Holy Social and Political Activism Batman!

Over the past decade superheroes, and the comics which spawned them, have seen a resurgence in popularity and mainstream media attention. Not since the Golden Age of Comics back in the 40’s have comics been such a large part of our daily lives. The Avengers continues to dominate at the box office, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has gained widespread critical acclaim, and now tights clad women, and especially men, have made headlines across the nation.

If you haven’t heard by now, Northstar an openly homosexual Marvel superhero, is about to take part in the first ever same sex marriage ceremony in comic book history. After proposing to his long-time partner Kyle this week, Marvel has been shouting from the rooftops trying to stir up publicity for the wedding issue next month. There are save the date cards at local comic shops, and nearly every Marvel issue rolled out this month had an advert for the coming ceremony. This single issue is taking on the scope and grandeur Marvel normally saves for huge crossover events such as Civil War. In fact, the current Marvel crossover, Avengers vs. X-Men has not received nearly the press or advertising campaign as this one-off event.

While in the Golden Age we saw the birth of heroes such as Captain America, a hero who bravely donned the Stars and Stripes to fight the Nazi hordes, heroes such as Northstar tell a very different story. Whether or not you agree with the message that Marvel is looking to portray, it is impossible to deny that a group of men and women largely known for tights clad heroes and wanton use of onomatopoeia, are making an impact on our political landscape. For too long this was seen as a kid’s game or mindless entertainment, but stories like this show us that these people have something to say, and that they’re not afraid to take a stand.

Having grown up surrounded by superheroes, the idea of them promoting a political agenda is not new to me. X-Men has spent the better part of the past five decades dissecting the undercurrent of popular society rejecting those who are different. Whether through paralleling the struggles of the civil rights movement or helping children who combat schoolyard bullies, the X-Men have shown that they long for a world where they can peacefully co-exist with the humans who hate and fear them. Marvel, therefore, has always been about confronting socio-political issue, but what’s interesting about this latest headline is that now they’re in a place for more than just the comic enthusiast sub-culture to hear about it.

What I want to focus on today is the fact that our entertainment is not content to be shallow. Issues that need to be addressed are being brought forward. With the resurgence in popularity that both Marvel and DC have found, those issues are being confronted in ways most people would never have imagined. As crazy as it sounds, the Avengers might make more of a difference in your child’s worldview than any teacher or friend. These are characters that people look up to, and what they say carries more weight with each ticket and comic book we buy. Whether you want to high five comic writers for taking a stand, or punch them in the face for championing views you don’t agree with, it’s important to see they are addressing them. Entertainment is often a reflection of our world, a window into what our culture values or what it fears. As you read, watch, or listen, don’t just consume haphazardly…THINK!

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About thefourthlaw

The author is a used car salesman and an avid homebrewer. More often than not you will find me reading about ways to improve a pint of ale or looking for some new ingredient that will make beer a fresh and exciting experience. He graduated from a major Texas university with a bachelor's degree in Business Management and a minor in English. Supposedly this is the exercise that minor was intended to encourage.

6 thoughts on “Holy Social and Political Activism Batman!

  1. I think that’s actually my favorite thing about superheroes and comic book stories. I spent several years obsessed with Superman, in part, I think, because it was reassuring to have someone standing up for “truth, justice and the American way”. In my little overly-serious nature, I wanted to know that some creative person out there also saw good and evil as distinct and worth talking about, and I lauded them for it.

    I think The Avengers is a hit because we’re all tired of the nitty-gritty cop movies where everyone is simply walking around in a shade of gray, and moral ambiguity has become the automatic doorway into critical acclaim. The Avengers aren’t perfect, but at least they stand for something, and we sure as hell know who the bad guy is – a nice change in today’s climate.

    I think smart consumption is essential. I can’t begin to laud great movies without thinking through and being honest about the bad ones, and that requires me to think critically, logically and clearly about what I love, what I consume and how I react to culture.

  2. I just realized that the vast majority of this post contradicts with my comment on David’s about how sometimes movies are there just to explode things real good. I use this comment to expose my flip-flopping nature. Nathan – -1 Tabloid Smear Journalism – 0.

  3. Yes, your wishy-washy (scientific term) stance on the purpose of entertainment de-values every word you write. That said, I agree with you.

    One thing I’ve really enjoyed about my new foray into comics and comic-book inspired movies is that ones that are done well appeal to both audiences: those that want to enjoy stuff getting blown up and those that want to think a little deeper. I’ve had probably a half-dozen conversations in the past week about The Avengers. Every person I’ve talked to as loved the movie, some just because Robert Downey Jr is funny, some because stuff got blown up, some because of how well developed the heroes have become even with so many stars on the screen, some because of the epic contest of good vs. evil. It’s been a joy to discuss! 🙂

  4. I will defend both sides of you opinion, Nate. I think both your comment and this post are equally valid and each view has their appropriate place. It reminds of some newer animated kid’s movies, particularly the Pixar films. With both kids films and comics, these stories are crafted by adults who use their life experiences to infuse meaning into an otherwise trivial film or comic. The stories that do this well will typically appeal to both audiences- the ones who want to think and the ones who just want to see explosions or hear fart jokes.
    Unfortunately, with this comic book marriage situation, it really seems less about the comic book universe and more about pushing some kind of agenda. It honestly seems inauthentic, but I can’t claim an inside track on comic books so I’m not sure how this looks from the inside. If you’re going to share your worldview and influence an audience through media, I feel it should be done with finesse and subtlety, which this situation seems to lack. This is the reason why I stopped watching Glee. I loved the concept and some of the music, but many of the characters were unlikeable to me and I felt like I was being preached to. It seemed like a good show was being used as a platform to push an agenda. I guess if I agreed with the agenda it wouldn’t be so bad, but like this Marvel marriage, using an entertainment medium to win converts just doesn’t seem to work.

    • For the most part I agree David. With Marvel at least you see a pre-existing character who was homosexual. It wasn’t like the changed his sexual orientation and had him propose all in the span of a single issue. But it was done rather conveniently after President Obama’s speech in support of the issue. It’s honestly like they’ve had an ace in the hole, waiting for the issue to become prominent enough in the public awareness. With this in mind, the DC announcement feels far less authentic. Their attempt feels like a strong ploy to look relevant in a largely Marvel dominated entertainment industry.

      Anyway, I agree that things could have been presented better, and apparently they are going to have heroes who disagree with the ceremony. It will be interesting to see if they manage to show that side as having any merit or display them more as bigots and homophobes like most media.

      Also I hesitated in posting this because I was unsure whether it would incorrectly display my own opinions on the issue. I am more interested in the idea that comics, as a medium, are becoming relevant as political platforms, or at least agenda promoting platforms. We haven’t seen this since Cap tried to convince Americans to purchase war bonds. That’s why it’s important to think about what you’re reading rather than just seeing and reacting.

      • That’s a very interesting fact about Cap selling war bonds. As one who wasn’t intensely involved in the comic world growing up, my observation is that comics have historically had a significant underground following that occasionally sprouts up into the mainstream. These days, it seems that comics have more sway in the mainstream via the comic book movies. I would know very little about the comic world if not for the recent popularity of the movies.
        I like the idea that comics are more relevant because it’s closely related to the sister subculture of video games. The fact that these two subcultures have a political voice in the mainstream is an indication of their increasing prominence amongst other forms of entertainment, and I think that’s a great thing. This is an example how the very definition of what is “mainstream” changes over time. In light of that, I suppose it’s not surprising that a comic book would use its influence to tout a political agenda or issue.

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