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So a little while ago I wandered into the Libertarian thread in D&D and saw they were talking about Libertarian fiction. A lot of it was about sci-fi lit but then it moved on to comics, specifically they discussed if Batman was a Libertarian fantasy. Now, as I'm sure we're all aware, there are so many "Batmen" out there that it be pretty impossible to label him as anything. But I found the general idea interesting and I was encouraged to start this thread. I have no idea if it will go anywhere but what's the harm in trying?
I did hold off on going through with it until I said I was gonna check out The Dark Knight Returns and was told about Frank Miller's right wing politics. I also was watching a video with Linkara from AT 4 W where he mentioned "Holy Terror." I guess what I'm saying is I didn't want to make a thread about abstract interpretations - I didn't know if that would go anywhere or have any interest. But some comics have plain as day politics which you can further support by looking at their writer. I was hoping something more concrete like that would make this thread generate some serious replies.
So, yeah. What comics have very forward political messages and what are those messages?
To give a couple examples of what I mean, Alan Moore's V For Vendetta. Also I heard about this series called Fables where Snow White goes on about abortion. Hope that demonstrates what I'm searching for in this thread.
I recall that in DC's 80's Millennium crossover series, writer Steve Englehardt flat-out called Thatcher's Britain "Fascist Britain." From what I understand, Thatcher's administration is what inspired the fascist Britain of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta.
There's also the fact that in the DC Universe, Lex Luthor's presidency coincides exactly with George W. Bush's. Make of that what you will.
A recent discussion on Superman mentioned how comics in general tend to lean left on the spectrum. To my observation, Marvel is still somewhat more likely to publish stories appealing to other demographics, with a recent Punisher run having him take on Arab terrorists in the Middle East.
Mind you, Dark Horse appear to be more or less agnostic, if not even right-leaning - 300 and Sin City were published there, after all, and it focuses on creator-owned works which is a more or less libertarian approach. I'd imagine Image being similar in that regard, given its initial proclivity for gun-totting macho men straight out of a Reagan-era action flick.
Now, if you want to see something really political... this is fresh off the printing press... and it makes Holy Terror seem tasteful.
edited 15th Apr '17 12:13:11 PM by indiana404
It's hard not to read Batman as a Libertarian fantasy. Lone rich man solves problems the state cannot by beating up poor people, the mentally ill, and the mentally ill poor people. Even his refusal to kill is often brought up as the sole reason he's incapable of ending Gotham's strife long-term, and his insistence to let the state have this one right to execution is often presented as a tragic flaw.
Iron Man is also an unapologetic libertarian fantasy, but at least in comparison, most of Tony Stark's enemies are other CE Os, heads of state, leaders of powerful organizations, a.k.a. people at least in theory as powerful as him. Batman barely has any, bar League of Assassins and a few other one-shots, his rogues gallery is overwhelmed with people down on their luck and money, with mental illnesses to boot. And they're supposed to somehow menace this invincible Mary Sue who, as part of the Justice League, regularly beats gods with the power of contrived writing.
As for other political comics... Civil War is a big elephant in the room. Both of them. One attempted to have a privacy vs security debate and failed horribly, the other tried to use pre-crime as a racial profiling analogy... and also failed miserably.
Actually, I find myself hard-pressed to remember anything good happening from politics in comics... this is likely gonna end up as a complaint thread.
edited 15th Apr '17 12:24:55 PM by Luminosity
I've actually heard the very concept of the superhero criticized as a right-wing power fantasy - the legal authorities are all too inept or corrupt to properly protect people, so we're better off putting our trust in a small group of unelected, unaccountable people who are Just Plain Better Than Everyone Else™.
Not sure if I fully agree but it does raise some interesting points.
edited 15th Apr '17 4:17:54 PM by HamburgerTime
Select instances of Power Rangers like Power Rangers SPD and Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue and for that matter Super Sentai are official government sanctioned... hell, that's how the latter franchise started. But while that's superhero, it isn't comics.
Speaking of government sanctioned teams, there have been plenty of examples of those; especially in the main teams like the Avengers and Justice League.
For the former, though often being their own private team, has often been given some kind of government involvement in the form of either being a part of SHIELD like in the movies or Ultimate Universe or have a government liaison sponsoring them.
