Politics in Comics

By | Tuesday, November 07, 2006 Leave a Comment
Ah... the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November! The day where millions of U.S. citizens around the world say, "Election day, eh? I don't know, it's mildly inconvenient for me... maybe I'll just vote next year."* Naturally, it's got me thinking about elections and politics in general, so I thought I throw a few thoughts on the blog about how that relates to comics.

The interesting thing about politics in comics is that, by and large, you don't have any. Well, nothing substantial at any rate. Comics -- as a mass medium -- need to pander to all political (and religious) stripes, so they generally don't address politics at all for fear of alienating a decent segment of the population. Going back through the politicians/politics you see in comics, they are either presented in an apolitical venue (i.e. a superhero receiving a generic commendation from the President or the Mayor) or as in an obviously non-partisan, although often shady, way (i.e. a generic, fictional politician being indicted for accepting bribes). Politics -- real politics -- are largely absent.

"Civil War" presents something of an exception to that. There's an attempt to portray both sides of the argument. Or, at least, there was. It seems that as the story has progressed, the writers' own opinions have slipped through, and we see the proponents of the Superhero Registration Act being cast in the role of the Straw Man. That probably also caters to the notion -- whether or accurate or not -- that comic book fans tend to be more liberal than average.

There are a few other exceptions, as well. There was a storyline in the original New Warriors title that spoke to the complexities of government actions. Steve Englehart took a good stab at things during his run on Captain America, although he admits to censoring himself slightly by not outright saying Nixon himself was a crook, but even that was an attack on an individual, and not a political statement per se. And, as the two covers I've published represent, discussion of the presidency as a position in general has been brought up on occasion.

That real politics aren't discussed is a shame, really. Even religion gets more "air time" than politics do within the comics medium. To some degree, a good writer should write to the characters they're working with. Captain America, for example, is NOT going to turn around and start spouting Communist sympathies. So, in that sense, a writer is limited in what they can say. And I'm not advocating that writers take it upon themselves to make their comics a mouthpiece for political propaganda either. I'm just saying that, since drug use and alcoholism and AIDS and homelessness and other relevant social issues show up in mainstream comics from time to time, with relatively "real" discussions about the topics, why not politics? Green Arrow was made mayor of Star City several months back and we haven't seen him address any political issues at all!

Despite my deep cynicism in our political system, and deep distrust of government in general, I think it's relevant to bring some of these issues to the table in comics. I don't expect solutions, certainly, but politics, whether we like it or not, are part of our lives and it's seems a waste to not address it in a (somewhat) popular art form.

* Believe me, I know full well WHY so many people don't vote. I only began voting after I had been eligible for well over a decade. And today, after having participated in several elections, I have yet to feel that my votes have made a difference. With the exception of candidates who ran unopposed, my district's results for both candidates and issues went opposite to what I voted pretty much unilaterally. If I'm so uniformly and completely out of step with my community, my lone voice will carry next to no weight and I'll be watching this year's results closely to see whether it's worth bothering to vote next year.
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