The Revolt of the Comic Books

revolt of the comic books

Excellent article on the attempts of superhero comics to deal to critique American politics, and how they fail:

The Superhero Registration Act is a straightforward analogue of the USA PATRIOT Act; the rhetoric of its opponents could have been cribbed from an ACLU brief. But under scrutiny, their civil libertarian arguments turn out to hold very little water in the fictional context. The “liberty” the act infringes is the right of well-meaning masked vigilantes, many wielding incredible destructive power, to operate unaccountably, outside the law — a right no sane society recognizes. In one uneasy scene, an anti-registration hero points out that the law would subject heroes to lawsuits filed by those they apprehend. In another, registered hero Wonder Man is forced to wait several whole minutes for approval before barging into a warehouse full of armed spies from Atlantis. Protests about the law’s threat to privacy ring a bit hollow coming from heroes accustomed to breaking into buildings, reading minds, or peering through walls without bothering to obtain search warrants. Captain America bristles at the thought of “Washington … telling us who the supervillains are,” but his insistence that heroes must be “above” politics amounts to the claim that messy democratic deliberation can only hamper the good guys’ efforts to protect America. The putative dissident suddenly sounds suspiciously like Director of National Intelligence Mitch McConnell defending warrantless spying.

I haven’t read Ellis’s Black Summer yet (I have issue 0, just need to find the time), but I suspect it falls into the same trap: Horus’s murder of the president is little different from the US’s invasion of Iraq.

Full Story: American Prospect).

(via American Samizdat).


  1. “…a right no sane society recognizes.”

    Clearly this means all magickians need to be registered with the government.

  2. did she even fucking read civil war? the registration act wasn’t imposed only on superheros, but on all mutants. Of course, there’s what, like 206 of them, but that’s not the point, the point is that mutants who had no desire to fight crime were being forced into service or declared non-entities and incarcerated.

    this is particularly mis-leading:

    “The “liberty” the act infringes is the right of well-meaning masked vigilantes, many wielding incredible destructive power, to operate unaccountably, outside the law — a right no sane society recognizes.”

    No, the liberty the act infringes upon is for individuals who are ‘queerly other’ to live their life outside of the watchful eye of some omnipresent big brother.

    While I agree with much of the critique, I feel that this writer has overlooked the build-up to Civil War and taken it at face value, while in reality the bulk of what happened during the series was the result of years of manipulation from behind the scenes (see alias, new x-men, secret wars, etc) And the untouched trope in Julian Sanchez’s arguement is that costumed superheros are about how we as a society deal with the other, and that the registration act wasn’t just commenting on the use or abuse of power, but about illegal immigration, about homosexual counter-public spheres, about the right to privacy, and about traditionalists fear of the forces of change and the coming post-human.

    To see the incredible complexity of Marvel’s universe as little more than a political editorial commentary is to overlook a living body of myth that continues to manifest at the cutting edge of pop culture and human evolution.

    Obviously, someone hasn’t read Decimation

  3. sorry, just realized I called Julian ‘she’ – I have no idea what gender Julian self-identifies as, and apologize for the confusion

  4. I’ve only read a little of Civil War, and none of Decimation. In fact the only Marvel comic I’ve read in the past few years is X-Factor, so I don’t have a lot of context for the plot. That said…

    I believe Sanchez’s argument is that using super heroes in this way is an imperfect metaphor due to the fascism inherent in the genre. Did you read the full article? I just noticed that I forgot to include the link (fixed now). Sanchez says: “Perhaps the most interesting thing about these stories is why they fail. For as much as they seek to tease out the complexity and moral ambiguity of their themes, the authors of most of these tales clearly mean to convey a liberal or civil libertarian message. […] These mixed messages shouldn’t be blamed (solely) on the comics’ creators, though.” Then he goes on to talk about the failings of the superhero genre.

    Reading Spiderman’s monologue (, it’s obvious that the creators behind Civil War had their hearts in the right place, but as Sanchez points out it *is* rather absurd to have characters who routinely break into buildings, read minds, and peer through walls without warrants become mouthpieces for the right to privacy.

    Something else interesting I just remembered: She Hulk, who is now apparently an attorney, deals with some of those less savory actions of superheroes by defending supervillains who’s rights have been violated by superheroes. At first she objected to her firm’s defending supervillains, but she ended up being one of the characters who defended the registration act.

    Slightly off topic: The superhero genre has of course been deconstructed to death by this point, but one of the best, but most often overlooked, treatments of subject I’ve read is Marshal Law. It deals with the inherent fascism of the genre in a pretty interesting way.

  5. I’m expecting a few suprises from Black Summer since it really does seem to follow the revelatory structure of a novel (as opposed to just sort of resembling one like alot of current superhero fiction) and as such I reckon there will be some thought-provoking twists and turns; Warren Ellis is lucky/clever in that he’s not beholden to the ongoing demands of a liscensed franchise.

    And I think there are alot of ways to spin a superhero; a reading of them as facist is perfectly logical but there are other unexplored angles possible, I think. The whole Batman idea has a parallel with the romance of the frontiersman; an environment must be tamed,a rough barely civilised justice. Since Batman would make little sense in a wild west context (and Zorro’s got it covered anyway) I’m not suprised that some of the most successful interpretations of the character have ’40s-ish film noir undercurrent– the film noir genre being another site for brutal amoral fictional universes.

    P.S Is it absurd for characters who routinely break and enter and invade the sovereign psyche’s of other people to fight for the right to privacy? I can’t speak for anyone else but I don’t feel like politics is being discussed at all unless each viewpoint has brought at least one brazen example of hypocrisy to the table… ;?)

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