Bat-Mao and Robin

Comic books (specifically, super-hero comics) and politics has always had a rich marriage.  Back in 1941, Captain America was shown on the cover of his debut issue punching out Der Fuhrer.  The entire rise and fall of EC horror comics in the 1950s was intertwined with the politics of the day.  As society moved into the '60s, comics like The X-Men explored prejudice against minorities and – in some minds – the difference in how Professor X and Magneto approached the human-mutant relationship was a direct commentary on the differences between Martin Luther King Jr. (Prof X, wishing for peaceful resolution) and Malcolm X (as Magneto, taking the harder approach).  Various heroes and villains vied with each other through the Cold War for their respective nations.  Even in the new millennium, politics has found it's way onto the comic pages, in non-political ways.  Take Amazing Spider-Man #36, which brought the horror and devastation of 9-11 to the Marvel Universe, as Spidey watched – helpless – as the towers collapsed.  (It's as grim as anything I've read from real life on that day.)

So, with all that in mind, I was somewhat entertained by this read:  How Liberalism May Be Hurting Comic Book Sales.  Like most of the entertainment industry, I think of comic book writers and artists as pretty liberal.  There are exceptions, but exceptions that prove the rule, to me.

I'm not 100% sold on the notion that the creators and producers of comic books being liberal is the sole or even driving reason why comic book sales have declined recently.  I would say that bigger factors are the serious missteps by the comic industry in the last twenty years (increasing prices, decreasing volume, irregular shipping schedules, sales gimmicks), the general diminishing of quality prose and art in the pages of mainstream comics (incomprehensible story lines, hack-work art, and too many books with the same characters overlapping with no sense of timeline or continuity), and the explosion of electronic entertainment over the last fifteen years (who needs a $3.95 comic that is over and read in twenty minutes when you can play Angry Birds for hours or days, for the same price?).

Having said all that, I do agree that pissing all over half your audience – directly in their face, no less – is no way to build a following.  How many of these anti-war movies over the last decade made any money?  I can name half a dozen that were – despite being raved about in leftist media – utter financial failures.  Again, I agree that if you aim small, for a small audience, you can pretty much cater to any viewpoint you want.  But the big comic boys are still corporations and as such, they have a bottom line to which to answer (and if that strikes you as needlessly mercenary, all those idealistic artists and writers would be unemployed if the company can't make any money; at the very least, they'd have to strike out on their own, with much less security).  I also agree with the article's implied notion that comic book characters are not, by definition, liberal when they are just and free-spirited, and conservative when they are uptight, backwards, or prudish.  The best lines in the article might be:

Even Green Arrow could be a conservative character, rather than the liberal one we’ve had since Hard Traveling Heroes.

Now, you might say, “[Author], you’re obviously unaware that Green Arrow is based on Robin Hood and as EVERYBODY ELSE KNOWS, Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He’d be an Occupier today.” Well, yeah, that’s how those on the left view Robin Hood… but if you look more closely at Robin Hood you will find that the character more accurately stole from the state and gave back to the people… so one could just as easily say that Robin Hood would be a Tea Partier today and, therefore, Green Arrow could be too.

Just so.  Whenever someone says, "AS EVERYONE KNOWS," they usually mean, "This is the only possible answer and you must be a sociopath to even think otherwise."

Of course, having said that, I now predict the vociferous response telling me I am tool of the 1%.  Three, two, one….

Anyway, I have mixed emotions about the waning fortunes of the mainstream comic companies.  On the one hand, I hate to see them shuffle off into insignificance and decay.  These were the stories I grew up on.  Writers like Chris Claremont and Walt Simonson were the ones I was reading at age ten, and along with Tolkein, the ones that had me believing I could do this shit too.  So I would love to see their houses (former houses, even) prosper.  On the other hand, I am a committed free-marketeer.  Survival of the fittest, you know – adapt or perish.  Even if the big boys fold, there is a veritable swarm of smaller publishers out there putting out good speculative fiction in comic/graphic novel form, every single month.  If they would just drop the damn price, I would buy more of them.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  This isn't complicated.  If you want a wider audience, you have to somewhat cater to them; this is a fact.  If you keep your view narrower, you will inevitably narrow your audience.  Political distribution is somewhat bell-curvish; the further to an extreme you go, the more folks you lose.  When Captain America and Superman (two icons of red-blooded Americanism if ever there were) rant about America's "imperial" overreach and arrogance, talk about becoming citizens of the world, and embrace a progressive mindset, should anyone be surprised when a large percentage of readers put the books down?  Not if they have a functioning frontal lobe.

