Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Identity Crisis and Politics, or, I'm Just Not Getting Enough Hate In My Diet

Okay. I was thinking about Identity Crisis/Infinite Crisis and the increasing darkening of the DCU, and started thinking. Why is this happening now?
Events in pop culture usually mirror current concerns as creators draw on the zeitgeist to present opinions and work through concerns or issues that they have.

So I started thinking about the DCU and current US politics, and I'm thinking it dovetails together rather nicely.

I mean, basically, what you've got is an emotive outrage, which 'justifies' the good guys using less than honourable means to defend themselves and their loved ones in the future. Sue Dibny's death is as sudden and shocking as the events of 9-11 to the characters in the story. In both cases, we see people unable to cope with the level of horror which they have been confronted with. Some are shocked, some are angry, some cannot cope with it, and many want answers. And they want them now.
Also, we have the mind control incident, where people faced with the unthinkable, examine their morality and find that they are prepared to do things, sacrifice things and engage in behaviour which they would otherwise find unconscionable. We must do this thing, even though we know it is wrong, in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Read Zatanna's words backwards, kids: "Ytiruces dnalemoh? Tca toirtap?"
We're powerful and can kick everyone's arses, but someone's revealed that we're vulnerable, so we have to violate our principles to make sure it can't happen again.

In the follow up, a figure of fun is revealed to be a murderous and dangerous in Maxwell Lord. And I started thinking about things like 'Nookler' and 'That's My Bush'.

I'm not saying these are MY political beliefs, or that this is the ONLY analysis for these issues, but it's something to think about. Don't you think?


Blogger Michael said...

I do think 9/11 had something to do with this "holy shit, we've gotta get serious" vibe that's been coming from DC. And it's understandable, given the location of the home offices.

4/26/2005 07:23:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Interesting point. It comes up as well in a show like 24, in which the government uses torture first and asks questions after. It's kind of wish fulfillment - we can't torture terror suspects in real life, or if we do, there are consequences. Kiefer never has to deal with the consequences of his torture tactics. Fascinating stuff.

4/26/2005 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

How do I go about submitting a guest counter-article to this thread? I think it has to do with our political climate, but I think it's been decades in the making, not a result of 9-11...

4/26/2005 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Dave Carter said...

A post 9/11 reading of IC is perfectly legitamate I think, and one that I made myself (though not the only way the mini-series can be read.)

4/26/2005 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taintedlunch from CBR here. I think the darkening of the DCU has less to do with 9/11 and more to do with the fact that none of the non-Batman, non-Jim Lee books sell except the "event" books. Controversy sell.

4/26/2005 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger tim said...

One of the DC execs, I wanna say Didio, said straight out that it's all because of 9/11. He told a story of walking through NYC and seeing armed National Guardsman posted at various places. He described how he felt safe and scared at the same time. He knows he's supposed to support and thank these soldiers for what they're being asked to do, but at the same time, it's the U.S. and there's armed guards all around him. He specifically said that that is the feeling he wants to give to DCU heroes. The general population in DCU should see Superman and be flushed with a combination of fear and respect.

This was in a Newsarama interview. I'll take a second to look for it.

4/26/2005 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger tim said...

Newsarama interview here

NRAMA: Where did the desire for a shift in tonality within the DCU come from?

DD: A lot of this actually came following September 11th. After everything that occurred in New York City, I was coming to work at DC, and going through the Port Authority. At that time, you would walk into the Port Authority, and you would have National Guardsmen standing there with machine guns. He’s standing there holding his machine gun, and is supposed to be making me feel better and more protected, but somehow, that gave me a greater sense of dread – it put me more on edge.

NRAMA: It brings the danger to a visible point…

DD: Absolutely. Honestly, when I looked at that, I felt that was an attitude that we had to bring to our heroes. There should be two reactions when a superhero walks into a room. The first reaction is, “Oh shit, they’re here for something,” and the second reaction is, “Oh shit, I hope they’re not here for me.” No one should be taking a step forward to pat them on the back – they should be taking a step backward, thinking, “Something bad is about to happen here.”

4/26/2005 04:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Somehow" it gave him a greater sense of dread. Somehow.

Kind of a deep thinker, isn't he?

4/26/2005 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn terrorists! This once again proves that they won. They don't need to attack us again because they've already effected every part of our culture. From our government to the way to live our lives to comic books.

Also, it proves that Didio really doesn't get superheroes.

4/26/2005 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Pól Rua said...

I remember the "I hope he's not here for me" quote, but I heard it out of context, so I didn't get the 9-11 bit.

Still, I hafta agree with anonymous there, "let's make Superman into this scary enforcer type"?
Nice one, Dan, ya clueless twit.

4/26/2005 07:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

Higher, darker stakes isn't the problem. It's contrived, bad stories that reek of post-WEF self-esteem issues that are the problem.

4/26/2005 07:28:00 PM  
Blogger Pól Rua said...