The latter, however, evolved from being just working under the US government and serve as an organization under orders of the UN as evident in Justice League International. Granted, the team was merely just Global Guardians but with the Justice League seal on it; it still counts as a Super team serving the government.
But as far as teams that are 100% government run it would be Alpha Flight, X-Factor (at least for later incarnations), Global Guardians (as explained before under UN orders), Youngblood, Wild C.A.T.s, and Unity. Especially Unity which, interesting enough, isn't run by a US government agency but rather British MI-6.
I'm not quite sure the superhero concept leans right by default. Actual results notwithstanding, right-wing philosophy emphasizes the virtues of hard work and dedication over inherent talent and convenient circumstances. An idealized right-wing superhero would more likely be a full-blown self-made man than a privileged busybody with a messiah complex.
Ditto government involvement - superheroes working for official authorities appeals to both the pro-democratic (or at least populist) aspect of modern conservatism, and the war-hawk mentality of big strong men fighting for national interests rather than their personal ideals. On the lower scale, I reckon conservatives are more enamored with private investigators and otherwise hired heroes, who still get paid for their services. All in all, from their early beginnings to modern parodies, the most direct conservative equivalent of the superhero is the hard-boiled detective.
Instead, it is modern leftist doctrine that some people are inherently privileged and so should present their resources for the common good... as defined by themselves, natch. This rings much closer to the criticisms of liberal elites looking down on common people's choice... and that's about as detailed as I'd rather keep it.
edited 15th Apr '17 11:02:28 PM by indiana404
I still object to Batman being Libertarian. The point of Batman is that he's scarcely better than the people he fights. The "poor and mentally ill" people are being beaten up by a rich and mentally ill person. Batman's refusal to kill and use of the system is not a flaw, it's he only thing keeping him from becoming just like them. Az-Bats showed not everyone can handle the mantle of Batman, it takes an iron force of heroic will to walk that oh-so-thin line of true justice.
As for "takng authority into their own hands" I have no idea why this is bing presented as either a Left Wing or Right Wing ideology. It's neither. If you disagree with the people in charge, that's really all the ideological basis you need to rebel. Unless we're gonna say all the heroes of cyberpunk fighting evil corporations are actually Right Wing.
No, it really isn't. The point of Batman is a badass normal using unusual but somewhat plausible equipment to fight colourful non-superpowered criminals who, more often than not, have some sort of quirky theme to their crimes. The 'no killing' rule dates back to the Golden Age, and was part of Batman's original portrayal as a big grey boyscout (which addmittedly did follow some early installment weirdness which people who have read Detective Comics #27 but no other Golden Age Batman comics declare to be the character's roots by virtue of that story being a little closer to modern stories than were the majority of Golden Age material).
Moreover, until the end of the Bronze Age, Batman's wealth was simply a plot device to explain how he was able to afford all his cool stuff. Batman was actually pretty well-adjusted back then; the death of his parents wasn't some profoundly devastating thing that threw him into a spiral of insanity so much as a tragedy that inspired him to be a good person, and an element that threw the inherent coolness and wish-fulfilment aspects of Batman into relief.
Batman being barely better than his villains is a product of Frank Miller's reinvention that kicked off the Iron Age; you may well feel that this is a better interpretation of Batman, and I won't argue against that, but it's an idea that arose around the time I was born and still took a while to become the predominant portrayal.
edited 16th Apr '17 4:24:03 AM by VampireBuddha
The Golden Age Batman killed.
I was about to say the same thing. It depends on who the authority in question actually is. IE the X-Men is an anti-authoritarian narrative about outsiders and weirdos who are marginalized and hated by the "mainstream," which is a metaphor that overwhelmingly tends to apply to marginalized minority groups who are often targeted by Right Wingers (hence the prevalence of things like government databases or evil religious extremists in the X-men mythos).
Then conversely something like The Dark Knight Returns does skew more Right because the whole "This soft new generation has fucked things up and ruined everything, so now its up to us old timers to fix things" is a conservative fantasy, for the most part.
edited 16th Apr '17 9:19:32 AM by comicwriter
Disagreeing with authority figures doesn't necessarily imply disagreeing with authority systems. A story where the rightful king returns to fight his evil uncle or something is still a far cry from a democratic treatise. For superheroes, the struggle typically escalates between violent and corrupt autocrats wielding tremendous power and answerable to none but themselves... and the government. If anything, it's a display of remarkable moral myopia to say that it's perfectly fine for random people to be held above the law, no matter how destructive their antics get, so long as they appeal to one's personal tastes.
