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Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped / Comic Books

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  • A number of EC Comics in the 1950s. In that era, doctors would appear in cigarette TV commercials telling people how healthy they were. EC in general (and Mad magazine more specifically) worked anti-smoking elements into their features quite frequently. Other notable aesops include:
    • Judgment Day features an astronaut from Earth refusing to allow a planet of robots whose society is segregated along color lines to join a coalition of civilized species. The anvil is then hammered into the ground when the astronaut takes his helmet off and the reader discovers that he is black. Its necessity was later proven by The Comics Code Authority when the story was being anthologized, as they tried to tell EC editor Bill Gaines that the hero could not be black.

      It also dropped a second and equally important anvil — that segregation can be overcome. While the robots are refused membership to the coalition, the astronaut assures the robots that if they work at it, they can fix their social problems.
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    • Master Race is about a German immigrant to America after World War II who is driven to near-madness because he believes he is being stalked by someone from the war. As the story unfolds, it is slowly revealed that the man was a commander at Bergen-Belsen, and the man following him is a Jew he had tortured who had vowed revenge. The story is shot through with accurate descriptions and depictions of what occurred in the Nazi concentration camps, and was one of the first pieces in American popular culture to address the Holocaust at all.
  • V for Vendetta, specifically the "Valerie" chapter, about a woman who had been a successful actress before the fascist regime slowly and cruelly destroyed her life, which ended in a concentration camp medical experiment, all because she was a lesbian. The narrative would not be half as effective if Moore had been subtle with it.
  • Warren Ellis is big on these.
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    • The entire run of Transmetropolitan was a big, long, anvil about the importance of standing up for The Truth and speaking out for what you believe in, regardless of the personal consequences; and the evils of complacency and blindly accepting authority. Making the character who most embodied these principles a self-proclaimed bastard further emphasizes the already subtle-as-a-sledgehammer point.
      Spider Jerusalem: I'm sorry, is that too harsh for you? Does that sound too much like the Truth? Fuck you. If anyone in this shithole city gave two tugs of a dead dog's cock about the Truth, this wouldn't be happening.
      • #40, "Business", is a stark look at child prostitution and the failings of underfunded social services. Despite the comic's post-cyberpunk setting, the story rings far too true. But the conclusion/anvil that the story comes to:
      Why are your kids selling themselves on the streets? Because you completely fucked up the job of raising them.
      • "Monstering" also has a good one about journalism and the duty of news media:
      It's the Journalism of Attachment. It's caring about the world you report on. Some people say that's bad journalism, that there should be a detached, cold, unbiased view of the world in our news media. And if that's what you want, there are security cameras everywhere you could watch footage of.
      • Another one was dropped by the Reservations:
      "Remember the past, and learn from it, or you are doomed to repeat it."
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    • His run on Thunderbolts is basically him railing against the aftermath of Civil War - "No, the police should not be living tactical weapons roaming the streets looking for someone to wail on."
    Joseph Swetnam: Justice, like Lightning, should ever appear. To few men's ruin, but to all men's fear...
    We applaud masked police beating the politically inconvenient in the street and then disappearing them.
    • Black Summer: A lot of people don't like the president, but only a giant prick would actually kill him.
  • Captain America once was used quite often to address social issues. This tends to involve numerous misinformed people being led on by a few evil people against a few unfairly persecuted people, and Cap trying to resolve things.
    "Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — "No, you move.""
    • Another version was done in What If? #44, which involved Captain America being revived 'today' — or, at least, well after a virulently anti-Communist version had laid claim to the shield and turned America into a rather unpleasant place to live. The resulting fight between the real Captain America and the John Birch Society knockoff was immediately followed by Cap delivering a What the Hell, Hero? to the entire country.
    Captain America: Without its ideals — its commitment to the freedom of all men, America is a piece of trash!
  • In the 70's, a number of books like Captain America and The Falcon and Green Lantern / Green Arrow tried to address racism. The stories were usually very heavy-handed, but it must be remembered that at that point there was very little diversity in comics to begin with, and children were still the primary audience. When trying to teach young kids about the horrors of bigotry, subtly wasn't necessarily the best route to take.
  • Truth: Red, White & Black is very heavy-handed with its depiction of racism in the 1940's, but of course, the racism in that era was quite ferocious and appalling by today's standards. The actual plot, wherein we learn that the US government tested Captain America's Super Soldier Serum on a group of black soldiers, was directly inspired by the horrific Tuskegee syphilis experiment.
