeksverseWith Great Power Comes Great Responsibility…or does it?

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility…or does it?
Published on Thursday, May 30, 2013 by

Playboy, long a commentator on society, culture, and booty, has a great article you may have missed on the propogandic nature of comic books. They have their points, or a pair of nice points, but as usual they do miss abit of the comic point.Some readers of this website and/or Playboy might be interested in knowing that Playboy really does feature articles.

Sure, everyone has heard that Playboy features articles, but perhaps few of us have spent time pouring over the journalism.  Every year I teach “Why We Carve Horror Movies” penned by horror mogul Stephen King. The causation centric essay makes good points without any support or elaboration. It is good information presented problematically. I will point out that the subject is explored further in the follow up non-fiction book Danse Macarbe proving that King knows how to craft the tome and full explanation.

This 2012 article in Playboy has a nice point. However, like King’s essay in the 80s, the newer article is reductive and draws quick connections too easily.

In fact, as much as I love and care about comics and pop culture studies I do have to admit that the great responsibilty often comes in service to the profits.

All in all the Playboy article does raise a nice point, so I do want to give a shout out to Eric Alt’s article “With Great Power…” [It is included below in case you don’t want to travel to Playboy.com to read it]. Although, closer to embodying the spirit of diversity in the comic industry is the more recent Playboy interview with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. While Dogma, Chasing Amy, and Jersey Girl do raise important issues in Smith’s filmography the writer/director/producer is much like the early days of comic writing and pushes the sell more than the platform. That is clear in Clerks II-III (not yet released), Cop Out, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

In fact, comics can be both capitalistic and profound.

At FCBD13 I picked up a large quantity of New Warriors vol 1 by Fabien Nicieza. I was able to fill in some holes in my collection. New Warriors is often lauded and lamented because of its daring take on super hero tropes that broke the mold. The 75 issue run introduced not only new characters but a new take on the team book. Since the average comic reader was assumed to be teenagers, perhaps it made sense to create a teenage super group. Or perhaps it was the best way to have new heroes with untested values that could respond unpredictably. The first 60 or so issues were penned by Nicieza who also handled writing duties on many of the spin offs like Night Thrasher and Nova mini series and limited series.

Nicieza and New Warriors did some daring stories. Many of those stoires still hold up. Re-read Rage losing his grandmother after Namorita’s one night stand steals her address book. Re-read the arc where Namorita is justifying her actions to a court of pentagon jugglers while her team mates are on a send up of MTV talking to the youth of America about the same operation. Re-read the complicated relationship and reform between Night Thrasher and Silhouette that draws the Batman and Catwoman comparisons.

Good stuff.

Re-read the first 75 isssues quickly in a marathon and those land mark moments are absorbed into the standard soap opera of super hero tropes.

Night Thrasher, Rage, and many of the newer characters rampaging through the pages of the comic have drawn both praise and criticism by how miniorities were depicted. That was a conversation that ran in the letters pages of the first sevreal issues of Night Thrasher.

It happens.

One of the other oddities I pulled from a back issue bin at FCBD13 was Marvel’s Machine Man. The late 70s run was started by legendary creator Jack Kirby. In fact, one of the issues that I picked up was Machine Man #5 written and drawn by Kirby himself. It is surprising how similar Aaron Stack is in these early adventures to his later representation in Mavel Zombies as the distant hero.

While much of the Machine Man run was down right goofy, it had brilliant moments. After recently reading issues of the series written by Kirby, Wolfman, and DeFalco my favorite cast character is not the titular robot but instead Senator Brickman. The corrupt politician is trying to use Machine Man, aka Aaron Stack, as political fodder by painting him to the public as a menace. Luckily, Brickman is constantly sure that he can stop the rampaging robot that he is creating and solve the hysteria to propel himself into the White House. Brickman is surrounded by political power brokers. Some are goofy henchman. Others are savy politicians in their own right.

As Kirby gave way to Marv Wolfman who begat DeFalco one of the constants in that original series was Brickman. The Brickman character, like the New Warriors inclusion of pentagon jugglers felt like concepts used in the early run of G.I. Joe by Larry Hama before that title gave way to ninja force.

I’m not sure that great power always leads itself to great responsbility.

That said, we should still celebrate the accomplishments. Fantastic Fangirls celebrated the best of Marvel, even if it does have to gloss over much of comics depowerment.

With Great Power

The first comic books had no qualms about being propaganda—Captain America punches Hitler on the cover of his first issue. Later comics faced divisive social issues, the type that couldn’t be stopped with a punch. Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (Harper), says Marvel—led by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (who quipped, “Comics is journalism”)—tackled these topics faster than rival DC Comics. “A lot of these social issues are philosophical matters that people struggle with,” says Howe. “Putting these conflicts into comics just makes for better, smarter comics.” Here, Howe takes us through some of Marvel’s punch-ups with society.

1968 1968

RACE RELATIONS

Marvel positioned Professor X and Magneto as analogs for the peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. and militant ­Malcolm X. Decades later, this influenced the X-Men movies as director Bryan Singer’s writing partner “was insistent that the metaphor was essential to the X-Men mythos,” says Howe.

1969 1969

VIETNAM

“Vietnam was definitely one of the clumsier transformations,” says Howe. “The Spider-Man ‘Crisis on Campus!’ issue seems as though Stan Lee is rewriting things as he goes.” Peter Parker flip-flops between support of and contempt for the students—a representation of the country’s own indecision.

2006 2006

WAR ON TERROR

The Civil War series pits Marvel heroes against one another over a new mutant­registration law. “It doesn’t seem like it’s really taking a stand,” Howe says of the series’ take on the Patriot Act and civil rights. Instead, writers decided to leave readers with more questions than answers.

2012 2012

GAY RIGHTS

This year, openly gay Alpha Flight member Northstar married his longtime companion, demonstrating Marvel’s stance on the topic. It’s a long way from the days when a writer tried to make a character HIV-positive. Says Howe, “He was basically told, ‘We’re not going to do that.’”

2 Responses
    • It really all comes down to execution. As with a lot of things in comics, creative intent means little if the craft and technique in both the writing and the art aren’t there to support it and see it expressed thoughtfully and artfully through the medium.

      Mainstream superhero comics can be “commercial” and still deliver a meaningful depth of message beyond spandexed punch-ups serving as popular satire (not that they’re under any obligation to do so, mind you), but at least in my reading experience, it takes an especially skilled creative and editorial team to do so effectively and without reducing whatever socio-politically relevant topic it is addressing to an unintentionally wayward caricature.

      • Movies do the same thing. Messages can be transmitted even in the weakest film but it is easiest to read when well exectued.

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