Just a quick thought for today.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creators, specifically how and to what extent their views and personal opinions shape their creations. Recently a friend and I were discussing the recent controversy and subsequent blogosphere coverage (including right here) of Bill Willingham’s mission statement against “superhero decadence”. It was essentially a conservative creator’s manifesto, and while discussing it, my friend Matt had mentioned that, while not having any specific references or examples, he did get an overall neo-con, “hawkish” feel from Fables.
Over at the Cerebus Diablog, where Laura Hudson and Leigh Walton are revisiting the story of Cerebus issue by issue, a conversation about the misogyny of the perpetually controversial Dave Sim broke out after just two issues! Sim, a man who has had plenty to say about women through the years, chooses as Cerebus’ foe a succubus; a creature which takes the form of a beautiful woman in order to suck the soul and energy from a poor, unsuspecting male. Subtle.
Now, I happen to think that Fables is one of the better comics of the past twenty years and that Cerebus is a work of staggering genius. I love both works and could care less about the writers’ personal beliefs. But at the same time I sometimes wonder why I would openly criticize these men and yet support the work they do. All over the internet there are swarms of people boycotting the books and dropping Fables completely from their pull list. So how much are the creations shaped by the creator? Am I a hypocrite?
In a recent post on Big Hollywood writer Bill Willingham blogged about the current state of superhero comics, and how they lack the strong moral code they once conveyed. Willingham, a known conservative, has a lot to say about the world of superheroes, and leaves a lot to be inferred through his comments. He first mentions that nowadays
Superman fights for truth and justice, but no longer finishes that famous line with, “…and the American way.”
Besides the point that Superman is a space alien not an American citizen, in a post-WWII, post-Vietnam, post-Iraq world what does that slogan mean exactly? How does a line about “the American way” not alienate some kid in Dubai reading comics in his bedroom? Willingham’s argument sort of goes along with this attitude America has had over the past (oh, let’s just say for argument’s sake) eight years or so. One of hubris and presumptuousness. We’re shocked that anyone would hate or attack us, and chalk it up to either jealousy or villainy; “they hate the fact that we have so much freedom”. (I hate to be that guy; you know, anti-Bush New Yorker blogging about how “CONSERVATIVES JUST DON’T GET IT!” and how “JUST BECAUSE WE’RE AMERICA DOESN’T MEAN WE OWN THE WHOLE WORLD!” It’s played out, and reminds me of drunken college debate.)
He laments that
Captain America, in a comic book story published shortly after 9/11 spent a good part of the issue apologizing to the super terrorist he was battling about all of the terrible things America did in its pursuit of the cold war against the Soviets. “(But) we’ve changed. We’ve learned,” he whines.
Soon after he praises that same writer for later writing Cap like more of an “American”:
a few issues later he resurrects a shade of his former self (summons his inner John Wayne if you will) and tells an evil alien invader he’s fighting, “Surrender? Surrender??? You think this letter on my forehead stands for France?” (The letter is an ‘A’ for America, of course.) Good one, Cap.
Maybe I just don’t understand, Bill, so if you maybe stumble across this blog one day you can explain it to me; but how does spouting off dumb stereotypes come off as anything but imbecilic? I personally believe that of the two Caps you bring up, the apologetic or the brazen, it is the former who more personifies what I’d like to think of as “American” ideals.
Another thing here is (as he also mentions in the article) he has been part of this system and has worked within it’s limits for some time. What I mean is, and what Tom Spurgeon also touched on at the Comics Reporter, he really has not made any effort to have ever changed this, so where is this outrage coming from? His writing is not overtly “patriotic”. He mentions his book Elementals, but even his most famous work Fables takes the idea of children’s fairytale characters and updates them for more “mature” audiences, with sex, and murder, and lying, and cheating, and what have you. I know he is only referring to superhero comics and uses Fables as an example of a comic that can be more “edgy”, but these are characters created to showcase morality, something the neo-cons praise as their main issue, and Willingham completely takes that aspect of the characters away. Also, to make a lesser point, just because you acknowledge that you’re a hypocrite doesn’t absolve you from it.
On the surface I agree. There’s too much “anti-hero” in today’s comics, and maybe someone can at least step up and write a classic superhero story differently. But if Willingham’s argument is to be taken at face value he just wants it all to be simple, good guy vs. bad guy, black and white moral code stuff with heroes that have a “firm grasp on their mission”. People don’t want to read that anymore. It’s so uncomplicated. Easy. Boring. That’s not to say there’s no room for good old fashioned superhero fare but people want a small measure of reality, and sometimes lines are blurred. Sometimes Batman and Superman are at odds. Sometimes Spider-Man has to fight Iron-Man. And just because Captain America loves his country doesn’t mean he’s got to be overly-jingoistic; he just fights for what he believes in.
But as I said earlier there’s a lot here to be inferred. Let me preface this by saying I like some of Willingham’s work, including the aforementioned Fables, and respect his opinion and his choice. If he wants to make all of his future superhero work more traditionally formulaic then that is his decision, and I’m sure he can write good, morally sound stories. But the tone of his post implied contempt for those who didn’t live up to his moral standards, and I thought it was a slight jab at the “un-American liberals” who are slowly but surely in some people’s eyes “ruining the country.” And it’s quite a reach when comics talk turns into political debate.
I’ll end with this quote from Willingham:
I made sure both Batman and Robin were portrayed as good, steadfast heroes, with unshakable personal codes and a firm grasp of their mission. I even got to do a story where Robin parachuted into Afghanistan with a group of very patriotic military superheroes on a full-scale, C130 gunship-supported combat mission.
To me this point sums up his entire view on the matter. It’s not so much that he wants to promote good, strong morals, but rather that he wants to promote this romantic and heroic picture of America that he has in his mind. The problem here is that comics are not just for Americans, they’re for everyone and with the current state of the world do we really need to promote more of an “us vs. them” attitude?
For those of you who don’t know, you heard it here first: Barack Obama is the President elect. No, no, silly! Not just on THIS Earth; also on Earth-616!
Marvel has this habit of mirroring the real world. For example: Did you know Richard Nixon was a terrorist? And although this was sort of copied from Savage Dragon, this morning USA Today has announced that Barack Obama will appear in the latest issue of Spider-Man. The plot of the story is that the Chameleon takes the form of Obama, because I guess he’s trying to discredit or embarrass him. And his big plan is to… I dunno, say racist shit? Kick Joe Biden in the balls? I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the plot. I skimmed the article, and generally this sort of thing kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because it always seems so forced and gimmicky. But this time I had a completely different issue with the whole ordeal:
Just look at that terrorist fist jab in action! And Spidey! How could you?! You helped save NY on 9/11! Was it all a ploy to lull us into a false sense of comfort? With great power comes great responsibility, indeed.
Noticing this, I decided to look — and I mean, take a good hard look — into some of the other, less obvious ways Obama has tried to hint at his comic-book related terrorism. Hey I don’t shy away from controversy. I’m here to break the real hard-hitting stories, you know? But honestly, looking at these images, how could we have all missed it?
(Big thanks to my good friend and collaborator Matt Occhuizzo for wasting his time creating these images for me. This stuff totally doesn’t do his work justice, so please go here and check out how good he really is.)