Conserving Politics

A column article by: Regie Rigby
For a long time now I’ve been bemoaning the fact that there is very little real politics in comics anymore. There was a time when comics were full of politics – from 2000AD to Spider – Man were rich in comment and satire. Of course, this was in the eighties, when politics on both sides of the Atlantic were significantly more interesting* and everything was political – from music to comedy to movies. In the USA Ronnie Reagan was in the White House, and over here Maggie Thatcher was in Downing Street – two characters who inspired loyalty and loathing in pretty much equal measure, but never, ever apathy or indifference. In international affairs the cold war was in full effect and there really was no middle ground. These days of course, politics on this side of the Atlantic are rather more tired and tame.** As a rule we Brits don’t attend to political issues in quite the same way we used to. Our opinion of politicians has never been lower, and we have never trusted them less. In the eighties our view of politicians were polarised, but we believed that one side or the other had the answers. These days we tend more to the view that none of the buggers have any idea about how to fix things, and in any event they’re all the damn same. Which is why I was so struck by the latest issue of Hellblazer (issue #265, for the record). You see, we have Constantine looking back to his days as the front man of the punk band Mucus Membrane – so far so fair enough, it’s not the first time we’ve looked at John’s punk past, and I think it’s unlikely it’ll be the last. But here we’re specifically linking his band to 1979, arguably the peak of UK punk*** and also the year that for the British ushered Mrs Thatcher into Downing Street and effectively started the eighties six months early. For the left – and if we’re honest there’s a definite left leaning bias in comics on both sides of the Atlantic**** - Thatcher remains the ultimate hate figure even now – twenty years since her somewhat ignoble dumping from office – and this story alludes strongly to her even though she’s only mentioned by name once.****** But that isn’t what really struck me. No, what struck me was the cliffhanger, which feels like it dropped out of a timewarp from twenty five years ago.*******
I’m guessing that by now anyone wanting to read this comic has done so – as ever I’m somewhat behind the times – but just so you know there are spoilers beyond this point. You have been warned.
Still here? Jolly good. The gist of the story that a retro Punk Anarchist Collective, which may or may not have resurrected the spirit of Sid Vicious******** is losing members to some kind of shadowy outfit, possibly run by the undead, which is using them as thuggish muscle alongside the followers of other slightly retro cultural movements, like the “skins, some of the Football boys” in order to support… The Conservative Party?! I kid you not. I almost wish they were up to something like that – it might make the election we’re having over here at the moment a little less dull. It’s exactly the sort of thing I might’ve read in Warrior in the early eighties, or even more likely in CRISIS! in the late eighties. It really did feel horribly dated. Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the story, and I’m looking forward to the next (and final) instalment. I was seven when Thatcher came to power in ’79, which means I grew up through her reign. I’m a child of the eighties and as such not a massive fan of her record or her party. I’m up for a bit of Tory bashing as much as the next bloke, but I have to wonder if the next bloke really cares. For a start the Tories today really aren’t like the Tories of the eighties, they used to be an awesome power in the land in a way that today they simply are not. Also, while I’m sure Vertigo knows its audience well enough, surely most of the people reading this are in the States? If so, even for the really left wing ones the Conservative Party must at best seem somewhat irrelevant, and in any case, not very extreme. It’s a common laziness amongst UK commentators (once which may be repeated across the pond, but I wouldn’t know) to suggest that Labour roughly correspond to the Democratic Party, and the Conservatives roughly correspond to the Republicans. This is wrong on several levels. For a start it discounts the fact that we have three major parties in the UK, not two (although I’ll acknowledge that the Liberal Democrats have been in third place for sixty years or so). It also discounts the major political differences between the UK and the US. From a UK perspective - especially for the left leaning children of the eighties like myself, it is easy to think of the Conservative Party as a bunch of crazy right wing nut-jobs. But in the US? Frankly, from what I’ve seen of US Politics even the Right Wing of the Conservative Party looks a little Pinko. Just look at the trouble Obama had getting his healthcare reforms through – reforms that in the UK, even amongst conservatives, would have been controversial only because they didn’t go far enough. Seems to me that political thinking in the US are based on a whole other set of values than politics in the UK. What I’m saying is, I can’t see why an American audience would think that this “Conservative Party” was scary, or a worthy adversary for John Constantine. In the past when Hellblazer has tackled this kind of politics it’s tended to use mad aristocratic figures rather than named political parties. I can’t help thinking that this approach helped me to suspend my disbelief more easily. *Of course mostly that was “interesting” as in “may you live in interesting times”, but we’ll be coming back to that. **With the coming of Obama – another politician who inspires every feeling except indifference – his healthcare policies, the Tea Party movement and everything else that’s going on over there I get the impression that US politics has moved towards the interesting once again… ***Although it’s not an argument I’d support, but this isn’t a music column, so let’s move on. ****Far more pronounced on the small side of the pond of course, but that’s because the UK is a much more left wing nation than our more conservative cousins across the sea*****. *****At this point I’d point out that this issue is written by Peter Milligan and Drawn by Simon Bisley – both Brits. ******Note to pedants. If there turns out to be another reference I’ve forgotten about and missed when I just checked, please feel free not to tell me. *******Not that such a thing would be entirely inappropriate for Constantine of course. ********Please tell me I don’t have to tell anyone who that is? If you really need to, google him.

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