If history is any indication, actual leftist anti-authoritarian movements tend to be group efforts, emphasizing the struggle of common people against the privileged and empowered. To contrast, the implications of superheroes are either at best left-wing ideals still expressed through right-wing actions, or nigh-royalist sentiments that are outside the modern spectrum altogether.
No he didn't.
People who died fighting Batman were mostly the victims of karma. They were evil, they fought Batman, and they dies in the struggle, but Batman wasn't actually trying to kill them, just apprehend them; the difference between the Golden Age and now is that Batman didn't go out of his way to prevent people from dying, but even then he wasn't a murderer.
Moreover, even that was almost completely phased out by the end of 1940, and the overwhelming majority of criminals Batman fought in the Golden Age went to prison.
I've had a thought about superheroes and authority. There are plenty of stories where heroes go into space or other universes and lead revolutions against despotic regimes based on mere ideals, having known the locals for just a few days. They're also willing to do this in fictional countries, though that occasionally backfires, like the time the Fantastic Four kicked Doctor Doom out of Latveria. However, whenever someone suggests they help out the people of somewhere like Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea, we get a detailed discussion about why it's too complex and there are no simple solutions to long-running political problems. I don't have a problem with that in and of itself, but it rings hollow when just last month they leaped right in to overthrow an alien overlord who treats his own planet no worse than our modern absolute kings.
That seems more like their usual uselessness, only applied to political problems. For that matter, even the issue of scientific progress and physical enhancements apparently benefiting only the rich and powerful can get a bit too aggressively shilled, to the point of outright misanthropy.
Occasionally, the two aspects even overlap - both big companies have put great focus on the tension created by the existence of superheroes for its own sake, the vast moral and philosophical implications of the good guys having unchecked power and being virtually unchallenged on the local level... and meanwhile, in the real world, you have terrorists taking down skyscrapers as easily as ordering airline peanuts, Russia giving a Crimea-sized middle finger to the so called leaders of the free world, and both the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia stocking up their nuclear pantries with nobody able to counter with anything more than a strongly-worded letter. I get that comics are supposed to provide escapism from such matters, but right about now, not only do their issues look just as grim, but the mentality espoused is more than a little tone-deaf.
IDK, man, personally I think the no-kill code is no less a Plot Device than the Wayne billions. Mostly, it's a convenient way for DC to keep recycling popular, profitable villains; I don't think anyone bothered (seriously) attaching any moral fabric to it until Alan Moore and maybe Frank Miller.
There was a time, remember, when pretty much all superheroes had official government sanction. Superman had universal citizenship bestowed upon him by the UN, during the Silver and Bronze Age. Batman operated with the official sanction of the Gotham City police. The Avengers (well before all the "Registration Act" business) operated with government sanction, too (all members had "Priority Identi-cards," signed by the President of the United States). Even the X-Men had government affiliations. How official and government approval super-heroes have waxes and wanes with the taste of the times (or perhaps, with the taste of the writers involved).
As with all things, I think it depends on who's doing the writing. Superman, when he was created, was unabashedly left wing, taking on lobbyists and corrupt industrialists and what not. Batman and his villains being mentally ill is usually hyperbole and at best debatable (few, if any, of his villains actually qualify as mentally ill). As to "beating up the poor," again, I'd say that charge isn't really borne out if you'll actually go back and read some Batman comics. The criminals Batman has faced are much more often of the career variety; there are stories where he's faced someone poor and desperate committing a crime, and given them the chance to "go forth, and sin no more." Bronze Age Batman, for instance, used only as much force as was neccessary, though Frank Miller, I'm sure, would say the same about his version of Batman.
edited 16th Apr '17 10:51:30 AM by Robbery
Didn't Superman actually for real fight the KKK? Like, the names of real KKK leaders were used in a Superman radio drama, which led to their actual arrests?
edited 16th Apr '17 10:55:30 AM by Luminosity
Yep. That happened.
