With today being the American Independence Day, there are undoubtedly going to be some that wish to pick up a comic book that allows them to express their patriotism. If you’re looking for a list of “rah rah America’s the best” stories, then another site may be up your alley. Because the truth is that the America that people idealize does not exist today, or is at the very least broken. If you do read these stories, take a moment to think on the world today and the lessons from these tales that can be applied.
1. Action Comics #775 – “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way”
Right off the bat, we start with a story that seems perfect for today’s extreme, all-or-nothing, uncompromising social and political landscape. Written by Joe Kelly (I Kill Giants) with art by Doug Mahnke (Final Crisis), this story is a deconstruction and reconstruction of Superman. A fan favorite that can be frequently found on many “Best of Superman” lists, Action Comics #775 doesn’t do anything to celebrate America, other than include it in the title. What Kelly and Mahnke’s story does do is take a look at the earnest, polite, and kind archetype of an American icon, Superman, and argues that these sensibilities are needed now more than ever as the world. As the world grows darker, we need examples like Superman to show us that tolerance and kindness to all individuals of all backgrounds is a requirement for the world to become a better place. Since this comic was first published, its message only rings more true with the passage of time.
2. Captain America #695-700 – “Home of the Brave”
After the controversial direction Marvel took their star-spangled hero in the lead-up to and during its Secret Empire event, the character was given a much-needed course correction. With the power-team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee in control, Steve Rogers was essentially sent on an apology tour across the country. You see, during Secret Empire, Captain America allowed Hydra (basically Marvel’s version of Neo-Nazis) to flourish in a land where they are still mostly considered to be the bad guys. Considering the timing of the event’s publication, it was quite prophetic, but that’s a topic for a whole other article. What Waid and Samnee’s story managed to do is quite remarkable, returning Captain America to the defender to the righteous he always was. As he interacts with average, small-town citizens and even a bevy of antagonists, readers learn that it’s never too late for a course correction. Steve Rogers is the embodiment of American ideals, and no matter how lost he was, he was able to do his penance and recover.
3. Amazing Spider-Man #36 – “The Black Issue”
While most Marvel heroes call New York “home,” only one hero is a full-time resident: Spider-Man. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, writer J. Michael Straczynski delivers a truly heart-wrenching issue that can make even the most hardened readers shed a tear. While the issue does ultimately end with triumphant, we-shall-prevail tone, the lead up to that moment is anything but. Instead, readers see costumed heroes mingle with the real heroes of the NYPD and FDNY in an attempt to save lives during arguably the most horrifying day in American history. Despite the real-world tragedy at the heart of the story, the unity of people from all races, colors, and creeds is a welcome sight, especially at a time when every minor issue (like the bullshit controversy over anthem protests) is used by those in powerful to divide this country.
4. American Flagg! #1-12
Writer and artist Howard Chaykin is no stranger to social commentary, as evidenced by his not-so-subtle The Divided States of America. However, it is his much earlier work that earns a spot on this list in American Flagg! Originally published during the 1980s, Chaykin’s story is set in a dystopian future where citizens are afterthoughts, education is an afterthought, and gun culture is glorified. It’s unnerving until you realize that it’s not too dissimilar from the world we live in today. Then it becomes outright terrifying. Reading this comic is a big wake-up call. No longer are we on the road to a bad future. We’re living in one.
Honorable Mention: Captain America Comics #1
If you need to feel better after reading these, there’s always this classic in which Cap punches Hitler in the face. Seriously, fuck Nazis and their sympathizers.