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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

because social commentary has no place in comics

Marvel Comics has caved to right-wing whingers who don’t like that their behavior — calling Obama a Muslim terrorist socialist who isn’t even an American citizen; engaging in cluelessly and hence hilariously hypocritical protests (“government hands off my Medicare!”) — makes them prime targets for satire, as a recent Captain America story targeted them, according to Yahoo! News:

The clear implicit attack on the Tea Party Movement was first noticed by Publius’ Forum’s Warner Todd Huston. When a minor uproar ensued, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada spoke to Comic Book Resources and defended the issue while apologizing for the panel that seemed to tie real-life Tea Party protesters to the fictional group depicted in the book.

Saying that he could “absolutely see how some people are upset about this,” Quesada said that there was “zero discussion to include a group that looked like a Tea Party demonstration,” adding, “There was no thought that it represented a particular group.”

Quesada then went on to say that Marvel would “apologize for and own up to” a series of “stupid mistakes” that led to them “accidentally identifying” one of the members of the protest group “as being a part of the Tea Party instead of a generic protest group.” He explained that they were on deadline to get the issue to the printer for publication, and in the course of sending it off it was noticed that the signs in the scene contained no words or phrases. He said the editor then asked the letterer to “fudge in some quick signs” and that in the “rush to get the book out of the door,” the letterer “looked on the net and started pulling slogans” from signs captured in photographs at Tea Party protests in order to make them appear “believable.”

*headdesk* Seriously, Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief? That’s what you said to these idiots? You didn’t laugh at them and say, “Hell, yes, we were making fun of you! Christ, have you not looked in the mirror? Have you not heard yourselves? Protest is fine, dude, but you’re a bunch of Emily Litellas who don’t understand that spayed dogs aren’t being hit with shovels!” Instead, you frakkin’ apologized?

A few choice panels from the “offending” comic:

I guess politics has never been a part of Marvel Comics. Except, oops! As Yahoo! News notes:

Since 1941, Captain America has been one of the most popular comic book characters around. The fictional super-patriot fought Nazis during World War II, took on those who burned the American flag during the Vietnam era, and raked in hundreds of millions of dollars for Marvel Comics along the way. Now, the appearance that he is taking on the Tea Party Movement in a storyline about investigating white supremacists has forced Marvel to apologize for the comic hero.

Issue 602 of the comic features Captain America investigating a right-wing anti-government militia group called “the Watchdogs”. Hoping to infiltrate the group, Captain America and his African-American sidekick The Falcon observe an anti-tax protest from a rooftop. The protestors depicted are all white and carry signs adorned with slogans almost identical to those seen today in Tea Party rallies like “tea bag libs before they tea bag you” and “stop the socialists.”

You gotta love that the Tea Partyers’ stock is trade in accusing others of being unAmerican, but they can’t take being called that themselves.

This has been your WTF Thought for the Day.

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  • mortadella

    Jesus…Joe could have laughed them off and racked up the cool points. Apologize? To those people? Aren’t they all about irrational fears and prejudices? Was he worried about readership going down? Do those people actually read? I’m I being prickly and bitchy? Yes.
    Ever see that British show, Nathan Barley? Dan Ashcroft is right — the idiots are winning.

  • One of the most popular series of stories Frank Miller did for Daredevil before he became more famous for–ahem–other stuff had Captain America aiding the title character in defeating a super-powered villain who was originally developed by the U.S. military to go on raids in Nicaragua. (This, of course, was back in the 1980s when Central American issues were still hot news.)

    Among other things, the good Captain faced off against a Pentagon official who preferred that the superhero help cover up a massacre on U.S. soil conducted by said villain. But the good Captain refused to go along, choosing loyalty to “the dream” and by extension, the American people, over loyalty to any Pentagon hierarchy.

    But I forget. Captain America has never been used for any type of political commentary. After all, the good folks at Marvel Comics say so and who are we to disagree?

    So apparently the story I just cited was meant to be apolitical. Which, of course, is the type of work Miller is most famous for…

  • JT

    As I see it, the issue of whether you think the right-wingers (yay for generic names) is right or not should be completely moot. The writers chose to include those slogans–so what? Art offends sometimes. Marvel is not bound to be apolitical. They can offend whoever the hell they want, even conservatives, even liberals (though of course if they did that, they would be evil right wing facist nazi bastards). Joe Quesada apologizing for this seems like a really bad idea…it sends the message that political groups have the power to control the content of our entertainment. And that’s not good.

  • MaryAnn

    Right: this has nothing to do with whether you agree with the teabaggers or not. They’re not even misrepresented: those signs are not even paraphrased from what we’ve really seen. It’s about whether it’s right for Marvel to not stand up and acknowledge its right to represent reality and comment on it.

  • Accounting Ninja

    The most telling thing for me was the comment about not seeing a black face amongst the angry white folks. So much of the Tea Baggers ranting sounds like the protests of the socially/economically priveleged loath to give up any of it. Privelege, that is. This comic nailed it! Hee hee.
    Fear of Socialism=fear of THOSE PEOPLE moochin’ off ME! How dare they! I was fine at the top of the ladder and now these freakin’ commies wanna take me down!
    Anyway, it’s a fucking shame, because this comic is brilliant.

  • and wasn’t Marvel bought out by the Disney overlord machine? so, i guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the santizing and right-turn that Marvel has taken.

  • I guess politics has never been a part of Marvel Comics.

