Recently, I dived back into reading comics (thereby neglecting my movie watching) and my collection of comic examples has become crazy huge, so today I’ll celebrate my 300th blog post (seriously, 300! 280,000 words! But who’s counting?) with an extra-long comic edition. And if you think “I can skip this one, I don’t care about comics”, please give it try anyway, maybe you’ll see that it doesn’t just have to be about superheroes.
In this issue of Green Arrow, Oliver Queen positions himself as a leader for change in the future. He provides “non-profit social aid” and “free technology [for] the masses.” I love how he says that those things are a right and shouldn’t be a privilege. Who’s to say comics can’t comment on current politics?
This is one of my favorite panels ever because it is such a simple, poignant and funny comment on capitalism.
Compare this with an example from an “old” comic that also mocks consumerism in a funny-naïve way that is typical for the writing style of the past. It is still refreshing considering how rarely such things were really tackled in comics back then.
Next we look at a line of pages from a Fantastic Four comic that shows one of the rare instances of a utopia. Science-fiction (in comics and otherwise) normally just dabbles in dystopia (I really should write about my thesis about this here sometime), but the Fantastic Four represent scientists who work for the greater good. So we get this fictional community called Eden (of all names!). It’s mostly science-babble that doesn’t mean anything and it proposes that 50s idea of science which can solve all our problems. I don’t think so but it is interesting to see this trope used again. Is it a desire for “simpler” times? At least it acknowledges overpopulation as a problem we still haven’t figured out.
Back to capitalism with this Gothamesque look at terrible working conditions from the time of industrialism. I like how the bosses seem worried about the workers’ anger but don’t seem to consider that the working conditions might be the problem.
One of many examples from Ales Kot’s work (he is simply one of the best writers out there, fearless and poetic) in which Namor (the Sub-Mariner) says we shouldn’t trust the terrorist propaganda. Since Namor is traditionally considered to be more a villain than a hero, we have to assume that he means propaganda that calls people “terrorists” if they don’t fit in. It is somewhat ambiguous but I love Kot for throwing in things like that to challenge readers.
Or how about a cop discussing with a ghost whether the U.N. actually does what its ideals promise or if that also is just propaganda for corruption and hypocrisy. The ghost is more or less a villain speaking here but the questions that are raised still ring somewhat true.
Let’s move over to the rather wonderful Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona. In this issue, Kamala Khan, our hero, debates with some teens who have been used by a villain to fight for a purposedly greater good. I find this extremely fascinating as the teens’ concerns are understandable (again, overpopulation is taken really seriously) and their willingness to do something radical that doesn’t really solve the problem also feels familiar at a time when people are very willing to follow demagogues who promise change. Kamala’s rant is so powerful and good, telling us that young people are important and that we should ignore the media’s lamenting of them. She is a real superhero in the sense that she really wants to change something, despite all her insecurities and fears. This issue perfectly portrays the aimlessness of young people who are actually concerned but don’t know what to do with it because their parents stopped listening.
Let’s finish with two other series that question our culture in its principles and call for a change of mind rather than a radical revolution. Brian Wood gives us (the very Quinn-like) view of humanity before and after civilization, of a time when there was a balance which shows that humans are not inherently flawed.
From there he moves on to the idea that Earth has been so good to us that it is hard to understand why our culture treats it so badly and without any thought of consequences at all.
Several issues later he makes the point again that humans (which he unfortunately says instead of “this culture” or “civilization”) tipped the balance that had existed on Earth and that it is now almost too late if there is no one trying to change the flow of the river.
I want to finish with more wonder from Ales Kot who uses the concept of the Winter Soldier to do what he always does, to talk about everything, because, why not? He knows how much power an artist has. This first panel/page (Marco Rudy is one of the most underrated artists out there and the perfect combination for Kot) hints at the idea of evolution being able to continue to get to a point of utopia that is simply brought on by science but through a natural evolution to even greater things. He also acknowledges the whole story of humanity that includes tribal and industrialized cultures.
This next page (actually from an earlier issue) reinforces that idea of an evolution that goes further than we can imagine, further than our ignorant idea of being the final product of evolution, being the top of the food chain, the final masterpiece. Sure, the things mentioned here seem fantastical, but it is the idea, the vision that fascinate me, this notion that, if we don’t destroy ourselves, we could become more than we are now. That there is hope if we can imagine to let evolution continue by stopping to meddle with it and our planet until there is no room left for it. He uses telepathy to illustrate how humans always possessed something that helped them (which Quinn calls “the knowledge of how to live”), which was suppressed and “feared” by civilization but which could be rediscovered. If you read Daniel Quinn (or at least my summaries), this could be as fascinating as it is to me. Not to mention to find such ideas in the pages of a comic book whose hero is the sidekick of Captain America, published by a billion dollar company which is owned by Disney.
Finally (really), just another page from Ales Kot (from the short comic series The Surface that deserves its own lengthy analysis) that summarizes everything I'm doing here - looking under the surface and asking people to do the same. It's amazing what you find there. The burning in your eyes eventually stops. The clarity that follows is worth it.
This serves as my personal proof for the potential and power of comics. This won’t be the last time I try to demonstrate that here.