Action Comics 42 DCSometimes people ask me why I write on comic books. The reason is because culture matters, and these days comic book creators see themselves as activist-storytellers instead of simply storytellers. Superman: Action Comics #42 is the perfect example of how modern writers attempt to do their small part to inculcate the “correct” ideological bias into readers.

Superman Justice AC42Evil white cops: Check. Police phalanx marched into place with ominous close-up on black boots: Check. Angelic minority voices of peace and reason within the ranks of both law enforcement and the protesters: Check.

“We’re going to beat the hell out of you. And you’re going to crack. You’re going to fight back. And then we’re going to roll over every other moron on this street,” says Sergeant Binghamton to Superman. The whole issue left Business Insider’s Joshua Rivera “breathless.”

Superman Business InsiderMr. Rivera wrote:

It’s a moment that echoes similar events that have unfolded across the country recently in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore, where law enforcement — primed to use excessive force — attempt to strong-arm peaceful citizens into submission. Like in those cities, the smallest miscalculation can lead to utter chaos.

When a Metropolis citizen then gets unruly, the commanding officer sees it as an opportunity to march on those gathered, with batons and shields at the ready — and then Superman, absolutely exhausted from his fight, places himself in between the crowd and the cops.

It’s a beautiful, arresting image by artist Aaron Kuder and colorist Tomeu Morey, a cathartic moment for anyone who saw the shocking imagery coming out of Ferguson and felt utterly powerless. But that’s not even the real gut punch.

The cops march anyway, raining tear gas on the citizens and even attacking an officer who objects to the proceedings— while Jimmy Olsen photographs the entire ugly affair. […] I still haven’t caught my breath.

Modern comic book writers embrace activism because left-leaning sites like Business Insider write op-eds about how said activists leave them “breathless.”

Accuracy and nuance are ignored because Business Insider writers are not left “breathless” when they read about Baltimore cops who are ordered to “give space” to looters and rioters.

Baltimore lootingMr. Rivera would probably not call it a “beautiful image” if Aaron Kuder drew his inspiration from the Ferguson, Missouri looters who ran off into the night with as much liquor and alcohol as they could carry.

Liquor Looter FergusonFox also covered the Superman story with straight-news reporting. Brian Henry interviewed Dimitrios Fragiskatos, the manager of Midtown Comics in New York City, and Patrick Colligan, president of the NJ State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, for his July 31 piece.

Mr. Henry never used words like “breathless,” so of course Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston wrote up something special to allow his readers to get out their Two Minutes Hate on Fox.

Bleeding Cool Action Comics 42The interesting thing is, all the people talking about “lies” and “propaganda” never point out the “lies” and “propaganda” in Mr. Henry’s reporting. Even his headline is politically neutral: “Superman fights the police in new comic paralleling Ferguson riots”.

Superman Action Comics 42 CopIn short, comic book writers in 2015 do not simply see their work as “just” a comic book. Writers like Dan Slott — who has been openly political in his Twitter feed — will trot out that sort of sentiment when they’re exposed by yours truly or writers like Hube at Colossus of Rhodey, but in general they see themselves as social justice foot soldiers.

Action Comics Superman JusticeMr. Colligan’s comment to Fox sums up how a lot of comic book readers feel these days:

“Comic books are taking on social issues lately and maybe they should get back to taking on superheroes and making people laugh.”

As long as writers continue shoehorning their personal politics into titles or saying nasty things on social media platforms — while also behaving like Mark “fuck off” Waid when they receive legitimate push back — the industry will continue to founder. It’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Mark Waid F off tweet

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

38 comments

  1. I never allowed my kids to buy comics, even though i found them fun when I was a kid. It’s like having your kid indoctrinated by Noam Chomsky, if Noam Chomsky was also a fat misogynist wearing a porkpie hat.

    1. That’s a tough call as a parent. To me, if you were reading the comics as well (assuming the kids were middle-school-aged or maybe slightly older) then you could talk about all the weird attempts at political indoctrination with them. If you don’t introduce them to Chomsky-esque thinking, then their peers and teachers eventually will.

  2. Well, Dean Cain is the only REAL Superman, and he just threw in with Gamergate.

    Seems kinda right that the incarnation of Superman focused most on being a reporter would fall on the side of ethical journalism.

    1. Seems kinda right that the incarnation of Superman focused most on being a reporter would fall on the side of ethical journalism.

      Shhhhh! You’re not supposed to mention that gamers have legitimate points about the need for ethics in journalism. 😉

  3. I can tell you one thing for sure, I will not buy that issue. Good work DC, keep it up and I will skip the next movie as well.

