I Am Superman, And I Can Do Anything


Reason Contributing Editor Julian Sanchez commands the cover of The American Prospect this month with a compact-but-informative piece on comic books in the War on Terror. For all the hand-wringing (especially this year) about movies that deal with rendition or Iraq or leaders of the free world who don't always exhibit veracity and wisdom, comics have been attacking these themes since right after the attacks. And they got cynical way before Hollywood did. (I haven't heard of any movies save Death of a President which show George W. Bush taking one to the temple, but I've seen Bush stripped naked and forced to kiss a supervillain's feet in Ultimate X-Men, and I've seen a Bush surrogate in The Authority dumped out of a portal into the streets of Baghdad, ostensibly to be murdered by a mob.)

Still, Sanchez argues that they're still pretty superficial:

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. So much so that in 2003, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies released a screed titled "The Betrayal of Captain America," by right-wing pundit Michael Medved, decrying leftist infiltration of comics; that same year, professional bluenose Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center condemned Superman as a Ba'athist sympathizer. Yet when these stories go beyond leftish imitations of a previous generation's simplistic propaganda comics, the allegories tend to collapse under the weight of their own internal contradictions. There are, of course, openly conservative comics—ranging from the ludicrous Liberality for All (starring a cyborg Sean Hannity!) to Bill Willingham's brilliantly layered Fables. But there is often a strong (if unintended) neoconservative subtext even in stories by left-leaning authors.

Last year I barely survived a marathon read of right-wing science fiction about the WoT.