Do I think comics have gotten inherently liberal with time?  Yeah.  Has it killed the industry?  No.
But it hasn't helped much either.


4 thoughts on “Bat-Mao and Robin

  1. Sigh. Blame it on the liberals. It couldn’t possibly be that the editors of comics books aren’t doing their job which is to bring new and interesting stories to the market. Nor could it possibly be a CEO who is only looking at the bottom line and wanting to publish those stories which have sold well in the past.

    A publisher who uses politics as the basis for what they publish is not going to make very much money. They are in the business of making money. If stories about environmental disasters sold well in the past, then they think they will continue to sell well in the future. CEOs are not known for their ability to think creatively. They look at the bottom line.

    The problem is not that the comic book publishers are basing their decisions on politics, but they are basing their decisions on what sold well in the past instead of bringing fresh, new, and interesting into the mix.

    Blaming the quality of COMIC BOOKS on the liberals… sheesh…


  2. Bruce Wayne is the 1%. OCCUPY BATCAVE.

    I agree that the specific heavy-handed liberal platform points the article cites are annoying and could/should be done without. I feel the same way now re-watching the 1996 reboot of Jonny Quest. Holy mother of bleeding-heart agendas. (I also rolled my eyes through an entire screening of the movie Philadelphia.) However, it amuses me that Superman should be held up as an ideal of good old-fashioned American patriotism. He’s a literal alien; after some adult-age self-reflection, why shouldn’t he question a nationalist mindset? That just makes narrative/character development sense to me, agenda-fueled or no.

    And technically he began life as an illegal alien. Build a fence along the space border!

    Well, yeah, that’s how those on the left view Robin Hood… but if you look more closely at Robin Hood you will find that the character more accurately stole from the state and gave back to the people… so one could just as easily say that Robin Hood would be a Tea Partier today and, therefore, Green Arrow could be too.

    What I know about Green Arrow could barely fill a sentence, but the argument about Robin Hood is specious. Yes, his greatest enemies were the crown tax collectors, but taxes had a vastly different connotation in Angevin England than they do to the modern Tea Partier. Especially as written in the Robin Hood legends, they were used to fund the royal lifestyle and foreign wars, not social programs and wealth redistribution (and elected-official salaries and foreign wars…). He wasn’t giving that gold back to the wealthy investors and business owners so they could generate more GDP; he was giving it back to the people who couldn’t get out of poverty by their own efforts. I’d say it’s a drastic misreading of the context to claim otherwise.

    Oh, forgot to mention another exception to the liberal platform points thing:

    “Wonder Woman looks at the interior of the mall and likens it to a temple. Superman replies “Yes, for those who worship their credit cards.””

    This to me doesn’t have a particularly political slant. I read it as an indictment of superficial consumption, not capitalism.


    1. Re: Robin Hood

      I don’t think its a tortured comparison at all.

      Taxes served the same ultimate purposes then they served now: transfer of wealth from the ones who produces it to those who don’t. Sure, money might have been spent on roads or ports then, just as it might be now. But most of it lined the pockets of the nobles who – for all practical purposes – did nothing productive with it. Robin Hood returned that stolen wealth to those who produced it. Those people could have raised themselves out of poverty without the Sheriff of Nottingham hamstringing their efforts by stealing the fruit of their labors.

      See where I’m going here?

      >>He wasn’t giving that gold back to the wealthy investors and business owners…

      I am going to assume I misunderstand your intent of this line and am going to let it go.

      I’ll give you the mall point.


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