Comics have always had messages in them. Some were simple, healthy, nonpartisan and noncontroversial, like “Crime does not pay.” But ever since I was a boy and I picked up my copy of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spiderman Issue #71, “With this Gun…” I’ve made it a point to observe what messages, if any, are on display in any given kids’ story. “With this Gun…” doomed my comics collection. When I showed the issue to my dad, never a comics fan to begin with, and pointed out that I thought the comic was biased against Second Amendment supporters, he agreed. Strongly. And that meant our NRA-supporting household wasn’t going to be subscribing to that nonsense anymore.
It was a painful time, saying goodbye to Spiderman, The Avengers, Hulk, Daredevil, and others. And it was one of the first times I recall thinking my dad could be wrong. After all, I reasoned, if I noticed the bias and pointed it out, how would this propaganda “rot my brain”? But it signaled the end of my comics obsession, though these costumed heroes retained a soft spot in my heart I feel to this day. Unlike those who complain about Superheroes taking over the movies, I enjoy it. They are larger than life absurd spectacles meant to be seen on the big screen. I find that the drama of Downton Abbey doesn’t lose its power on my home television or streaming through my computer, but Hulk smashing does.
With Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron taking over multiplexes and kids clamoring to see it over and over again, parents may want to know what, if any messages are in the film. Not necessarily to ban viewing or attempt to stamp out a love of superheroes, but in order to be aware of the kinds of values their kids are subjected to, so that they may come up with a way to counter that cultural input.
Luckily, the latest Avengers is not heavy on the message-making. Nevertheless, I offer the four most socially liberal messages found in Avengers: Age of Ultron:
4. Iron Man lets loose with a profane outburst and Captain America admonishes him with a corrective reminder, “Language!” This provides the background for a running joke throughout the film about Captain America being such a fuddy-duddy about profanity. Captain America keeps asking if he’ll ever live it down. It’s a funny bit. But why should Cap feel he’s in the wrong? For kids (and adults), wouldn’t it be better if they felt compelled to live up to Cap’s higher standard rather than for Cap to live down to ours?
3. Bruce Banner is getting out of the shower and is confronted by Black Widow. Romantic tension ensues during which Banner laments that it’s too late for them to share the shower and it’s clear Black Widow is regretting it as well. It’s an admittedly funny, awkward moment, but given this is a movie primarily for kids, and given the hyper-sexual culture in which we live, do we need this in our Disney/Marvel movies? We’re not talking about awkward almost-kiss moment, but an awkward, “I would really like to see you naked in the shower with me moment.” Seems like we’re catering to the adults instead of the kids here.
2. Captain America talks to Bruce Banner at a bar and notes that he observed the flirtations of the Black Widow with Dr. Banner. He encourages Dr. Banner to act on it. It’s not much, but it appears that Cap is encouraging a modern-day hook-up. Cap is from the 1940s and is the embodiment of American virtue and values. If Cap says it, it’s okay.
1. Tony Stark is piloting an Avengers aircraft, and as the camera moves across the scene, we see he has a sticker posted on the side of the cockpit. It reads, “Jarvis is my copilot.” It’s a play on “God is my copilot.” Jarvis is Stark’s computer program that manages his house, Iron Man systems, and other robotics. It’s funny, and it gets a big laugh. But it’s a laugh in-step with the larger angry-atheist movement’s antics which include replacing the Christian fish with an “evolution fish” with legs.
The good news is that unlike in many Hollywood productions, anything objectionable here is more a reflection of our broader culture than anything that seemed to be inserted specifically to make a point. Besides, whatever objectionable there is in the Avengers is overshadowed by the conservative values of the importance of family, character, sacrifice, honoring our nation’s veterans, and the need to stand against evil.