    1. And that is why I write these reviews, Truth. 🙂 Most of the comic industry “journalists” and entertainment writers out there will simply go the “I’m still breathless” route. If I spend $4.00 and it ends up saving ten other people a needless trip to the comic shop, then I’m happy. If one person goes away thinking they got a point of view that they never would have gotten from Bleeding Cool or Business Insider, then I’ve done my job.

      There are a lot of customers like you out there, Truth. Maybe one day sales will sink low enough for there to be a real opportunity for institutional change to take place.

    2. I am getting tired of the constant misleading messages in this industry. I find it harder to spend money on their products every day. When will they learn to be more careful? I wrote an article before about waiting for facts before jumping to conclusions and it seems facts don’t even matter anymore as long is they can make a narrative. How can people be so blind to the hate they spread?….Walking away.

    3. Do you remember Superman’s widely criticized walk across America from 2010 to 2011, Doug? In some ways, Truth is reminding me of that only worse.

    4. I remember hearing about it when it came out and wondered if it would be one of those ideas that sounded great in theory but failed in execution. Did Straczynski pull it off? I honestly don’t know. I didn’t read the book.

      Superman and Captain America have similar problems when it comes to navigating the modern world. I can understand how both characters would feel lost and confused, but how does a writer really tell the “Superman needs to find himself” story to fans that want action? It’s a heavy creative lift. That’s one where I applaud the idea, but I don’t envy the guy tasked with delivering the goods.

    5. Linkara of Atop The Fourth Wall did a review of the comic. Suffice to say, it wasn’t that good. JMS ended up leaving the book half-way through to work on the Earth One graphic novels and it had to be finished by other writers. It’s best known today for being the last pre-new 52 Superman story, although that version of Superman is returning this October (along with his wife Lois and young son) in a rather confusing book where he will co-exist with the current Superman’s universe.

    6. Yeah, it wasn’t JMS at his best, and people are still divided over whether he’s a good Superman writer or not. I enjoyed bits of his first Earth One graphic novel (I think there are three out), so maybe you could give them a go.

  4. I seem to remember that JMS was dropped from the book before the story fully played out, because audience response was so, well, flat-footed is a good word, I guess. I read two of them. They seemed like a Superman version of some cliched 70s TV show (Then Came Bronson?) where the main character wandered into some troubled situation. Both stories were left-wing morality fables, with super-stuff injected.

    1. I kind of have a soft spot for Straczynski because he was the one who got me interested in The Amazing Spider-Man after I drifted away from it for awhile. It just got progressively worse throughout the mid-90s and eventually I just said “Bye. I can’t take this anymore.” It was only when he came on the book that I was interested in Peter Parker’s life again.

  5. In response to Mr. Colligan’s comment, I can only wonder how the dialogue in this issue doesn’t make him laugh. This is hysterically terrible, although unfortunately what I’ve come to expect from my once beloved DC.

    1. The dialogue was incredibly embarrassing. I’m not sure how Mr. River was left “breathless.” The policemen could only have been more pathetic if they all were twirling mustaches as they spoke.

  6. What always amazes me is the utter inability (or unwillingness) of people on the left to empathize with certain people.

    For example, it was amazing to me after the Trayvon Martin shooting how nobody could seem to put themselves in the shoes of a homeowner in a bad neighborhood who was looking out for his neighbors’ houses, as well as that of his own family. They also didn’t seem to care that black teenagers had, in fact, been the culprits of breakins in his neighborhood, so “profiling” wasn’t exactly random prejudice. Finally they just passed over the fact that, as was confirmed by the prosecution’s witnesses in the trial, that Martin had reached the place where he was staying and went back to confront Zimmerman, i.e. he had every opportunity to avoid a fight but went back to seek it out.

    It’s sad how these supposedly bleeding hearts can’t imagine being the shopkeeper or the cop assaulted by Michael Brown, because seeing from their perspectives would require them to think past “white bad, non-white good” programming and consider what they would’ve done if confronted with a huge and violent thug assaulting them.

    Much like mentions of “Katrina,” the media folks just repeat “Ferguson” as an incantation, as though if they say it ominously over and over, their implication that some misdeed was done will become true. Funny how they never actually say what the misdeed was, or provide evidence that it could’ve been done differently, and they just disregard all the evidence that everything that could be done was done.

