The Seemingly Inescapable Undertones of Mainstream Superhero Comic Books

Well this is certainly a way to come back. My first post in literal months and I decide to jump straight into the deep end.

But in all seriousness, the current political situation in the United States, which is more of a revelation of problems that have existed for a long time in our institutions, has gotten me to think more about how those institutions are portrayed in media. Of course, being a massive comic fan, I’ve especially been thinking about that specific medium. I realized, much to my discomfort, that superhero comics do have seemingly inescapable conservative undertones (conservative in this post refers more to ideologies than specific political parties). My goal isn’t to ruin comics for everyone, but I don’t think we should ignore these elements that, in my option, may be issues.

Firstly, the incredibly objective morality. Good guys are good guys. Bad guys are bad guys. Simple, clean lines. Objective morality. This isn’t an instant death sentence (nothing is in this post, and the goal isn’t to find one), I myself have talked here before about how superheroes fighting supervillains is usually more representative of an ideological battle. Still, there is a noticeable objective to it all, which may not be healthy, especially considering the next point.

Secondly, there is the use of force. Aside from killing, and sometimes not aside from killing, the heroes are allowed to use whatever force they deem necessary to stop the villains. They are rarely accused of going too far; they are in the objective moral right and therefore have free reign.

I’m not going to act like everything I wrote was some sort of phenomenal analysis, it was more me dumping my thoughts into words, because I believe those thoughts are worth further thought.

That’s not all I want to talk about, but I’ll get to everything else, which mostly relates to economics, in a later post (if I find time).

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I would like to know how this is a conservative ideology? Texas, which has many conservative ideologies, has banned vigilantism on a state level. So it really shouldn’t be counted as a conservative ideology.
What’s wrong with good guys vs bad guys. The Joker is, undoubtedly, a bad guy. Men like him are extremely evil. Batman is the good guy that fights that evil bad guy. People have loved this epic battle for generations.
So I say all this to say I don’t really get it.

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You can blame a lot of politics in the comic book industry to the Comics Code. At the height of the second Red Scare (anti-communist sentiment being of interest in how it demeaned progressive movements because communists have traditionally recruited from marginalized groups like women and minorities), the industry decided to dodge out of government censorship by making sure that authorities were always respectable (and factually correct in their assessments) while criminals were always evil and wrong, with the “good guys” always clearly winning. Of course, there were also bigoted pieces of crap enforcing the Code, with the classic example being the EC science-fiction comic, where the astronaut taking his helmet off wasn’t allowed to be a Black man, which I challenge anybody to find banned in the Code.

As code enforcement loosened and ultimately fell apart, the political aspects somehow stuck far more than the bans on “puerile” content of sex, graphic violence, criminals succeeding, horror-influenced characters, and so forth. As you point out, we’ve almost gotten the worst of both worlds, because we still have a background where it’s OK to smack around some rando, because he’ll turn out to be the right suspect, but it’s also OK to torture him, because there’s no ban on depicting that sort of gore.

I’ve been considering it sort of a necessary evil to enjoying the genre, but really do hope that writers come around to the possibility that maybe it’s worth worrying about having a top-tier superhero be a billionaire (has anybody ever made a billion dollars without sitting on mass-exploitation?) who props up his image with rhetoric of “job creation” and giving small amounts to charity, while squatting in his impenetrable, secret doomsday bunker with his manservant and huge caches of military-style hardware…

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Yes they have. I’m sure you can look it up.

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Netflix for example. Gained their money honestly. But that’s not really part of the topic.

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An open commitment to objective morality does tend to be a conservative value, but though many liberals give lip service to subjective morality, almost nobody actually believes it. The whole post-modern assertion that truth is relative is a self-defeating proposition since all you have to ask is, “Is the idea that truth is relative an absolute truth?” and the philosophy immediately implodes. I find people tend to tout objections to objective morality when they are trying to escape condemnation for something that is clearly wrong, and yet they almost always cling to very strict notions of objective morality in other areas, so again, virtually nobody is a true moral relativist. I would agree that conservatives are a little more intellectually consistent on this because they don’t generally pretend moral relativism makes any sense.

It’s also worth pointing out that there is no conflict in believing in absolute truth and understanding the nuance and complexities of people’s motivations. I can fully understand that everybody from Hitler to a guy who steals an ice cream bar from a gas station have a complicated series of decisions, motivations, and damages to get them to do their bad deeds and yet still fully condemn their actions as absolutely and objectively wrong. There is no conflict here.

Though supervillains are generally exaggerated in their depravity, I’d argue that the last few decades of comics have done a lot to humanize their villains and make them sympathetic. There are also many villains, like Catwoman and Harley Quinn, who have even been treated as anti-heroes, so I don’t see the lack of nuance you seem to suggest.

As far as the use of force, the idea that using force is a right-wing value is plain inaccurate. Feel free to compare the conservative Tea Party protests of the Obama administration to the liberal BLM/Women’s March/Occupy Wall Street protests of the Obama and Trump administrations. Which protests end up with burned buildings and broken bodies? Obviously, many people in left-wing groups are peaceful, but there are clearly many in the left-wing protests who are not.

