5 Disastrous Attempts at Political Commentary in Comic Books
A shocking number of writers look at a medium full of colorful superbeings flying about and shooting lasers out of every conceivable body part and think: "Yes, this would be the perfect platform to talk about my political ideas." Here are a few of their most ill-advised attempts ...
Superman Ignores Pollution for the Economy
In Superman: Grounded, the Man of Steel decides to walk across the entire U.S. on foot to deal with the real issues, like brain-damaged drug dealers and literal alien immigrants. Real hard-hitting stuff. Eventually he makes his way to Iowa, where his "backpack across the continent to find himself" trip takes a detour as he helps Big Industry ruin the environment. No, seriously. It all starts when Superman is contacted by Lois Lane, who for this story arc has apparently taken a part time job as a stripper and started smuggling cantaloupes in a Lara Croft shirt.
"Hey! You look me in my uncharacteristically exposed breasts when I'm talking to you!"
Lois reveals that the factory where Superman just put out a giant chemical fire -- shocker -- isn't as safe as it looks. Turns out they haven't updated their security measures since the Eisenhower administration, and they generally don't give a flying fuck about the environment.
"The executives also pee into the town's water supply."
Superman uses his X-ray vision to confirm that, yep, the place is a shithole. However, the workers at the plant beg him not to expose the conditions of the factory, since it's the only major job provider for the town.
"Look, it's this or going back to stripping, and I left that life behind."
After carefully thinking about it for, like, half a panel, Superman decides that it's a fair trade if the surrounding area becomes a chemical wasteland in a decade, as long as the factory will still be able to employ and murder its workers at some later, unspecified date. Because again, this is the same factory he just saved the workers from burning to death inside of about 10 minutes ago.
"Yeah, I could ask the JLA to bring this place up to code in like five minutes, but then I'd have to help Flash move. Fuck that guy."
But Lois still plans to publish her expose of the factory, and Superman, being the self-proclaimed champion of the American way, would never stand in the way of a journalist trying to print the truth, as is her constitutionally guaranteed righ-
Truth, justice, and strong-arming your wife to get your way.
Marvel's Dictators and Mass Murderers Cry Over 9/11
Even the most well-meaning tributes can backfire. Spider-Man did a 9/11 tribute, which is understandable -- NYC is a big part of the comic, after all.
"I- I can't even fly. Yell at Thor."
However, part of the issue inserted various Marvel Comics characters among the cops and firefighters helping out in the cleanup of Ground Zero -- you know, beloved superheroes like Thor, and Captain America, and ... um, Dr. Doom?
Yep, there's Marvel's biggest mass murderers standing distraught in the wreckage. Kingpin, Juggernaut, Magneto -- they've all put aside their agendas and gathered to help the city recover from a terrorist attack. Never mind that at least one of them is a self-proclaimed terrorist whose entire motivation is to kill normal, innocent humans in order to preserve mutantkind.
*All these guys are mass murderers, true believer! -Cracklin' Cracked
The artist defended this scene, explaining that it was supposed to be symbolic, but the thing is, there were plenty of sympathetic Marvel villains who could have realistically set aside their petty motives to help out there (we're pretty sure we saw Fing Fang Foom tear up a little during the Concert for New York). But they went with three guys who have a bigger body count individually than all of al-Qaida combined. And they're crying over what to them would normally be considered the acceptable collateral damage from breakfast.
He's crying because he was planning to do that to the Baxter Building next week.
Anarky, the Anarchist Batman Villain
In the tradition of the wacky-themed Bat-villains of the '60s comes Anarky, the character whose superpower is giving pedantic stoner monologues.
Ugh, wait until he gets really into Ayn Rand freshman year.
Anarky was a mysterious criminal who targeted Gotham City's upper class while spouting pseudo-philosophical catchphrases and calling the oppressed to rise up. Eventually, Batman finds out the true identity of this modern-day Robin Hood: a naive pre-teen named Lonnie Machlin, who uses a fake neck and a mask to look taller. Batman grabs his ass and dumps him in juvie.
"I'm not Anarky! This is just how I masturbate. Honest."