  • Most of Grant Morrison's comics (most notably Final Crisis and Flex Mentallo) are tracts speaking against the Dark Age of comics, specifically the idea that comics should mirror Real Life in their violence and morally ambiguous attitudes. Morrison's takes on Superman and Batman are extraordinarily optimistic and straight-forward; Superman is often shown as a borderline God (especially in All-Star Superman) who tirelessly works toward the betterment of mankind, while Batman represents the peak of human ingenuity and intelligence, who can break free from any trap and defeat any villain. The whole thing is a stark and welcome contrast to the Frank Miller ideal of the tortured outcast Batman, and the ultimately ineffectual government puppet Superman.
  • The Green Arrow storyline where he discovers that his sidekick is addicted to heroin. During a time when the title had turned into a rather anvilicious series, this particular arc was exceptionally well done and considered a turning point in the character, the series, and even to some extent comics in general being a transport for serious issues. Several anvils are dropped — not just drug-related ones, but Green Arrow's sense of betrayal of responsibility for his friend and his relationships with other superheroes. It's a remarkably deep arc during a time when most superheroes were just going "POW" at the villains.
  • In the "Forever" story arc of Powers, Christian Walker goes to show his abilities to Albert Einstein, to ask what they are and where they came from. In their conversation afterwards, Einstein delivers an astoundingly good speech about the nature of the scientific attitude, and afterwards...
    Walker: I thought — I thought maybe my story would upset you. I thought that I might be upsetting some of your theories of the—
    Einstein: Listen to me, my new friend. The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. Someone who can no longer pause to wonder, and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.
  • A meta example is the Spider-Man comic book arc, "Green Goblin Reborn!", where Spidey encounters the negative effects of drug abuse, with his friend Harry ODing on pills. Despite this, The Comics Code Authority refused to approve the story for having any depiction of drug use — even when it was peppered with Anvilicious anti-drug messages. Stan Lee decided to publish the stories without the CCA seal of approval, and the ensuing public support prompted the CCA to relax its overly-constrictive guidelines.
  • Speaking of Stan Lee, he's made it clear that Marvel's staff runs the gamut of political beliefs, and that Marvel itself has no political stance... except for one ideal. Stan Lee always tried to push a message of tolerance in his work, and encouraged all of Marvel's staff to do the same, even if it makes some of their readers uncomfortable. While not everyone has followed this example, just the fact that he's encouraged such a message, and how he's fought for it so hard, lends weight to the anvil.
  • The darkest story arc of The Punisher MAX, "The Slavers", includes a lot of information — including a lecture, with slides — about the sex slave trade. It's also the story wherein Frank is shown to be absolutely brutal and unrelenting, well beyond his normal extremes, exemplified with the line "It had been a long time since I had hated anyone as much as I hated them."
  • The two issues of Zot! in which Terry comes out to herself and Woody pens an editorial about the attack on a young man presumed gay.
  • The first story arc of Wonder Woman Vol. 2 drops the same anvil as The Day After, with Diana showing Ares that his plans to start World War III would leave him with nobody to worship him. Later, the "Who Killed Mindi Mayer" issue delves into drug use by revealing that Mindi technically wasn't murdered; she died from a cocaine overdose before her attempted killer pulled the trigger.
    • Greg Rucka's The Hiketeia touches briefly on the poor treatment of sex workers by law enforcement and focuses heavily on how the line between justice and vengeance is not always so clear.
  • The moral of Watchmen is that morality is itself ambiguous. Hammered home extra hard by the death of Rorschach, perhaps the only remaining morally absolutist vigilante.
    "I leave it entirely in your hands."
    • Also, life is a precious, fragile thing, and we should be grateful for every day we get.
    • Moral absolutism is bad. So are rape and child abuse.
    • Dr. Manhattan's story arc has a very touching moral that stands in defiance of most cynical viewpoints: sure, the universe can get along without us, but we are still unique, both as individuals and as the only sapient life-forms on the only planet known to harbor life, and we deserve to protect and care for it and each other.
  • The whole reason X-Men exists: you shouldn't be afraid of someone because they're different. Different people are people too - some are bad, some are good, and some are neither. Don't pigeonhole huge groups of people.
    • X-Men is also largely about the world's "good" mutants managing to band together and prove to the world that their powers can be used for good, no matter how many psychopathic mutants decide to abuse their gifts. Even when mutants have every reason to hate humanity, and could conquer the world if they chose to do so, they are always capable of choosing a higher path and working for the good of society for no other reason than that it's the right thing to do. Example? Just check Magneto's track record.
    • Another anvil dropped is that just because someone hates you does not mean you shouldn't do the right thing and help them.
  • While the Chick Tracts have been infamous for being Anvilicious in a negative way, one particular tract, "Why No Revival?", provided a positive one. Instead of criticizing unbelievers (or Catholics), in a tract that was explicitly directed at Christians (and states that it is NOT for the unsaved), he instead criticized Christians who were afraid to admit their faith and beliefs to their peers. In contrast, he shows the ancient martyrs who were under the threat of death and yet were not afraid to say that they were Christians. In the tract, he criticized the hypocrisies of some Christians and shows why many churches faced various spiritual problems and no revival. Even if Jack Chick is woefully out to lunch on a lot of things, he knows this topic very well.
