This comes as no surprise to any fan of animation or comic books, but very often, both tackle real life issues. When someone generally thinks of cartoons and comics, images of super heroes and wacky creatures spring into their mind. The truth is, there is a lot more going underneath all of the perceived wackiness of super-hero tropes. Countless franchises have demonstrated that super-hero lore can be an effective vehicle for social commentary — however clumsy and preachy the comics may seem.
Consider, for example, Captain Planet. This animated series began in 1990 as a way to educate young viewers on environmental issues and the importance of protecting nature. It didn’t take long until a comic book series was developed with the same “green” message. Perhaps this little comic series helped spring the Green Movement as we know today.
The comic books, much like the TV show, feature villains who seek to ravage the environment for their own monetary interests. The first issue of Captain Planet and the Planeteers featured an evil oil driller intent on greedily slurping up the Earth’s oil, prompting the very life force of the planet to cry out for help. This voice comes in the form of Gaia, the force that brings the power of nature to the Planeteers (Captain Planet’s “biddees” [the ones who carry out his bidding]). Consider how pertinent this social commentary is even today. with recent news about oil drilling, nuclear power cultivation, and fracking, this debut issue is just as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.
In issue three, The Power of Heart, the Planeteers are facing off against Argos Bleak and his terrorist plot to destroy Washington D.C. with a missile of toxic waste. When he is unstopped, Bleak threatens even more major cities of the world. Ma-Ti, who uses the power of heart, has been feeling down about his power thanks to bullying from his fellow Planeteers. In the end, it is Ma-Ti’s power of heart that saves the day. The underlying story of how one person can effect change is itself a powerful lesson. Couple that with the overlying story of international terrorism (specifically, the development of nuclear or biological weaponry), and you have an issue written with a great sense of foresight.
The eighth issue of this awareness raising comic series brought us three important stories. These stories all involved terrible tragedies involving planet Earth, but one is especially relevant today. The story Showdown on Hope Island pits Captain Planet against Captain Pollution. When Pollution defeats Planet, it takes the work of all the Planeteers to save the day. In similar fashion, today’s Green Movement focuses on the power all of us have when we work together to recycle, clean up a park or many other environmental acts.
Thanks to Captain Planet and the Planeteers stories and messages still being so relevant today, a new Planeteer movement has begun. Consider all of the initiatives being spearheaded to clean up agribusiness, or all of the energy producers like Constellation or SunEdison who are promoting alternative energy. Environmental advocates and comic fans seem to essentially agree on many key issues, and the enduring popularity of Captain Planet (beyond mere kitsch value) could reflect something interesting about the places where the two converge. So just remember, the next time sometime someone tries to dismiss your interest in comics on the grounds that they are “childish” — remind them that there may be more to it than they realize.