A Superhero Comic Book’s Liberal Pieties - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Superhero Comic Book’s Liberal Pieties

This weekend Captain America: Civil War, based on the Marvel comic book series Civil War, opens in theaters. In both the movie and the comic, superheroes are divided over whether government should exercise more control over the superhero community.

Does this mean that comic-book movies, like so much else out of Hollywood, are about to take a very liberal turn? Maybe, maybe not. First, it’s not clear how much the movie (I haven’t seen it yet) hews to the comic book. For example, from the previews it appears that the superheroes the Vision and Black Panther are on the pro-government side while in the comic they are not. Furthermore, most comic-book movies have avoided liberal politics, and, in a few cases, like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and Man of Steel, they actually have conservative themes.

Rather, what should concern us is that the movie will cause a new generation to seek out the graphic novel version of Civil War, a comic where liberalism all but drips off the page.

Written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Steve McNiven, Civil War begins with a group of young superheroes dubbed the “New Warriors” who are trying to capture four supervillains. They nab three of the villains, but a fourth, called “Nitro,” escapes. One of the New Warriors pursues Nitro and tries to subdue him by smashing him into a school bus that just happens to be parked next to a grammar school. Unfortunately, the supervillain is called Nitro for a reason, and the ensuing explosion he creates kills a few dozen children.

The media and much of America blames the tragedy on the inexperience of the New Warriors and not on the devious Nitro. (That Nitro is merely the “McGuffin” is evidenced by the fact he makes no other appearance in the story.) Congress responds by proposing the Registration Act that will require all superheroes to register with the federal government, receive proper training, and become public employees.

Following a memorial service for the victims, Tony Stark (Iron Man) is accosted by a woman named Miriam Sharpe whose son was killed in the explosion. She blames Stark for her loss. Sharpe becomes a spokeswoman for the Registration Act and Stark, shaken by his encounter with her, decides to support it as well.

The Registration Act divides the superhero community, with those supporting saying it will improve safety and superheroes’ public image, while those opposing it argue that it threatens their secret identities and goes against tradition. As the Act nears passage, a government agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (if you don’t know what S.H.I.E.L.D. is, go here) readies a unit to arrest superheroes that don’t register. The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. confront Captain America, expecting him to join them. He refuses, a fight ensues, and Captain America escapes. Soon, most superheroes are taking sides, with the pro-registration side led by Iron Man, and the anti-registration side led by Captain America. Shortly thereafter, the Registration Act becomes law. While the forces behind Captain America continue to fight crime, they are now pursued by Iron Man’s group and S.H.I.E.L.D. S.H.I.E.L.D. floods the streets with its agents, with one effect being that crime hits an all-time low.

If this sounds a lot like the gun control debate, well, that’s probably not an accident. In a recent interview, author Millar said, “In the real world, if somebody had superpowers, I’d like them to be registered in the same way that somebody who has a gun has to carry a license. But a gun can kill several people while a superhero can kill several thousands of people, so on a pragmatic level I’m 100% on Tony [Stark]’s side. Maybe on a romantic level, Cap’s position makes sense but I don’t think anybody in the real world would really want that.”

Civil War was not Millar’s first instance of infusing comics with liberal politics. Earlier in the decade he wrote “The Tomorrow People,” the first installation of The Ultimate X-Men, which portrayed then-President George W. Bush in a rather unflattering light. It’s no surprise, then, that Millar later referred to the Bush Administration as an “un-elected junta sitting in the Oval Office” that had engineered a “perpetual state of war and fear.” Millar has also written Superman: Red Son which portrays the Man of Steel as a Soviet superhero and The Ultimates in which superheroes from Russia, China, and North Korea invade the imperial United States.

Indeed, Millar is part of a trend. Back in 2014, comic-book artists Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche wrote in the Wall Street Journal that modern comics have descended “into political correctness, moral ambiguity and leftist ideology.” They’re weren’t wrong. Recently, Marvel cast Captain America in the roll of fighting American “terrorists” who are trying to stop illegal immigration. This follows comics where Captain America went after groups that looked a lot like the Tea Party and views America through the lens of Noam Chomsky. Meanwhile, Spider-Man has teamed up with President Obama, and Superman has gone to the United Nations, renounced his American citizenship, and declared himself a globalist. There are exceptions — see comics written by Frank Miller, for instance. But they are exceptions. The politics of comics like Civil War are increasingly the rule.

Some defenders of Civil War claim that Captain America represents freedom and Iron Man authoritarianism. Yet, nowhere in the series is freedom ever referred to as an ideal worth fighting for. In fact, the word “freedom” appears only once in the series, and then only to dismiss two superheroes as ones whose “freedom means so little to them” when they defect to Iron Man’s side. Rather, Captain America’s side claims it is standing up for “tradition,” something that is breezily dismissed as the “Wild West.” Iron Man’s partisans realize they are living in a “different world” while Captain America’s supporters want things to be the “way they’ve always been.” The Registration Act will make superheroes “legitimate” while weeding out “the kids, the amateurs, and the sociopaths.”

The conflict ends with a pitched battle in New York City. Captain America’s side is on the verge of winning and Captain America is about to kill Iron Man when he is tackled by a group of police officers, firemen, and EMTs. At that point Captain America realizes that his side is “not fighting for the people anymore,” that they’re “just fighting.” He orders his side to stand down. Captain America is put in prison, some of his supporters go underground or flee to Canada, while the remainder are amnestied.

In the aftermath, things couldn’t be going better for Iron Man’s side. “Working with the government,” says Iron Man supporter Reed Richards, “our remit has moved beyond law and order and we’re now tackling everything from the environment to global poverty.” If only Lyndon Johnson had the help of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, who knows how successful his Great Society would have been!

In the closing scenes, Tony Stark converses with Miriam Sharpe. He reveals to her that he and some other “big brains” in the superhero community have “a hundred ideas for a safer world” and that the “best is yet to come.” Yep, really smart people with big ideas working with the government can make our society so much better — that’s the lesson we want to impart to young people.

As Andrew Breitbart once said, politics is downstream from culture. That the infestation of liberal politics has seeped all the way into comic books is a good indication of how successful liberals have been in the culture war. Is it any wonder, then, that millennials have a higher opinion of socialism than capitalism? Unfortunately, there is no indication that the current trend in comics will end any time soon, and now, thanks to a new movie, a very liberal comic book series is likely to get a significant boost.

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