    1. It is rather interesting to watch selective empathy in action, isn’t it? 😉

      There is this impulse among activists to cast white guys as Snidely Whiplash-ian characters. Minorities and women get halos. It’s weird. Do you remember when NBC edited George Zimmerman’s 911 tapes to make him look like a racist?

      Yahoo News reported April 7, 2012:

      A producer for NBC News has been fired for editing a recording of George Zimmerman’s call to police the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

      The New York Times is reporting that “the person was fired on Thursday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the disciplinary action who declined to be identified discussing internal company matters.”

      The dismissal of the Miami-based producer, whose name has not been publicized, followed an internal investigation by NBC, which led to the network apologizing earlier this week for having aired the deceptive audio.

      The recording aired on NBC’s “Today” show on March 27, when the audio viewers heard suggested that Zimmerman volunteered to police, without provocation, that Martin was black: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”

      But the tape had been edited, and the portion where the 911 dispatcher specifically asks Zimmerman if the person in question was “black, white or Hispanic,” was deleted.

      What the heck?! That’s unreal. Think of how many millions of people heard that edited tape. Then some stupid judge threw out Mr. Zimmerman’s defamation case against NBC because she said it wasn’t apparent the organization acted with “malice.” Huh? They edited the tape to make him look like a racist. They admitted they edited the tape and apologized when they got caught.

      Anyone who cares about the integrity of the press or the importance of having impartial judges should get shivers down their spine when they think of this story.

  7. Progressivism is an us-against-them battle for the evolution of the race, forcing movement toward some ill-defined state of social perfection (atheism, the abolition of private property, absolute equality via the state, and limitless sex). Everything in life is interpreted through that lens. This mentality is different from generic conservatism, which sees a lot of features about human nature as hard-wired, unchangeable. It is especially contrary to Christianity, which teaches that human nature is spiritually poisoned by inward evil, and that God (not government) is the Origin of social rights and moral law. So, for all the railing against the Crusaders, progressivism is itself on a fanatical crusade, and the deeper you are into it, the more mentally narrow you become.

    1. It is especially contrary to Christianity, which teaches that human nature is spiritually poisoned by inward evil, and that God (not government) is the Origin of social rights and moral law. So, for all the railing against the Crusaders, progressivism is itself on a fanatical crusade, and the deeper you are into it, the more mentally narrow you become.

      Boom. There’s not much to add on that one. Well said.

  8. Great article, Doug. I had heard about this pathetic excuse of a story over the weekend and was wondering if you were going to cover it. Crap like this is why I no longer buy contemporary comics and stick to older issues. It’s just pathetic that these writers forget that they’re storytellers and think they’re activists first. Plus the writer Greg Pak clearly follows the media narrative about Michael Brown and how cops have been declared Satan incarnate by the lunatics of the BLM Movement. It’s also interesting that Pak locked his Twitter feed so that only people who follow him can see it. I wonder why…

    And that Business Insider article that you linked to is a joke. “Breathless?” Yeesh. That’s another problem I have with comics these days: the creators and reporters are buddy buddy with one another, and the reporters never say anything negative about them (unless it’s Frank Miller or Chuck Dixon; they don’t hesitate to demonize them) because they want to be in with the in-crowd. Comics reporters are just as bad as video game reporters.

    1. Thanks for stopping in, Carl. I’m typically not a DC guy, so initially I wasn’t sure whether or not to give it a go. Sine I had some free time yesterday, I made a quick run to the comic shop. 🙂

      If Mr. River is left “breathless” by this issue of Superman, then his “breathless bar” is pretty darn low. Heh.

  9. I’m still alive and lurking around here. This is a great article, the Superman books are something else right now…

    1. Thanks for reading, TheOrangeMask. It’s 100 percent fine to “lurk,” although I’m also always eager to hear how you feel on these sorts of stories.

      Side note: I owe you an email regarding a shirt. It’s long overdue. I’ll send an email before the week is out. 🙂

  10. Doug, as someone who reads your blog but is decidedly left-leaning politically, I thought I would submit my two cents on this topic (though I have not read the Superman issue in question).

    I’m not a parent, but I think parents would better serve their kids by teaching them how to think instead of what to think about, as I’m sure you’d agree. In time, they can be better equipped to make up their own minds in an informed manner.

    In terms of the Chomsky example, Chomsky’s argument about the media, as stated in works like “Manufacturing Consent”, is that the media doesn’t so much tell people what to think as what to think about, by setting the agenda. You could certainly argue that media types on the left do much the same in their own manner.