I agree that the anti-government stance isn't really essential for the genre, but rather more indicative of the zeitgeist of particular stories. As early as the Superman theatrical cartoons, he functioned well enough when intervening in only the direst emergencies, being otherwise content with writing headlines rather than making them. Ditto Batman working on call rather than going on nightly patrols - a trend which I never grokked since, in conjunction with his code, it means he just looks for random thugs to beat up, with no likelihood of imprisonment considering his involvement pretty much amounts to evidence tampering. Better for him to go back on retainer, than to keep trying to be the Punisher-lite.
Speaking of Doctor Doom, I wonder just how well superheroes could even handle an actual multi-lateral world, where they can't simply mess around in any country whose leadership they disagree with. Unlike most adaptations, the comics present considerable international competition, with powerful real nations having their own superhero teams, or even supervillains enjoying local popularity. And that's not going into how some superheroes are actual heads of state.
If anything, the next time Marvel tries to do a civil war plot, or DC looks for an excuse to pit its powerhouses against one another, they really could just base it around national lines, without building up to some grand aesop or other... though considering comic writer politics, there's always the temptation to pit one's straw utopia of choice against a real country, usually the US, so as to elaborate on its currently fashionable flaws.
There have been stories, going as far back as the 50's, where super-heroes have been prevented from going into some country or another, cuz that country didn't like them (or, more often, were corrupt and oppresive in some way). I think the first episode of Justice League Unlimited dealt with the JLU trying to get clearance to go into a country where an alien menace had touched down. In the 80's, after Byrne's revamp of Superman, Superman made a visit to the nation of Qurac (a fictional stand in for mide-east terrorist states), brushed aside all opposition, and essentially told their president (a Saddam Hussein look-alike) to shape up or he'd be back; as cathartic as that action no doubt was, it was forever after presented as a colossal mistake. It was brought up repeatedly throughout the 80's and early 90's, even going so far as having Quraci-American characters leery of Superman cuz they thought he hated them.
As for Batman going on patrol, it's not really that hard to understand. His parents were killed in a random mugging (in most versions, anyhow). While he usually addresses more outre villains, it makes complete sense to me that he'd want to do what he could to prevent random crimes because any such crime can result in someone's death. In the 70's, there were all sorts of little back-up stories that showed Batman taking on some small-scale crime or another.
Still seems more like a cross between Punisher-style raids only without an actual endgame, and Spider-Man-style patrols without the web-slinger's built-in mobility and efficiency. (To put it mildly, if DC has one fatal flaw in terms of company policy, it's either trying too hard to ape its competitors, or, with stories like Kingdom Come, to admonish them.)
I think it was a North Korea expy that JLU opened with, and fittingly, the threat in question was their own attempt to design a giant robot for national defense... so, case in point that superhero writers are more than a bit unnerved by the thought of other countries even having their own superpowered enforcers, let alone them being regarded as heroic in their own right. Few things are scarier than the notion that messing about in foreign nations is wrong not because of some self-imposed moral standard, but simply because they might just decide to return the favor.
I'm not sure how unnerved they really are by them. Going back to the 50's, you had the Batmen of Many Nations (that Grant Morrison revisited during his run on Batman). You had the Global Guardians, who came out of the 70's. The 80's had a couple of Russian super-teams show up, some heroic, some less so (The Rocket Red Brigade, Soyuz, etc). Grant Morrison came up with the Great 10, for China. As to why those heroes never seem to act outside their own borders, it seems that non-American super heroes (at least those created for American comics) are much more likely to work for their respective governments (one expects that they're under orders not to act unless so directed, and their respective nations don't want to cause international incidents). It would be interesting to see a non-American super-hero who worked mostly on their own initiative, like Superman or Batman (I haven't read anything with the Chinese "Super-Man" character, or the new Egyptian Dr. Fate; how are they situated?)
@vampire Buddha that really is no different from killing them. At best it's manslaughter
@Indiana 404: It's also worth noting that the Punisher doesn't really patrol, looking for whatever crime might be happening. When properly written, he approaches his mission like a soldier - he'll identify the crucial targets, spend several days scoping them out, come up with a plan, an execute it to execute the criminals without loss of innocent life.
@Robbery: Marvel did have Captain Britain. Well, I suppose they still have him, but someone (I want to say Quesada) doesn't think Americans are interested in reading stories about foreigners.
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