Exactly, Dan. It feels like the whole post 1986 grim-and-grittifying all over again, when creators ignored Moore and Miller's unconventional storytelling, complex narrative structures, powerful use of archetypes and incredible characterization and dialogue, only to focus on making their heroes darker, more serious and more violent. Once again, we ignore the present inside to play with the shiny wrapping paper.

POW! ZAP! Comics aren't for kids anymore indeed.


4/26/2005 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I wanted to submit a guest-article about this topic, but since there was no answer I'll just put it here as a long-ass comment:

Countdown is more than just a reaction to 9/11. Didio and company's reaction to 9/11 is just a symptom of a bigger affliction that's been attacking the entertainment industry for decades and has just reached it's logical extreme: This darkening of the DCU has to do with the rise of PROGRESSIVE LIBERALISM IN ENTERTAINMENT. Not ALL liberals are progressive, as there are moderate liberals and classic liberals. But the climate at DC is a result of a particular type of liberalism: progressive liberalism as practiced by Judd "Soapbox" Winick. This is the type of liberalism that blames America first in any conflict, that looks to Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky for ideas, that sees America as a source of imperial evil rather than a force for spreading democracy. These progressives are the type that were born in the radical '60s, hijacked elite educational institutions later on and as tenured radicals turned elite colleges into brainwashing factories.

This all happened in the 60s, and you can see the parallel in comic books to what was going on in America at the time.

From the 30s to the 50s, when America was more patriotic, it was reflected in the way superheroes were treated in comic books. Superman was powerful enough to move worlds yet was loved by people rather than feared and was more popular than Batman. These comics were created by poor men who slaved for wages, were not college educated, spent time in the armed forces,came up in the Depression, were unapologeticallhy patriotic and were not bourgeous bohemians in the least. Almost all the creators were of Jewish immigrant origins and didn't have the "white guilt" issues most WASPS developed in the 20th Century.

You had Stan Lee, a moderate, and Steve Ditko, a staunch conservative, doing Spider-Man comics where Peter Parker told off student protesters, who were portrayed as troublemaking idiots with no real ideals. Even Jack Kirby, who was the most liberal of the 3, was a patriotic military man that loved America. He was a classic liberal. By the standards of today's progressives, however, all 3 of these men would likely be considered right of center, even Kirby and Lee.

From the 40s to the 60s a lot was happening in America, especially in the 60s. Compare the Vietnam era to the WWII era. During WWII hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed by Allied forces in attempts to demoralize the enemy, yet patriotism stayed high. Superman was shown slapping the "Japs," culutral relativism be damned. Batman bashed Nazis proudly. Captain America had a story where he literally killed A MILLION NAZIS. There was no "Let's reflect on what we may have done to deserve this."

In the 60s and 70s, the progressives undermined the Vietnam War and anti-Communist efforts. Jane Fonda took pictures with the enemy. America was called fascist by its own youth and college students were embracing radicalism and socialism at alarming rates. Part of this new attitude trickled into the comics of the time, but for the most part the old guard of comic creators kept a tide of these sentiments out.

You can see the difference as the next generation of creators of the hippie generation started taking the reins. The first waves of comic creators were gorwn men who wanted to be "serious" writers and settle for writing "kiddie books." The next generation were liberal teenagers (and young "white guilt" WASPs I assume) who grew up on comics and wanted to write relevant to other liberal teenagers, so you saw the comics go from apolitical to slightly political. Remember that after the debut of Marvel, the average comic fan readership age moved up to the teenage years from the adolescent years, thanks to deliberate efforts from Stan Lee. An unwitting side effect of this drive for older readership was that it became easier for these books to be politicized than it would have been to politicize the kiddie fare of the 30s to the 50s.

For example, Denny O'Neil turns Green Arrow liberal and makes sure that he's ALWAYS right. Hippies are increasingly painted in a sympathetic light as idealistic visionary freedom fighters educating heroes as to the real issues of the day. Moral black and white absolutes are gradually faded out in exchange for moral and cultural relativism, which have become even bigger parts of comics today.

Denny O'Neil loved characters like Batman and Green Arrow, but was not as smpathetic to characters like Superman and Green Lantern. When tapped to write Superman his first order of business was to depower Superman. He later said that it was because he doesn't trust characters that are too powerful because he thinks they'd be corrupted. He felt he couldn't write a character that was too powerful, that it just rubbed him wrong. It's also likely to be the reason why he immediately has Green Lantern taken down a peg in GA/GL by a black woman who asks what he's done to help the "brown people" lately. It's the beginning of the cynical, radical progressive 60s rearing its head in superhero comics. In the 70s, we see under Englehart the start of Captain America stories where he's constantly seen doubting America. He's seen as being good in SPITE of representing America rather than BECAUSE he represents America. This is clear in the cyncical, shadowy evil way the US government is portrayed in Gruenwald's storylines for example.

