Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic takes issue with Todd MacFarlane's (and others') statement that "political messages don't make good comics." These creators did so at a forum, where we noted writer Gerry Conway got grief from his "progressive" cohorts for his comments.
Berlatsky has a beef with the "politics" statement. He writes,
There are various problems with this statement. The main one is that "historically," it is complete and utter hogwash. It simply is not true that superhero narratives with political messages have been unsuccessful. On the contrary, the most lauded, and really most popular, superhero stories of recent times have embraced explicit political content and controversy. With its fake Mandarin, Iron Man 3 is explicitly about Orientalism and prejudice. The Dark Knight Rises exploited the Occupy movement and class tensions. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, perhaps the most successful new superhero of the last 20 years, was a feminist model and dealt with feminist themes throughout its run.
As a fairly quick aside, Iron Man 3 was nothing about "Orientalism" and prejudice. I cannot imagine how anyone could claim that the film was "explicitly" about such; indeed, if anything, the tongue-in-cheek Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley) was sort of a "this former Iron Man arch-nemesis has to go because he's a product of a geopolitical situation that doesn't exist anymore" character. Only people with way too much time on their hands (like, obviously, Berlatsky) could state the film's concentration was on something it clearly wasn't.
Of course, IM3 and DKR etc. are movies. What about comicbooks? The best Berlatsky comes up with are Sailor Moon and Wonder Woman because of their "feminist" themes. But the definition of "feminism" is so wide-ranging, and encompasses so many ideas, that calling these two books "political" is very debatable. Berlatsky even says that fighting the Nazis and Japanese was "political." If this is the case, then hell -- even Superman battling a clearly evil alien monster is "political." But even allowing Berlatsky's point here, he attempts to bolster it -- wrongly -- by saying that "Back in the 1940s, these issues moved hundreds of thousands of copies each -- dwarfing sales of all those present-day non-ideological superhero comics that Todd McFarlane draws." Well, actually, that may technically be true depending on how you look at "present-day." But MacFarlane at his peak (the 1990s) sold over a million copies of [usually non-ideological] comicbook. That is a lot more than "hundreds of thousands." Not to mention, Berlatsky is making an unfair comparison. Paper publishing is going the way of the dinosaur with the Internet and digital publishing, so comparing 2013 with the 1940s is, in many ways, just silly.
But let's use Berlatsky's formula for a second: How many overtly ideological comics are being sold these days? The top sellers -- ideological or otherwise -- usually number between 100-200 thousand. But, aside from the top two or three, the figures are below 100K. How do these fare to those 1940s figures, Mr. Berlatsky?
Lastly, as we've noted many times here and elsewhere, the big difference between "political" comics now vs. then is that contemporary ones have veered hard left in orientation. Many have taken viewpoints shared by a minority of the country and glorified them, all the while demonizing the other side. Even with issues that have more or less a 50-50 split among the populace, you wouldn't know that by reading the work of certain creators. It was difficult to find a sizable portion of the public which would have had a problem with Captain America socking Hitler in the kisser; modern Captain America, on the other hand, goes after a popular political movement (the Tea Party) because it's radical and racist ... while DC comics glorifies an opposing entity which actually is/was radical, not to mention destructive and violent (the Occupy Movement) ... by giving it its very own title.
(Thanks to Nate Winchester for the tip!)Posted by Hube at August 13, 2013 09:16 PM | TrackBack