  • The main Aesop of Scott Pilgrim is that if you've made mistakes in the past, you shouldn't run away from them, but rather accept those flaws to become a better person and avoid making the same mistakes all over again.
  • Kingdom Come is a brutal, heavy-handed Deconstruction of the The Dark Age of Comic Books with a decidedly apocalyptic tone that can come across as needlessly Anvilicious to modern comic fans. But considering the state of the comic book industry at the time of its publication, a subtler Take That! might not have had the same effect. For this reason, many fans actually cite Kingdom Come as the definitive end of the Dark Age.
  • Early 2000AD strips could be very heavy-handed on the issue of Fantastic Racism, but given the popularity of far-right groups in 1970s Britain and the views they held, it was an anvil that needed to be dropped.
    • This still continues to recent strips: Judge Dredd, in one of his few truly heroic moments, forced Mega-City One to change its policies on Mutants at the risk of his own reputation and that of the Chief Judge.
    • Strontium Dog deals with racism against mutants about as subtly as Wulf Stenhammer swings Der Happy Stick, but considering that apartheid was still in full force, it was probably necessary.
  • Kitty Pryde seems to have a gift for this:
    • In one famous issue, after a mutant friend commits suicide over harassment, Kitty gives an impassioned speech about the nature of words and how they hurt, even rattling off a list of derogatory slurs to make her point.
    • In another example, after being asked by an African-American man if she's a mutie, Kitty fires back asking if he's a nigger. When the man (obviously) takes offense, Kitty makes the point that the slur "mutie" is just as offensive to her.
    • After the controversial "M-Word" speech scene in Uncanny Avengers #5 that was full of Unfortunate Implications about minority politics, Brian Bendis, himself a Jewish writer, responded in All-New X-Men #13 by having Kitty (a Jewish woman) give a page-long speech that highlighted everything that was wrong with said scene.
  • Mark Waid dropped a lovely anvil in Daredevil #11, in which Daredevil delivered an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech to The Punisher's female partner, shooting down her contention that heroes can only be driven by tragedy. Given the popular trend toward heroes being defined by tragedy, Daredevil's comments seem downright meta;
    "Don't you ever say that to me, ever again! That is a repellent statement. It's a vomitous insult to every cop, every fireman, every soldier who steps up to fight for those who can't! I am sorry for your loss, but if you genuinely believe that only the death of a loved one can motivate a human being to take up a cause... then get your pathetic, cynical ass out of my way so I can do my job!"
  • X-Men #141 and #142, the "Days of Future Past" arc, drops one hard, though not in words: Whatever resources you put into keeping another group down are unavailable for lifting yourself up. Hatred and prejudice are terrible bases for policy and society.
  • In Violine, the underlying themes are the evils of African dictatorships, the prevalence of death squads and endless revolutions, exploitation of the poor and African natives by powerful (white) European companies, and greed at the cost of third-world nations.
  • Superman has enthralled generations of comic book readers for over half a century because his story is one of the most unsubtle and in-your-face arguments for the Power of Good in the history of fiction. Even with enough strength to rival most militaries, Superman selflessly works to protect people of every race, culture, class and creed, he turns aside every chance at using his gifts for wealth or power, and he acts with genuine compassion and humanity in all things—despite having been born on a world light-years from Earth. Why? Because doing the right thing is a choice, and everyone is capable of making that choice. And from those who have much to give, much is demanded.
  • The Disney Mouse and Duck Comics do it, once in a while:
    • The underlying theme of the story "Paperinik il Diabolico Vendicatore" is that when you insult and humiliate someone continuously, one day he may retaliate and make you pay with interest (the days of Paperinik New Adventures are still away).
    • The science fiction saga "The Frontier Chronicles" drop a big one when Mickey flunks the Academy in spite of his excellent grades because he's too short to be a space pilot and goes into depression, leaving his friends and reducing himself to a hobo: O'Hara tricks him into getting a job as an archivist and see reports of multiple tragedies to show him that "There's people who has it much worse, yet they don't give up but continue fighting! Thus you, honor student of the Academy, have no right to just give up like that!"
    • Another from "The Frontier Chronicles", shown through Pete and Trudy's Heel–Face Revolving Door: you can't redeem those who don't want to be redeemed.
    • Paperinik New Adventures drops one in the one episode of the regular series where he appears: you are what you choose to be. Shown when Trip's evil future counterpart and the whole Bad Future are undone by Trip simply declaring to his future self that he would never be like him.
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