This idea that O'Neil mentions of power as corrupting has continued to grow as more and more college-educated WASP middle-class writers, as opposed to blue collar, working class Jews. As this dynamic changed, the liberal white guilt, cultural relativism and moral relativism grew. As young Americans increasingly view American power with cynicism and see our superpower status as undeserved, imperialistic and corrupting, superhero's powers are increasingly seen in the same light.

Let's look at post-9/11 comics compared to post-Pearl Harbor. We get an Amazing Spider-Man tribute issue that's in the voice of the typical progressive liberal and clearly blames America in part for a terrorist attack, due to its neglect of the 3rd world. Can you imagine seeing cultural relativism being used in a 40s comic to show sympathy for the Japanese or Germans? Marvel Knights Captain America, instead of enthusiastically taking out a bunch of terrorists left and right like he would have in the 40s was instead always being taken to task for American atrocities and being shown as a naive, outdated jingoistic tool riddled with self-doubt and doubt about America. He never could offer a single decent defense of America or its policies whenever confronted.

Notice how cynical, powerless Batman is now more popular than naive, idealistic powerful government stooge Superman and is constantly shown kicking his ass. You can see the glee writers and fanboys get from this interpretation. Is any Superhero more representative of America the superpower than Superman? These creators are the ideological children of Denny O'Neil, Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore. They pay lip service to Superman, but at the same time they either show him being a government stooge that gets taken down a peg or a powerful but self-doubting hand-wringer that laments his overal l ineffectualness and recently even seeks THERAPY (if that's not a progressive writer's idea, I don't know WHAT is).

So basically, this is what ID Crisis and Countdown stem from: unchecked progressive liberalism taken to its logical extreme. The "blame America first" crowd has been given free reign to tackle superheroes, all the old guard is gone. No Julie Schwarz or Weisinger or Levitz or Kahn to keep them in check, it's the young liberal guns and we get a unaldulterated look from the front row at the cynicism and self-hatred of the modern generation. Now superheroes are shown in amoral shades of grey rather than shining white forces for good, much like the modern college hippies view America. People of power are viewed with mistrust rather than awe, much like these progressives view the American military. The heroes routinely lie to the public and each other and abuse prisoners, much like progressives imagine the government to do. From Dark Knight to Watchmen to Countdown, heroes fight AGAINST the government, not FOR it. Only misguided or naive heroes fight on behalf of the government. Batman is regularly shown protecting and saving villains as much as civilians. Superman is so progressively liberal that he's shown as willing to let Joker kill Lois rather than kill him!

Notice how so much of Countdown and ID Crisis is spent paying lavish complimentary lip service to the powerful heroes, while simulataneously showing them as behaving like scumbags to the less privileged (like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold)? Notice how progressives make sure to say nice inspirational things about the American military before portraying them negatively? How about all the focus lately on A-list and B-list heroes? Sound anything like the rich/poor class warfare that progressives carry on about?

Is it any surprise that Judd Winick, the most raging liberal writer ever, is one of the architects of this story, along with Dan Didio, a guy who says he feels fear and apprehension when he sees American military rather than comfort and inspiration? Is it any surprise that right-wing Chuck Dixon is nowhere in sight at the company during this?

So in summation, I don't think the attitude driving this darkening of the DCU is something new that popped up out of 9/11. It's part of the cynical and reactionary anti-American distrust of power and authority that's been growing in this country and in comics since the 60s. The difference now is that unlike in American politics, there is no ideological counterbalance in DC Comics anymore as all the old guard has retired and progressive lunatics now run the asylum, in all their cynical, self-hating glory.

4/26/2005 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Sorry, T, didn't read the blog today until just now, so I couldn't help ya out with the guest bit.

4/27/2005 04:41:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Wow, that's a good comment, T., even though I disagree with most of it. It is very interesting to track the ideology of comics from their inception to the present. If someone doesn't write a post about it before I have more time, I'll have to do it.

4/27/2005 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Just want to emphasize, I'm not indicting liberalism on a whole but rather the specific extreme "America is evil because its powerful" extreme left progressive types, especially the kind produced at modern universities.

I really think that the representation of superheroes in comics directly correlates to the perception of America as a superpower in the real world. I'm not trying to contradict the point of the original post, I actually agree with its point of political events as inspiration for superhero interpretation. I'm just saying that the seeds of this political commentary were placed decades ago in the 60s, well before 9/11.

4/27/2005 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"Just want to emphasize, I'm not indicting liberalism on a whole but rather the specific extreme "America is evil because its powerful" extreme left progressive types, especially the kind produced at modern universities."

Suuuuuuuuuuuure you're not.

And by the way, when the fuck did the word "progressive" become a pejorative? Walk me through the linguistic gymnastics required to turn "of, relating to, or characterized by progress" into a negative trait.

4/27/2005 02:19:00 PM  
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