    I know personally, I’ve really come to enjoy going back and re-reading comics I read when I was younger, works by writers like Bill Mantlo or Peter David, which dealt with neighborhood gentrification, child abuse and racial tensions. Simply not portraying such things in “kid’s comics”, then or now, doesn’t make them go away.

    I will admit that such issues could be presented with a decidedly less heavy hand, and from different perspectives. It’s that “world outside your window” Marvel approach to comic creating that Stan Lee and others developed in the 1960’s that has become a sort of standard of the craft now.

    1. Thanks for adding your two cents, Cheesedique. Feel free to add a “quarter” or a “dollar” — I’m always happy to hear what you have to say. 🙂

      I agree with you in that the ideal parent is going to stress to their children the importance of using logic and reason to question the world around them and the different points of view they’ll encounter as they navigate civil society. My own parents never talked politics when I was a kid. They just sort of led by example (e.g., my parents would drink a glass a wine or two, but I never saw them drunk; my dad never swore — not once — in front of me, a feat I now find amazing given that he spent roughly 10 years in the military). They had tons of books around when I was a kid and I was allowed to see all sorts of movies. The older I get, the more I see that my parents did a really good job raising me and my siblings.

      I’m actually not opposed to inserting politics into comics, provided it’s done well. Bendis is a liberal guy, and I enjoyed “Secret War” in 2004. I always heard that Alan Moore was a raving socialist, but “Watchmen” is one of my favorite comics ever. I don’t like heavy-handedness and I don’t like stupid. Too many creators today apply heavy doses of both.

      Anyway, thanks again for sharing your opinion, Cheesedique. I really appreciate it.

    2. My upbringing was much the same (except for the swearing part–heh). My parents are both lifelong conservatives who wonder aloud how my sister and I turned out so liberal.

    3. I’m in the reverse situation: My folks are flaming progressives while I’m right of center (more libertarian than anything else).

    4. One of the things that I love about this blog is that when it comes to Dan Slott, his weird online behavior transcends politics. Conservatives, Libertarians, and Liberals are united against him. 🙂

    5. Interestingly, in an old issue of the FF, the Black Panther had changed his name to the Black Leopard so as not to be associated with the (American) Black Panther Party. Today, I can only imagine what writers would do in that situation. Stan Lee was pretty keen on keeping things middle of the road for the most part.

  11. @Doug, you can thank Slott for cueing me to visit this blog after his little online tantrum that time.

    And again, I haven’t read the issue, but I think doing a story like this with Superman is kinda dumb. Sure he may be weakened or something here, but if he really disagrees with what a human police force is doing, he could take them all out with his powers pretty easily.

    1. In this particular story his powers are drained to begin with and he just got done fighting a giant shadow monster. He’s basically at Superman muscle failure (whatever the heck that is).

      What made me laugh is that first they want to go with some evil Ferguson-inspired police sergeant, which is fine … but then he announces his dastardly intentions in the public square. It’s 2015. The entire crowd would have cell phones recording his every word, and yet he triumphantly declares how he’s going to goad Superman into fighting back so the rest of the protesters can be bowled over? Sigh.

      If they were going to do a story that drew from Michael Brown’s death, then I would have preferred something along the lines of a cop killing a black kid and the only people in the room are the cop, Superman, and the kid — and the public believed the corrupt cop over Superman. Then DC could have done all the cheesy villain-speak it wanted and it would have been more believable that he’d get away with it.

  12. That’s some solid stuff, Doug. You could say it left me “breathless.”

    This issue reminds me of when DC tried to do a book inspired by Occupy: it’s wrong-headed, a political diatribe, exudes smugness from the creative team, and badly writing. The only thing missing from the equation is brazen hypocrisy, though I grant nothing could outdo DC employees badgering others about the needs of the 99% while cashing checks from a company that’s infamous for screwing over Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

    To be honest, the only thing that’s really surprising about this story is that it took DC this long to do. It took Marvel less time to bash the Tea Party, as I recall.

    1. I grant nothing could outdo DC employees badgering others about the needs of the 99% while cashing checks from a company that’s infamous for screwing over Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

      I think you just dropped a giant intellectual nuke on DC’s head. I can see the mushroom cloud! Haha. 🙂

      To be honest, the only thing that’s really surprising about this story is that it took DC this long to do. It took Marvel less time to bash the Tea Party, as I recall.

      Here’s a little fun fact for you: I wrote on Captain America going after the Tea Party movement before I knew Hube. I think I sent him an email after coming across a piece he wrote for NewsBusters, and the rest is history.

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