Op-Ed: Comics vs. the Establishment


If you are an avid comic book reader then you have by default double-guessed the laws that be. You read and root for the lone fighters that do what the laws have criminalized, wondering whether or not the character in question is right or wrong; are the laws broken by these characters enough, or even just? There can be no pro-establishment thinking person who loves comics, because comics question the establishment every chance they get.

I mean, we read and side with characters that work outside of the law, and thus these characters bring into question the laws themselves. What is legitimate, and what is not, is a recurring theme in many comics, as well as where society’s institutions fail us, and ultimately end with the power of the individual to find means outside of the establishment to counter that failure.

If we take a look at the manner in which those comic characters who work with the government are portrayed, we see that they are usually being manipulated and used by the state, or are working with them by force and are wary of the intentions. Never is the character applauded without some hesitation. We root harder for those who have no support from the establishment, and less for those within its confines.

Some examples of outright contempt for the establishment can be seen in characters such as the X-Men, who show the ability of the state to create systems of oppression for those they deem threats, a recurring theme in real-world history. Marvel’s Civil War series is another good example of a fight against the establishment. In Civil War we see the cutthroat thinking of the state at work when they begin to use villains to aid in the capture of heroes. Although, the endingsees Captain America turn himself in to put an end to the violence, he does so at the behest not of the state, but of the people, showing once again that comics are anti-establishment and pro-people.

If we fail to realize how fundamental these themes are to the literature of comics, we fail to appreciate their full impact. They all make a moral argument of some sort, claiming that this system or that system is wrong and that this way of dealing with the issue is right or wrong. In this sense all comics are utopian to some degree, and all are commentaries on society itself.

There is no agreement amongst comic writers as to what is the ideal society, only that the current system isn’t it. There is an agreement, too, on the issue of to how to deal with it. They implicitly claim that people need to become active. For the oppressed, the solution is to fight to build a just society with their own hands, no longer depending on the police and government institutions that will always fail them.

Of course, we cannot say with absolute reassurance which came first—whether comic writers have always been innately anti-establishment, or whether readers have created a demand for stories with such dominant themes. And I am sure there are lesser-known characters or storylines that are pro-establishment, but those are the anomalies rather than the norm.

Richard Larios
About Richard Larios (43 Articles)
Richard Larios is an anarchist organizer working out of Los Angeles. He is the owner of Feral Publication, which publishes zines. He also contributes regularly, under his pen name “Until Victory or Death”, for the Black Flag Newsletter, which is put out by the Free Association of Anarchists.

1 Comment on Op-Ed: Comics vs. the Establishment

  1. awesome article.

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