    Except for Howard the Duck. And the original Man-Thing. And The Uncanny X-Men

    Anyway, had Marvel dedicated another issue to the idea that Al-Qaeda is bad, would we seriously be seeing the same complaints about how they’re too “political”?

    Most of the time, people complain about political commentary, what they really seem to mean is “why don’t you produce more stuff that agrees with my politics?”

  • Knightgee

    Sadly, I think you would be surprised at the number of actual comic fans who I constantly see complaining about political commentary in comics. Then again, it’s mostly white straight males whining about not wanting to have to see two men kissing (two women is fine, of course) or wanting a comic about minority superheroes or not wanting a bunch of feminists writing their comics. I find people in general hate when their entertainment gets even remotely topical. As someone once explained to me “I want to be entertained, not see people argue about problems that will never be fixed.” Depressing, really.

    But of course, this isn’t about that, it’s about a group not being able to deal with being subjected to the same level of critique they cast onto others. Apparently only they are allowed to accuse people of being X,Y, and Z but anyone else who does so is being cruel and unfair. Hilariously enough, some of the signs in that comic are tamer than what actual protesters have been spotted with.

    and wasn’t Marvel bought out by the Disney overlord machine? so

    Disney owns many properties that are allowed to make non-sanitized products. The only things that get sanitized are the things actively using the Disney name.

  • Accounting Ninja

    @ Knightgee, that’s why this feminist wants to be a graphic novelist! lol

  • Bluejay

    I find people in general hate when their entertainment gets even remotely topical. As someone once explained to me “I want to be entertained, not see people argue about problems that will never be fixed.”

    Just wondering: Were there any complaints about Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns being too topical, and anti-Reagan to boot? I don’t remember.

  • Knightgee

    @Bluejay: Not to my knowledge, but the social commentary in the sequel comic has earned the ire of many fans of the original. To their credit though, the social commentary in the sequel was ham-fisted and poorly done, so their complaints weren’t without merit.

  • Paul

    Wasn’t the Dark Knight Returns about a Gotham wrecked by a natural disaster and ignored by the federal government? hmmm. Prophecy?

  • Actually, at the risk of seeming like this forum’s answer to Sheldon Cooper, I believe the “natural disaster” in question was brought about by the explosion of a Soviet missile.

    And yes, the sequel was so poorly done it’s difficult to imagine even MaryAnn finding a good word to say about it.

    In any event, Batman is a DC character. And I thought this thread was about Marvel Comics.

  • misterb

    Here’s an insider’s take on this controversy:

    Is this another tempest in a teapot? If per knightgee (and Rick Ungar), the average comics fan is anti-politics, this may have already blown over.

  • Paul

    @tonio: serves me right for commenting on a comic I hadn’t read in … a long time.

    @Mr. B: I’m not sure he’s still an insider, but I liked the article and him, too.

  • Tesseract

    I find people in general hate when their entertainment gets even remotely topical. As someone once explained to me “I want to be entertained, not see people argue about problems that will never be fixed.” Depressing, really.

    At the risk of starting an angry debate, what’s wrong with that? Personally, I think entertainment has been undergoing a rift: on one side you have incredibly mindless drivel, along the lines of Friedberg and Seltzer movies and on the other intelligent “entertainment” that often seems to be focused solely on shoving the writer’s position on the issue du jour down your throats. Why must intelligent entertainment consistently reflect reality? Does that mean that until all the world’s problems are solved, entertainment must keep showing them to people? At one point, it reaches a saturation point that drives them even more towards apathy. Sometimes people want to escape, and I don’t see anything wrong with that

  • Knightgee

    At the risk of starting an angry debate, what’s wrong with that?

    It’s a stance often adopted by privileged individuals who are sick of having to be reminded of the fact that others aren’t as privileged as they are. It’s apathy masquerading as the desire for simple entertainment. “Oh I so wish they wouldn’t bother us by reminding us of all those poor folks who aren’t as fortunate as us!”

    I don’t mind mindless entertainment, but I also recognize that film and comics and other media can be a medium for encouraging introspection, reflection and critical thinking, but these people are the people who look at being asked to do that as a chore. They’re also the same people who insist that they don’t need to have politics in their comics while simultaneously not seeing what the problem is with female superheroes always being dressed in the skimpiest of outfits while in the most revealing poses. Basically, all the people who really need to be exposed to political issues are the ones complaining about not wanting to see it.

  • misterb

    Why must intelligent entertainment consistently reflect reality?

    Wow … pulled out of context, that’s a quote that could start a thousand blogs. I think the irony is in the juxtaposition of “intelligent” and “reality”. I’m not trying to pick on you, Tesseract, more like hijacking the thread in a completely different direction.
    IMHO, what makes entertainment intelligent is *how* it reflects reality, perhaps like a funhouse mirror, perhaps like a optician’s glass, but disconnected from reality, it can only be vapid. Even pure fantasy has to be grounded in some sort of reality to engage us. If the segment of truth that the fantastic reflects is not only true but meaningful, we transcend entertainment and experience art.

  • Knightgee

    @Misterb: I completely agree except for that last line about transcending entertainment and experiencing art. It seems like a false juxtaposition between entertainment and intellectual stimulation, but there is no reason art cannot be both. Many things are entertaining because of their artistic merits. There is no reason the two must be separate and removed from each other.

  • Bluejay

    In any event, Batman is a DC character. And I thought this thread was about Marvel Comics.

    He *is* a DC character, but I brought him up in response to Knightgee’s post about what people wanted from their entertainment, which struck me as a more general comment that wasn’t limited to one company.

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