AiPT! Roundtable: On Politics In Marvel Comics



Politics. It seems like you just can’t get away from politics these days. It’s all over the news, in our science, and even in our comic books! It always has been, to some degree, and Marvel’s Captain America series has often led the charge on social issues and hot-button topics.

That’s never been more apparent than in the company’s just-begun Secret Empire mega-crossover, in which the world puts too much power into the hands of a single man who betrays us all. Given the incredibly charged, real-life political climate we now live in, is it all too much? What happened to escapism?

We asked some of our intrepid AiPT! contributors for their thoughts on the matter, and what could or should be done once things are back to “normal.”Have Marvel Comics become too political? Is Secret Empire what we need or want right now?

Cam: One of Marvel’s strengths has always been that they keep a finger on the pulse of current events. Whether it was the Hate Monger being a metaphor for Nixon or Civil War commenting on the pros and cons of government oversight, they’ve never not been political.

What I think people are reacting to, I certainly am, is that it’s all just a bummer. The real world is so stressful right now that to see Cap be a bad guy is just like, “Great! The president lies to us, Congress lies to us, everybody is lies lies lies, now the man who literally has an American flag on his chest is lying too?! Gah!”

Patrick: I agree with Cam, in that Marvel has used current events to make storylines real, and metaphorical. The difference, in my opinion, is that they’re currently suffering from a bit of a villain overload. When the X-Men were showing the plight of the downtrodden and discriminated, they were still a force for good – using their powers and weirdness to shine a light on their predicament.

Now, with the current climate in the world — and the far more realistic plot lines – the villain-as-main-character syndrome is exhausting. Doom, Doc Ock, Hydra Cap, etc. – we’re seeing the bad guys win and win, only this time the resistance is barely there.

Dave
: Comics certainly offer a respite from the stress of the world which is why I love done-in-one issues that are fun. But when the Red Skull starts spouting a speech very similar to the alt-right’s message, it does make one a little less relaxed! I think Secret Empire is a series we do need in that the best content coming out right now is centered on reacting to the politics of today. Stephen Colbert is winning in the ratings because he’s not a goofball like Jimmy Fallon, but is shining a light on Trump and the daily craziness. I think Marvel is trying to tap into that audience.Jason: I’ve personally always enjoyed comics (or really any medium for creative fiction) that reflect the real world, and I’m not sure if Marvel could see the writing on the wall with the Trump presidency, but this is the rare occasion where they’re tackling an issue at its apex, and I for one welcome it. It’s the kind of move publishers need to pull in an era where sales are slumping, and generating buzz for your book is harder than ever.

Sure it means making Steve Rogers a duplicitous Nazi sometimes, but given that there’s the living deus ex machina that is Kobik, I suspect Steve will be back to his old self (complete with original costume) by the end of all this.

If Marvel Comics does go “back to basics” after Secret Empire, as has been alluded to, what does that say? And where does that leave the younger, less recognizable heroes that have flourished over the last few years?

Cam: I have real mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s worrisome, considering they’ve also recently wanted to blame the younger and more diverse characters [for] their recent sales slump. Despite that crunching the numbers has proved this misguided, it feels like maybe the higher-ups want to fall back to “safer” stories, aka their tentpole white dudes.

That said, though, it could also mean an interest in more “Heroic Age” type stories, which were pretty refreshing after Dark Reign and Siege. More than relying on the White Boy Brigade, I think what would be appreciated right now is a focus on superheroes being examples of good in the world, resisting hate and fear. And none of that requires them to cut out Miles [Morales] or Kamala [Khan].

Patrick: I’d like a back-to-basics approach. The stories from my own childhood had a few things in common – think of Avengers Mansion, the Xavier School, etc. The bad guys and good guys had their places in society, and there was a sense of home for a lot of the people involved. Keep the younger heroes, elevate them, make them as recognizable as the “white dudes,” but also give them some security.

Peter Parker could deal with being broke and [with] the crazy world because he had M.J. to come home to. Marvel’s good guys have been on the run, and the move since Civil War and Disassembled, and Utopia, etc. is not the same. Hell, pull an “X-Men in the Outback” move if you have to, just give them a place to take the tights off and unwind.Dave: When I think about this rumor, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. “Back to basics” simply tells me it’s more about a single hero fighting a single villain without 15 team-ups, a storyline dragging on for three years, and the action in a single issue not building toward a mega-event. I think the new characters can excel in this format.

Cam: If “Back to the Basics” means cooling it on the crossovers, I can get behind that.

Jason: Though I’ve mocked DC for doing the same thing and know that it would mean yet ANOTHER massive crossover event, I’d love to see Marvel do a line-wide continuity reboot. This would allow them to get rid of their obnoxiously ornate continuity, do away with the issues created by the sliding timescale, and effectively go “back to basics” in a fresh and interesting way.

I think Cam is right that someone from the Disney side looked at the profitability of the films vs. the comics and said that the two should align more closely, but it was that exact line of reasoning (in my mind at least) that led to the creation of the POC legacy characters. Given those characters’ prominence in the advance materials I’ve seen for Secret Empire thus far, I don’t think Riri [Williams] or Amadeus [Cho] are going anywhere – not while Disney corporate still wants to appeal to those under-served demographics.

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