It also extremely important to realize that all laws are backed up by force. Try not paying your taxes. Eventually, men with guns will forcefully haul you to jail, and if you resist, then they stop you using clubs, tasers, or guns. Same goes with laws about the educations system, the healthcare system, minimum wage, cake baking, ect. Every law is backed up by men with guns.

Now as far as I’m concerned, both political parties want to pass way too many laws which interfere with how people live their lives and require men with guns to enforce the law, but the left-wing is the side that is even more eager to expand government power and control.

So yeah, I don’t buy your whole premise.

But disconnecting it from the idea of conservative versus liberal and viewing the topic of superheroes being vigilantes who enforce their own personal morality on the world and are vindicated by virtue of being in the right, then yes, this is true, and I think it’s a complicated issue, but I think the actions of sueprheroes are generally justified for that very reason. I do occasionally dislike the actions of superheroes. For instance with Batman, he frequently goes into bars and roughs up people until someone talks or breaks into people’s homes and steals their stuff to figure out if they are committing crimes, and those actions aren’t justified because he doesn’t know those people have done wrong things.

Anyway, I think the question of whether superheroes actions are justified in their actions is a good topic of discussion, but the idea that clinging to a strict morality and enforcing that morality by force is a right-wing idea? Nah.

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@Behemoth Just can’t agree that Batman is a good guy. I believe Alfred and Dick are better guys, and Bruce walks a very fine line. The family operates in a way that helps keep his less desirable behavior in check.

Bruce strikes me as a borderline fascist and skilled manipulator. He’s rich and individualistic and uses disciplinary action to beat up criminals. He isn’t committed to any political affiliation. My assessment.

I personally gravitate to “more” compassionate characters. Wonder Woman, Superman, Oliver Queen. People who don’t go as far as characters like Bruce.

Are comics conservative? Well, you’d have to look at affiliation of writers over time. Some people (Chuck Dixon) have a hard time keeping their views out of their writing. I’d say the answer is sometimes they’re conservative and sometimes they aren’t. Either way, I’d rather read a book by Denny O’Neil.

Conservative deserves a wider definition. My father was “conservative”, but absolutely hated his current party when he passed away. He also supported :rainbow_flag: rights, wasn’t a big fan of guns, and other things typically attached to conservative people.

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There are LGBTQ+ conservatives. And I totally agree with you about Batman. Though I’m not sure he’s a fascist. That may be more from his elseworlds stories. But stuff like Injustice also shows his good side.

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You’re right. I say borderline. Frank Miller forever impacted the way writers view him. I’d say my feelings are very much post-Crisis.

I often feel like Gotham is one city, under Batman, with vigilante justice for all. I’m sure much of my feelings are influenced by TDKR, The Nolan Trilogy, Arkham Games, etc.

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I find people usually throw out fascism to mean, “Something I don’t like,” so just so we can be more clear in our meanings, here’s the definition from Wikipedia.

Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, as well as strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.

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So we’re clear, that’s exactly what I meant.

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Really? How do you see it applying because little if any of that applies in my estimation.

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@BatWatch You don’t see what he does as “forcible suppression of opposition” at all?

He essentially IS the economy of the city.

Just my take on him. Everybody has their own I guess.

I also said borderline fascist. I tried to be clear that the family exists in a way that prevents him from going full tilt boogie.

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To me
Some westerns
Dirty.Harry type movies
Early super heroes like superman and batman
Rorschach in watchmen

Are examples of the American Monomyth
Which has a big impact on our culture and especially certain loner individual who create great havoc in a bold attempt for a cause or just to be noticed.

In the American monomyth, the hero is an outsider who comes into a once-perfect community in peril (the “violated Eden”) to confront the evils that have caused trouble. The hero eschews such things as joining the community, standing apart from them in order to better keep them safe, in a manner that could best be described as vigilantism. Once the evil has been vanquished, the hero either allows himself to absorb into the community (through such means as moving in, marrying, etc.), or he moves on to the next violated Eden.

Turok summary

The major points

Before people lived in an Paradise

Then an Evil From Outsife came

Ordinary Institutions can not handle the Evil

An Outsider uses Vigilante tactics to save the people, disregading the Law

Or in Emergencies, drastic measures must be taken because regular lawful measures do not work
(Sound like anything in the News?)

End Turok

The authors John Lawrence and Robert Jewett seek to understand the relationship between what they call the “American Monomyth” and the society in a modern context.

The idea driving this exploration is the belief that the mythical stories reveal tensions, desires. and anxieties about American democracy in the modern day.

The American Monomyth is a 1977 book by Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence arguing for the existence and cultural importance of an 'American Monomyth, a variation on the classical monomyth as proposed by Joseph Campbell.

Campbell’s monomyth describes a hero’s journey: a hero ventures from the normal world into a supernatural one, winning a decisive victory there and returning with a ‘boon’. In contrast, Jewett and Lawrence define the American monomyth as

“A community in a harmonious
paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.”

