This week’s question comes from Bam [who tells us to “keep up the good work on the site”. “Sure thing Bam you keep up the reading and we’ll be here for you”]. He wanted to know….
“Can superheroes really help at times of great need? For example, superheroes in print during World War II, the Vietnam war, and more recently 9-11?”
Mark Chapman: “It depends really what you mean by ‘help’. If you actually mean to physically help win wars, provide disaster relief, then no, they’re fictional characters. Personally I find it a little strange looking at rehashes of emotive real-life events such as these with guys in spandex superimposed.
However, I think during the world wars and such events, superhero comics, and more importantly comics featuring regular Joes stuck in the middle of it all, helped a lot of people get through the dark days with some level of hope and pride. And more recently, I think 9/11 gave comics creators a chance to muse on that entire situation, its causes, possible solutions and various hypothetical situations. Many creators did this via superhero stories, and many of these were incredibly powerful and affecting, often saying things the more mainstream media hadn’t or wouldn’t say.”
Vince Moore: “Yes, since they are modern mythic heroes, superheroes can help encapsulate feelings of helplessness, hope, and even the desire to bring those responsible to justice. Not to lessen the effort of real world heroes, but as the symbols superheroes are. To inspire us all.”
Alan Grant: “In the short term, superhero characters can be helpful at such times of great need, providing entertainment and inspiration for the individuals involved, as well as propaganda for the State. However, standard superhero response to violence is generally to use greater violence. In the long term, this can only be destructive, in that it perpetuates whatever myths caused the wars/disasters in the first place, without ever examining the causes. To be of any relevance other than a propaganda tool, superheroes–almost a pure U.S. concept–need to turn against the U.S. (or at the very least start to question everything about the actions of its government). Fewer than 100,000 US soldiers died in Vietnam, while between 2 and 3 million Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian citizens were killed. Around 3,000 innocent civilians perished on 9/11; the retaliatory invasion of Afghanistan killed an estimated 10,000 civilians and handed control back to the drug-lords. It seems to me it’s the long-suffering peoples of south-east Asia, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq who need the superheroes.”
Bill Rosemann: “Whether it challenges us to re-examine our positions, gives us hope for a better tomorrow, or simply provides an escape from the pain of reality, all art — including superhero comic books — fulfills a very human need that helps us cope during times of trouble.”
Alonzo Washington: “Comic Books may teach the general public about hard times and that can help. Many people look to comic books to escape reality. When real life issues show up in the pages of fantasy vehicles like comic books it’s makes readers pay more attention to real life issues. My company (Omega7 Inc.) always mixes fantasy with reality in it’s story lines. We have addressed racism, gang violence, police brutality, the OJ Simpson Trial, The Million Man March, school shootings, missing children, 9-11, etc. My body of work has always caused real life debate around these issues in schools, various communities, colleges & in the media. Therefore, I believe that the source material of comic books that address hard times can reach people and make a difference in reality. However, it will not change the world alone it is just a part of the process. I as a creator write about real life issues in my comic book. However, unlike many creators I champion many heroic causes in real life as an activist and that makes the most difference of all.”
Terry Moore: “I used to think superheroes embodied our higher ideals, but since the advent of the anti-hero we’ve systematically destroyed that illusion. To me, “dark heroes” like Batman and Wolverine do as much harm to American society as Lyndon Johnson or Nixon did (and I consider Johnson second only to Hitler in the damage one man did to a nation). The first movie to allow a bad man to win without consequence was Paul Newman’s Hud. Since then, the anti-hero has been favored by Americans over the Superman too-good ideal. It’s a nasty little trend that reflects a disillusioned society, and I wish that, even if we can’t pull out of it in real life, the creative voices in America would give us more hope and remind us of higher ideals. I remember Kennedy’s America and I’ve seen how we’ve lived and created since his murder… his way was better, people had more joy and hope, and our paper heroes reflected higher ideals. We’ve been in mourning ever since and, when looked at in a multi-decade arc, our comics reflect that, they reflect out times.
If I thought comics could help lead us out of this social low, I’d be their strongest advocate. But lone wolfs or groups of misfit mutant teenagers dishing out their own brand of dark justice in a world gone mad is a worn out joke nobody listens to anymore. Somebody needs to Rise above that and remind us what good men and women are supposed to be, not how they’ve been forced to survive. Yes, there are some “good” characters in comics today, but the industry as a whole is not about that. We’re closer to the WWE and it’s code of character ethics than we should be willing to admit.
And we wonder why society doesn’t embrace us and recommend us to every child.
When Mark Waid told me he was going to write Superman, I told him he had been assigned one of the most important jobs in America: to give back to the American people their hero, in the biggest, boldest, bravest and most idealized way possible. That is the job of that character in our society and it begins with a creative team who has to believe in something bigger and better than themselves. Superman is more important than comics, he means something to Americans, he stands for something we hold precious. His creative team has a responsibility to the character and to society as a whole, to give us a man who embodies our best ideals in a way that is relevant and useful to us today. I really believe that, and I think creators like Alex Ross do, too. He knows he has inherited a great responsibility– he’s not just cashing in on his talent and making cool pictures. He’s carrying the mantle of hero imagery to a society that desperately needs them. And that’s what superhero comics are all about.”
Dawn Donald:”Wow! What a question. There is no doubt that some of the stories about ordinary men and women against adversity helped bolster people up in various conflicts, including the 9-11 stories. I know that I was affected deeply by some of the work in the 9-11 tribute books. Though you do have to remember that they are works of fiction and not history. Some people do seem to forget that. As for the spandex heroes, I must admit to being a little troubled to see them in the middle of a battlefield or clearing up after a natural disaster .It doesn’t sit well with me.”
Summary: Well another mixed bag this week with some interesting and thought-provoking responses. It would seem that “with great writing comes great responsibility.
This Week’s Panel: Mark Chapman is the man who makes sure you know all about those excellent Rebellion comics. Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and noted black campaigner. Alan Grant has had his hands in many pies including Batman and Judge Anderson. Bill Rosemann is President of Publishing for those fine folks at CrossGen. Vince Moore’s work for Platinum Studios can be checked out via the link on his name above. Terry Moore the creator of Strangers in Paradise ’nuff said.
Next Week’s Question: ” How important do you feel it is for creators / comic book employees to ‘tow the company line’? How much leeway should they have to speak their mind?”
Big Shout: The Panel need your questions so email them into me at: firstname.lastname@example.org