If you’re a long time comics fan, then there is absolutely no doubt that you’ve had at least one or two(hundred) conversations about the state of political discourse within the pages of the books we love to read.
Those on the extreme left(who tend to be the ones writing a good portion of mainstream Marvel and DC books nowadays) are shoving their insane politics down the throats of their readers and the fans of those same politics tend to try and shout down anyone who disagrees with either the politics themselves or how they are portrayed in the medium, often citing “comics have always been political” as the reason for why no one is allowed to offer a criticism or complaint of the current state of politics in comics.
This argumentation is, simply put, absolute fucking nonsense.
It’s not the fact that they claim “comics have always been political” either. That’s definitely true. At the very least, early comics have always had an element of political commentary within their pages. Captain America #1(released way back in 1941) literally has Cap punching out Hitler on the fucking cover.
Captain America, as a character, was devised as a way of combating Nazism by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon(both of which were born to Jewish families) because it was the best way they had at the time to display their disgust with what Adolf Hitler was doing to Jews in Europe. It was also a good piece of propaganda to show how important and “All American” it was for a character like Cap(who, like Superman before him, was meant to represent the glory of the ol U S of A) to be, quite literally, taking the fight to the Nazi scum across the pond.
As time went on, and things like the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s began to pick up more and more steam, we saw Kirby join forces with Stan Lee to create X-men, a comic about a super-powered group of mutants who were literally an allegory for how black Americans were being mistreated and distrusted by the rest of the American population. They even went so far with their allegory to create in-universe versions of popular Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in Charles Xavier and Magneto respectively to not only show the element of an oppressed people fighting against their oppressors, but to also show how difference in ideology(even if they ultimately desire the same goal) can be as much of a struggle to deal with as the oppressive forces themselves.
While this was considerably less “on the nose” in the political sense than the Nazi punching of Captain America, it was still relevant to the political conversations of the time. However, the less “on the nose” element of the X-men’s political commentary did more to get people thinking about what the comic was trying to say than giving them something very blatant that they didn’t even need to think about.
I am firm in my belief that with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby using the Civil Rights Movement as a backdrop for their story, and periodically bringing up the elements of humans wanting those whom they feared and did not yet understand killed, definitely got young readers of the time thinking about the real life ramifications of what the older men and women of their own society were doing to black people. With X-men‘s depiction of bigotry and mistreatment of your fellow man planted as a seed in the minds of children in the 60s, it’s no doubt that it had a positive impact on changing the views of the younger generation about racial equality and harmony.
So, that all being said, what’s the problem the current state of political discourse in modern comics?
Well, for one, they have about as much subtlety in their messaging as Cap punching Hitler, without understanding that the Nazi punching in the 1940s comic was relevant to a fucking world war that was going on where actual fucking genocide was occurring and what they are trying to bash over the heads of their readers comes across and impotent rage over shit that really isn’t that big of a deal(or has been shown to be factually incorrect).
Take, for example, that cancelled Mockingbird series from 2016.
Let’s just ignore that this cover(of the last issue before the series was ultimately cancelled) has about as much subtlety as being hit in the back of the head with a fucking sledgehammer and focus on some of the content of the book, shall we?
In the 2016 Mockingbird series, we, as readers, were repeatedly beaten over the head about how hard it is to be a female superhero and how it was, somehow, the fault of the male heroes(and men in general) for why a fucking superhero has such a hard time.
I mean, just read this shit.
Holy fucking cringe, Batman.
And see, the problem isn’t that they are discussing feminist politics in a superhero comic. Done the right way, even a guy like me(who is adamantly antifeminist) could find some interest in this political thought that differs from my own. But how they did it in this comic? Not only is it something that isn’t going to make me think differently about how I feel about feminism and feminists, but it’s also going to make me mock and deride those same people when they use this series as a good example of what they want to see more of in comics.
And therein likes the main issue of the current state of politics in comics. We went from stuff that was thought provoking and really made us consider with more depth about the political state of the world around us to stuff specifically made to advance one type of political ideology over any other. Politics in comics have become just another device for those on the extreme left to shame and shout at anyone who might have a disagreement with them, rather than trying to change the minds of others slowly and over time.
So, sure, comics have always been political.
But the way modern comics have taken their politics has gotten many, including myself, to avoid most modern comics because we’re not gonna pay $3.99 a fucking issue to be preached at by privileged writers who want to give us shit because we might be white or male.