In their 2002 book The Myth of the American Superhero (with Lawrence as first author) and their 2003 book Captain America And The Crusade Against Evil: The Dilemma Of Zealous Nationalism (with Jewett as first author), the authors extend the thesis by using examples from both American popular culture and the American religious tradition.

The American Monomyth posits a level of cultural belief in American society that helps to explain the desire in American government to “save” the world.

The Myth of the American Superhero is a scholarly nonfiction book by Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence.

It describes the idealized, fantasy violence so distinctive for American pop culture. The authors show that the American heroic ideal, conveyed in formula stories of "the American monomyth, is explicitly anti-democratic and contagious.

Crusading loners, attracted by guns, bombs, and the call to destroy evil, act out the premises of the myth with tragic consequences. This book shows how Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski have the courage of the mythic convictions ritually enacted by celebrity stars such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Steven Seagal.

The book, published in July 2002, explores the relationship between our entertainments of the past century and national commitment to the ideals of democracy. Stories about superheroes - from the vigilante ideal launched by The Virginian novel a hundred years ago to the latest Spider-Man film or Touched by an Angel TV episode - express despair
about self-managed government and the hope for redemption by powerful individuals who rise above law and institutions.

The Myth of the American Superhero discusses novels, films, videogames and the behavior of national leaders inspired by this monomyth.

THE MYTH OF THE
AMERICAN SUPERHERO
John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett

Partial Table of Comtents

The Birth of a National Monomyth

The Myth of Eden in the American Imagination

The Intruding Evil Other

discusses the novel The Virginian

The Axial Decade of Development
1929 to 1938 Lone Ranger to Superman

The Shape of the Heroic New Paradigmn

Buffalo Bill: Fake History and Celebrities

Blending History and Myth

Teddy Roosevelt and Manifest Destiny

John Wayne and Friends Redeem the Village

Shootist’s The Disciple with a Gun

Death Wish as “Regeneration Through Violence”

Bernard Goetz as Old West Disciple

Urban School Cleaning with Joe Clark

The President as Hero

Independence Day
Air Force One

The Crusade against Government in the Rambo Films

‘The Unforgiven’ as a Redeemer

The Unabomber’s Crusade for the Freedom Club

Fueling the Myth with Ammonium Nitrate Oklahoma City

The Sound of One Hand Killing:
Monomythic Video Games

The Columbine Questions

Star Trek’s American Mission in The Original Series

Star Trek’s Antimythic Bias and Its Own Mythic Ingredients
Who Mourns for Adonais?

Kirk as the Serpent with The Apple in the Garden

The Significance of Dress Up and Play Cosplay

Religious Aspirations of George Lucas

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader as Monomythic Heroes

Fascism, Star Wars’ spiritual Cousin

Star Wars Fascism and Pop Religion

Disaster Politics in Armageddon and Left Behind

Preventing the End Times in Armageddon

The End Times for All Politics in Left Behind

Superheroic Bullet Time in The Matrix

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Superheores used to be ours. I think back on Golden Age Superman who punished arms dealers, mine owners, and corrupt automobile manufacturers. Wonder Woman was the radical feminist who uncovered a Nazi plot to raise the price of milk. The Justice Society preached supporting our allies across national and ethnic borders.

Silver Streak battled against lynchings in Silver Streak Comics #13 from August of 1941.

Kismet, the first Muslim superhero, appeared in Bomber Comics #1 from March of 1944.

Lion Man and Ace Harlem first appeared in 1947.

After WWII, things changed. After the Comics Code, no one wanted to stand out anymore.

Agents of change started to become defenders of the status quo. This is not what they were meant to be. This was something that was done to them. This was something that was done to us.

Don’t believe the propaganda. Superheroes can be superheroes again.

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:+1:

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I’m guessing you don’t know many people who worked for them.

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Comics are morality tales. What is defined as moral changes just as it changes within the society.

The Kefauver hearings and the CCA that came out of it, were very much steps taken at social engineering by those who were in power with a socially conservative frame of mind and reference.

Comic book heroes are by and large vigilantes to one extent or another. Most are not accountable to the police and violate search and seizure and Miranda rights all the time.

Villains are only villains because of social conventions. The Joker isn’t vile and evil, he just has a non-socially acceptable philosophy of action.

Comics are also forms of wish fulfillment.

I find it interesting that comics have gotten more violent over the last 30 years, while the violent crime rate has fallen by 50% over the same time period. I think of it as, it’s one thing to read it, it’s another to live it. People want to escape from their ordinary lives. When violent crime is part of your ordinary world, you don’t want to read about nearly as much because it is exactly that, ordinary. Comics are still about escapism, the question to ask is what are people wanting to escape from now.

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I don’t care for them quite so dark. I find myself reading more and more late Bronze and early Copper because it is lighter. O’Neil on Azrael and The Question are more than dark enough for my tastes.

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I adore both the bronze and silver age. I like the grounded nature of Bronze Age stories. Far more grounded by and large than what came after them. I love the Silver Age for probably the same reasons a fair number of people don’t like it. It’s fun, it’s light, and at its best it’s is perverse and subversive to the era. It is amazing what stuff they got away with that completely went over the heads of the CCA.

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