Justice League: The conservatism of comic books

Mark Judge | Journalist and filmmaker

When the left finally completes its revolution in America, one of the final things to go will be comic books. The art form is just too conservative to survive once everything else has been banned. In fact, a Marxist did attempt to suppress comics once before, in the 1950s. (I know, I know liberals, I’m overreacting — the next thing you know I’ll claim they would ban a rodeo clown.)

I was thinking of comics because I recently purchased what may be one of the largest books ever published, 75 Years of DC Comics. I grew up on Marvel and DC comics in the 1970s, and I still keep a toe in that world to keep up with the latest movies and story lines. Over the last year I started hearing about a new book about comics books that was roughly the size of small car. There were stories of UPS people getting hospitalized trying to deliver the thing, and of dogs (and not even small ones) getting crushed when it tipped over.

I had to check it out. It arrived and yes, indeed, 75 Years of DC Comics, written by Paul Levitz, is massive. Forget about reading it on your lap. It’s about six inches thick and the length and width of a bathroom counter. Lifting it takes effort.

But the inside! Author Paul Levitz has written a comprehensive history of DC, the home of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman, among others. The book is loaded with glorious images from DC comics through the decades, from it’s founding in 1934 up to 2010. In our age of oppressive political correctness, superheroes retain a purity that even academics find difficult to co-opt or dismantle. The male heroes are turbo jocks, muscular and graceful as they leap between buildings. The female heroes are are pure adolescent id sex fantasy, from the classic Wonder Woman’s curves to Power Girl’s massive chest. Liberals in academia and the culture at large love to claim that there is ambiguity in some superheroes — Superman is an illegal immigrant! Batman hates guns! — but these are usually just weak attempts to claim ownership of something whose primal appeal cannot be denied.

For most superheroes, the driving motivation is a hatred for crime. They don’t want to hear excuses, they don’t care how rich or poor you are — if you are caught robbing a bank or assaulting a woman, or running a crime syndicate, you are going to get an ass whipping. The most arresting examples, of course, are Batman and Superman, DC’s iconic and most popular heroes. Liberals love to claim that Batman is a dark and ambiguous anti-hero, but this is just talk to avoid being tainted with anything that might be right-wing. 75 Years of DC Comics celebrates the work of Batman Creator Bob Kane, hardly an anarchist, as well as “The Dark Knight Returns,” the stunning 1980s graphic novel by Frank Miller, who also created “300,” probably the most conservative film ever made. A couple years ago Miller blasted Occupy Wall Street, and his law and order version of Batman was once called a “fascistic Reagan-era hero” by New Yorker cartoonist Art Spiegelman. And in the recent Batman movies, Bruce Wayne tries to save Gotham City from the League of Shadows, an anarchist group that’s like a better trained Occupy Wall Street.

Liberalism’s distrust of comics goes back to Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist who launched a crusade in the 1950s against the ill effects of comic  books, even writing a book about it, Seduction of the Innocent. Liberals love to finger Wertham as a typical 1950s McCarthyite tight ass, but in fact he was a Marxist and Freudian who thought comics were sexual and political propaganda for the West.

Wertham’s intolerance has survived in the modern left. The rubble from the World Trade Center attack of September 11, 2001 was still smoldering when feminist Marina Warner took to the pages of the New York Times to warn about the popularity of heroes like Harry Potter and the warriors in the Lord of the Rings, as well as comic books. “This tradition assumes that there is only one way to view the world,” she wrote,  “as a titanic battle between good and evil, with the triumphant goals of destruction, extermination, and annihilation.” Most American might be forgiven, as they watched an attack whose scale was like something out of Superman, for wishing the annihilation of the real-life monsters who had done it. And who can forget Dana Stevens review in Slate of “300,” the film based on Frank Miller’s comic? “If ‘300,’ the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s,” Stevens wrote, “it would be studied today alongside ‘The Eternal Jew’ as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war.

In is book War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film, self-described “liberal moralist” Marc DiPaolo argues that comics can be separated into two categories: good art and bad art. Taking Tolstoy’s book What is Art? as his inspiration, DiPaolo argues that good art promotes “the universal, egalitarian, and populist ideals of Leo Tolstoy and would, therefore, be considered good art.” Conservatism, on the other hand, promotes “a kind of sectarian and nationalistic worldview” and would be considered bad art.  The Man of Steel falls into this category: “Superman for one might well be seen as the physical embodiment of all these ‘bad’ ideas: a God-man dressed in the American flag that promises to fight for ‘truth, justice, and the American way.’” Good art is something like the X-Men, who represent oppressed minorities.

DiPaolo’s biggest blunder is his assessment of Watchmen, the comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which is honored in 75 years of DC Comics. DiPaolo calls Watchmen “a left-wing satire of Reagan-era America,” then quotes comic book scholar Douglas Wolk: “Watchmen systematically undermines the entire premise of adventure stories: not only that evil van be vanquished and that doing good can save the world but that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are easy to apply. It upends the principles of heroic victory and heroic self-sacrifice, and at the end it looks like saving the world may not have been a good idea anyway.”

One wonders if these critics actually read the book. Because the villain in Watchmen is Ozymandias, a man who models himself after Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II and tries to bring about world peace by triggered a nuclear bomb. Ozymandias believes that there is no moral difference between the West and the Soviet Union, and therefore it will take a nuclear accident to bring both sides to their senses. He is a classic Cold War utopian liberal. And his guilt will ultimately be revealed by an article in The New Frontiersman, a right-wing newspaper read by Rorschach, a Watchmen character and precursor to the Tea Party who hates “liberals and intellectuals.”

And, of course, there is the very existence of the environmental nightmare that is 75 Years of DC Comics. They must have felled half the rainforest to publish it.

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