Haha, what brilliant satire! The character who thinks this base-level philosophy is so cool is literally a snotty 12-year-old. Suck it, teenagers with Che posters and overdue copies of Nausea. But nope: Anarky's creator, Batman writer Alan Grant, admits that the character was meant to be a mouthpiece for his own thoughts. More alarmingly, Grant has Batman admit to both Alfred and Commissioner Gordon that he is intrigued by those half-baked ideas.
"Yes, yes, I am thinking that whoever spouts such brilliant philosophy surely has a huge dong,
no matter what Jenny Walker said in home ec."
Not-Batman Stars in Islamophobic Propaganda
Imagine you're DC Comics and one day Frank Miller, the guy who redefined Batman in the '80s with The Dark Knight Returns and went on to make shitloads of money for other companies with Sin City and 300, offers to write a new Batman graphic novel. It would be hard to say no. There's one little catch, though: The comic would be called "Holy Terror, Batman!" and be about Gotham's protector violently murdering Muslims for 100 pages. You laugh. Frank Miller doesn't.
That's seriously how Miller's 2011 comic Holy Terror came to be: He started it as a Batman special, but halfway through realized that DC would never let him get away with the crazy shit he was trying to pull, so he took the pages, filed off the serial numbers, and turned them into a comic about a new superhero called the Fixer. The story is about how terrorists attack Gotha- er, Empire City, so the Fixer and his partner, Totally-Not-Catwoman, go out to torture and murder some bearded dudes in revenge.
"I-I'll talk. Please don't make me watch The Spirit again."
The whole thing is a bizarre, incoherent stream of hateful nonsense. Panels of the Fixer going on a Looney Toons-esque rampage against the terrorists alternate with out of context quotes from the Quran; wordless caricatures of Obama are juxtaposed with images of domestic violence and bizarre rope bondage.
He drew this whole comic one-handed.
We're sure Miller is trying to convince us of something here, but even he's not entirely certain what that is. We'd be offended, but we don't know where to start: The whole thing reads less like a comic book and more like somebody illustrated your racist uncle's Facebook diatribes.
Captain America Fights Supervillain Nixon, Watches Him Kill Himself
Captain America is pretty much the only major superhero who's allowed to be political, because, well, he was created as propaganda in the first place. He does Captain America stuff. He punches Hitler in the face. He gets his shield from Franklin Roosevelt. He shakes hands with Bill Clinton. He watches Richard Nixon commit suicide in front of him after being outed as a supervillain.
"I am a crook!"
In a storyline that happened to coincide with Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal, Captain America fights a group of baddies called the Secret Empire who are trying to take over the U.S. by way of nuclear bombs. In Captain America #175, Cap defeats the Secret Empire in Washington, but their leader, Number One, manages to sneak away and hides in the White House.
"Blast! If only I had an easily removable costume to cover my escape."
Captain America chases the villain into the Oval Office, where he's unmasked and turns out to be a "high political officer." Maybe we're just reading into things here. Maybe Cap isn't trying to comment on a political scandal that was way out of the depth of a mainstream superhero comic. "High political officer" could be one of those nebulous cabinet members whose job no one really understands, like Secretary of Agriculture, or just a cop who's way into politics and gettin' blazed -- except the writer confirmed that it's totally Nixon, and yes, this was his take on Watergate. You know -- ineptly bugging some offices, nuclear obliteration of your own country -- it's really six of one and a half-dozen of the other.
"Blast! If only I had something to throw to knock the gun from his hand."
Captain America is so disillusioned by this overwrought version of the Watergate scandal that he quits. He puts on a different costume and becomes Nomad, and we all learn a valuable lesson: If you're ever caught in a political scandal, do the honorable thing and flee to your own office before you blow your brains out for maximum symbolic value.
Henrik Magnusson can be found in various other places across the Internet, but he doesn't want you to know he visits most of those places. Among the sites he doesn't mind you knowing about, you can find the stuff he passes off for comics and artwork here, here, and here.
Related Reading: Comics usually aren't much good at pulling off a celebrity cameo, but this issue where KISS meets Howard the Duck is a rare exception. And hey, did you know a Donald Duck comic invented Minecraft? Of course, since Donald's invented movies and scientific theories maybe that isn't so shocking. If you're not done leering at the uneven intersection of "Comics" and "Reality", check out Ronald Reagan's history in comic books.