Friday, June 18, 2004


Tim O'Neil has put up a post arguing, basically, that if taken seriously, superhero comics are essentially fascistic. It's not a new argument, but he argues his case well. As can be imagined, he seems to have stirred up a lot of indignation in the comics blogosphere, which is overwhelmingly superhero-centered. I haven't read all of the reactions, and don't intend to; nor do I have time to fully engage with his arguments. But I do have a couple of quick points.

1) Something that Tim doesn't mention, but which would actually help his case, is that "mainstream" (i.e. not revisionist or "mature") superhero very comics often do contain characters who make the argument Tim does: basically, that while these super-powerful people may be acting like good guys now, who knows whether they'll always be good guys, so we should be at the least very suspicious of them. But the ones who make this argument are always the bad guys, whether it's J. Jonah Jameson, the people who oppress mutants, or whatever villain is using a mind-control ray this week to turn the populace against the heroes who've saved their lives countless times. So superhero comics don't just implicitly say that we should place our trust in powerful heroes, they explicitly say that if you mistrust heroes, you're either a bad guy or being duped by the bad guys. Score one for O'Neil.

2) On the other hand, while Tim has a logical argument that reading superhero comics should serve to bolster authoritarian politics (I'm not sure that "fascist" is the right word here), it doesn't seem to work that way in practice. I don't know of any studies that have been done on the politics of superhero comics (henceforth abbreviated as "s.c.") readers, but the politics of s.c. bloggers, at least, don't seem to be disproportionately conservative, as far as I can tell. And looking at s.c. creators, most of whom presumably were first s.c. readers, Claremont and Englehart in the 1970s were liberals iirc, while Alan Moore and Grant Morrison (who, while they've both written "revisionist" superhero works, clearly both find superheroes fascinating) are way to the left of "liberal." And while Ditko's politics are anything but liberal, my impression is that most of the college students who made Spider-Man a cult hero saw him as a countercultural type, rather than a forerunner of Mr. A.

Actually, I think Tim's follow-up post, which moves away from the political implications of superheroes to their general aesthetic worth, is even better, and I'd say more about it if I had the time.

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