The Social Agenda of Comic Books?

FoxNews_CaptainAmericaIf you haven’t heard, Fox news decided to take their spin magic and point it at comics. By spin magic, I mean they decided to take something, twist it out of shape, and give you just enough of the truth to back up their story. Simply put, they said that Captain America’s newest enemy was conservatives. Hearing this tidbit I had to go out and pick up the issue, Sam Wilson, Captain America #1 and check it out for myself. What I found, unsurprisingly, was a misrepresentation of what was in the book to support a hyped-up news story.

Now if I was a conservative, I would actually be upset with Fox news for comparing my opinions, and views on immigration to what is obviously a Neo-Nazi, and imaginary, organization. In Sam Wilson, Captain America #1, the Serpent Society is an extremist group, with extreme ideas. Sure, there are warped people out there who are fueled by such bigotry, but the majority I would hope aren’t. The venomous garbage that the villain is spewing is exactly what you want your villain to spew. It isn’t what I think right minded conservatives would argue though. Most conservatives, I hope, would believe that the issue is much more complex than what the villain in the comic book portrays it to be. What is represented in the Captain America comic book is a spoof of an extreme view on immigration.

I won’t even go into Fox’s comments about how comic books should not be political, only to then give an example of Cap punching Hitler on the cover of the first issue of Captain America, because propaganda isn’t politics, right? I could go on about how short-sighted this story was, obviously spun just to ruffle feathers, but I won’t bother. If you are a fan of Fox News, then you are a fan of shock journalism and nothing I say will change that.

OK, so what do I plan on writing about then? Well, how about that fact that comic books have always been at the forefront of social commentary, and by no means will I argue that all comics are. I will argue this though, a fact about my industry that I’m pretty proud of. Comic books have put forth social commentary on hot button topics since their inception. It might not seem that way to most of us, I mean it’s easy to be distracted by the bright colored costumes and super powers, but it’s true.

Back in the late 1930’s and in the 1940’s when the superhero was born, we saw a quiet revolution going on in comics. Back then, one of the major issues that comics were championing was the empowerment of women. They might not of even realized at the time, but they were. There had always been women in literature, but there had not really been an explosion of strong women in roles that were typically dominated by men — until comics. Women back then in the pages of comics were fighting villains side-by-side with their male counterparts, as equals, and they continue to champion the strong female lead up until today. Of course, despite championing them, the industry’s empowering content didn’t always translate into women being part of the work force behind comics, but I feel that while that change has been slow, it has been occurring. Now that there are plenty of women demanding jobs in the industry, that change is occurring at an accelerated pace.

Integration occurred in the comics far before it became a social norm. People of color and different ethnicities were shown in different lights in comics far before Hollywood ever did it. A character like the Black Panther was revolutionary for its time. Here was a smart, intelligent, tech savvy, and sophisticated African male. At the time that the Black Panther first appeared in 1966, in the pages of Fantastic Four #52, the stereotypes of Africans being backwater and simple were still a very real, and an untrue stereotype to many. (Not to mention the stereotypes that existed about African-Americans living in our own country.) Like women in the industry work force, the trend of the comic creators being more culturally diverse has been slow, but it is occurring as more creators of different ethnicities and backgrounds become interested in being a part of it. Today there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but the industry is conscious of it.

Despite the issues of workplace equality, comics have been covering social change and challenges for a very long time. Drug abuse, physical, and mental abuse, they all have been focal points of many great stories that tried to shed light on these sensitive topics. Comics have taken on the struggles of bringing an understanding and social consciousness to readers for as long as there have been comics. Of course at that same time, at least in the superhero books, that consciousness has gone hand-in-hand with fantastic stories about people with amazing abilities. The very thing that makes comics great is also the thing that, for a long time, has been used as ammunition for its detractors to discredit them. But that doesn’t change the simple fact that good morals are just that, good morals. It doesn’t matter if the person portraying them in the story can shoot laser beams out of their eyes, or if they can pick up a dump truck with ease, what matters is what they are fighting for. Like the famous line in Spider-Man goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

One of the most important things about comics is their ability to reach young readers in a way no other medium can. That’s why I support such efforts like the Pop Culture Classroom. They use comics to get kids to read, and they understand the importance of the stories comics tell. I’m a big fan of Steve Rogers Captain America, and the pages of that comic have always been packed full of moral gems that help you learn what is right and what is wrong. Basic ideals like kindness and understanding is always better than hate and exclusion. Captain America once was forced to give up his identity as Captain America because he didn’t agree with what his government was forcing him to do. To Captain America, being an American was a way of looking at the world. Being an American was more than the laws by which we live, it was about being a good and moral person, one that stood up for the rights of everyone, and not just the rights of those who happen to live within our boarders. Emulating these types of morals, and courage, was more important to being an American, to Cap, than blindly following a flag or an order.

In closing, I find it funny that such an issue has been made out of this at Fox News. It truly shows that Fox is as guilty as any other news outlet when it comes to covering what’s important. It appears a shock-value story is more newsworthy than the real news, but then again this is Fox we are talking about. Thousands of people die in brutal war every day, but let’s talk about a comic book, and not just talk about it, but warp it’s message so that it fits into the slant we need to drive ratings.

William Henry Dvorak
About William Henry Dvorak (87 Articles)
William Henry Dvorak has grown up around comics his whole life. He's worked in a comic book shop, owned a comic book shop and has been writing off and on his whole life. Over the years William has tried his hand at a number of different careers, from acting, to being a private detective, but always came back to his first love, comic books and writing. Starting in 2011 William got serious with his writing and founded Wicked Studios LLC, a sequential art and entertainment company and began work on his stories and novels.

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