If you read comics for a while (and I’m only doing for a couple of years now), you notice a certain routine. Deaths really don’t matter as much because they never last and characters become more or less interchangeable. Also, most mainstream are written in a way, that you can always follow the story, no matter if you missed something before. You have to learn to see it as a changing medium and less like finite stories. This is less true for independent comics, of course, because they follow their own rules and don’t have to adhere to the machinery of mass production and franchises. But, no matter if mainstream or independent comic, what never fails to strike me is their relevance. Comics don’t take as long to be produced as movies or books, so it is easier for them to refer to current events. That is why comics can be especially revealing about the era they were published in.
Let’s take an obvious example from the new version of Hellblazer, sorry, The Hellblazer. First John Constantine mentions the possibility of someone that clearly sounds like Donald Trump might become president and at the end of the issue he is reading a newspaper that declares he has indeed won. Curiously, the comic was released before the election but its vision of a world that is at the brink of hell made it more prophetic than most experts.
This row of pages gives us an impression of modern day protest and police brutality that has been occasionally part of the mainstream news for the last couple of years. We see the impulsiveness and fear of the cops, leading to bad decisions, the conflict of fighting violence with violence or with peaceful protest, the tense atmosphere and a superhero standing with “the people”. It is fascinating to see such a political take in a comic book about Superman, who is not fighting Doomsday or some other uber-villain for a change.
The credits page for this Red Lantern issue shows a world in which there is so much rage that it is almost too much to bear, even for a Lantern that thrives on this feeling. Again, after last year’s election campaign and considering the aggressive mood you feel in Germany before this year’s election, rage seems a common denominator.
Part of this rage is being scared of people with different ethnic backgrounds or religions, the good old xenophobia. A few years ago, Geoff Johns created the first Muslim Green Lantern Simon Baz and introduced him properly by showing the development for Muslim-Americans since 9/11, in one of the two finest pages of mainstream comics that deal with real world issues.
Now, in 2016, we see Baz facing the same problems as back then and even commenting on it. And what could be more appropriate at a time where people couldn’t be more divided between calls for distrust and calls for tolerance.
I know, some people consider veganism to be just a fad, but I think it’s here to stay and it is fascinating to see how it becomes more and more normal as it is depicted in many different comics. Here are some examples.
A vegan villain is pretty awesome!
And another one. What a crazy trend. Also, throwing in torture to reference even more political ideas for good measure.
Being vegan as a signifier for being different than the rest.
And even Killer Shark loves vegan food, even if no one believes him because he is, well, Killer Shark.
This example is interesting because it posits veganism as something you need to be strong to try it out, like going on a diet or giving up smoking. It unfortunately diminishes the ideas behind veganism, I think.
And in one of many parallel universes there is at least one more vegetarian super-hero who challenges older generations with their ‘modern’ eating habits.
Even when Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Diana Prince have dinner together, the issue of eating animals is mentioned.
I’m ending my latest survey with two examples of characters channeling what so many people feel now more than ever: that the world is out of control and that it seems hard to not be afraid.
First, we have Captain Marvel confessing her fears to a self-help group. "The world out of control" is one of the most common tropes that shows our perceived loss of control.
And Abe Sapien explaining how normal it is to be afraid all the time, which makes the cynical kid an even more cynical member of our cynical youth.
These examples are not meant to show that the world actually is out of control and that there is nothing to be done, but that comics, just like songs or movies, show this sentiment portrayed for an audience that can identify with it. This way, comics show how people feel in our culture and how relevant it is for us to discuss and deal with these issues so that the world is not actually falling apart. While it is not the majority, there are enough examples of comics that show them to be more than just simple “good guys beat up bad guys”-escapism. And what could be more relevant than being more than escapism these days?