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Quote of the Day | Chuck Dixon on politics and superhero comics

From "Action Comics" #900

From “Action Comics” #900

“If you want to put politics in your own comic, go ahead, that’s a great thing. But to put it in mainstream superhero comics and use them as a platform for your own political views is something we object to. And we object to it from both ends. We don’t think these characters should be used for anyone’s point of views even if they agree with us. When I wrote these characters, I didn’t have them present my political views or any political views at all other than their own that are part of their character. Such as Batman is anti-gun. I wrote a lot of anti-gun speeches for Batman that were well-justified and compassionate. I am not personally anti-gun or anti-Second Amendment, but that’s the character. You don’t write it different than what’s established. That was basically our premise, that these were iconic characters shared by generation after generation and should be pretty much just left alone as good guys and bad guys.”

Chuck Dixon, talking with Comic Book Resources about the recent Wall Street Journal column he co-wrote with Paul Rivoche that sparked so much online discussion

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22 Comments

Depends on the character.

Superman, in his original appearances, was unambiguously political. That’s largely fallen by the wayside, though Grant Morrison spent a couple of issues of his Action Comics run bringing that aspect back before getting bored with it and moving on to Silver Age weirdness and beyond.

I’d say Batman is an inherently right-wing character, despite his distaste for guns. I wasn’t bothered by the politics of The Dark Knight Rises — I don’t agree with them but I think they’re a perfectly good fit for Batman.

Iron Man’s inherently political too, though there have been some retcons of his original depiction as explicitly pro-Vietnam War. (I mean, chief among these is that he’s now too young to have actually BEEN in the Vietnam War, but even before that his origin was tweaked.)

Captain America’s got a pretty tricky tightrope to walk, since I think he should be an aspirational figure everyone can look up to (the same’s true of Superman, Batman, and Iron Man, but perhaps Cap most of all). But it’s an unavoidable fact that he was a political character from his inception too — it’s right there on the cover of the first issue where he’s punching Hitler in the face. It’s easy to forget that US participation in the war was a controversial question in 1941, but it WAS.

And good luck arguing that the X-Men shouldn’t be political. Working as a metaphor for oppressed minority groups is pretty much their whole deal.

Hell, the entire premise of Green Lantern/Green Arrow was the two leads’ differing political views. And it’s still considered a defining moment in both characters’ histories.

I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with Dixon’s premise that characters shouldn’t express political viewpoints that break with their established characterization. But his suggestion that “Superman as liberal mouthpiece” came out of nowhere in 2012 suggests he hasn’t read any 1938 Superman comics lately.

I think the politics make the characters and stories much better. The fact that Superman and Captain America have essentially liberal outlooks and Batman and Iron Man are more conservative says a lot about how heroism manifests itself and how both points of view can still work together to save the world is more interesting and ultimately more positive than if one side or the other were emphasized.

I think where people get tripped up here is the difference between politics and partisan politics. Superman and Captain America are liberals and it shouldn’t be erased from their characters, but it would be a mistake to make them explicitly Democrats.

He’s not saying don’t make them political, he’s saying don’t express your political beliefs through them, that they have an established personality when it comes to the political view. Like he mentions, he wrote several anti-gun soliloquies in Batman, but it’s not his (Dixon’s) beliefs, it’s Batman’s established beliefs. For instance, suddenly making Cassandra Cain pro-death penalty, when she has been clearly portrayed as anti-death several times, because you, the writer are pro-death penalty what he’s saying to avoid. Don’t change them to fit your beliefs, if the character already has their own established.

What Jonathon (paraphrasing Dixon) said.

I’m pretty damn liberal but I’m sometimes amazed at how unabashedly left-leaning superhero comics are.

The first time I really noticed was during/after Civil War, when Iron Man, who had some really valid points about superhero registration, was repeatedly painted as unmitigated antagonist when put up against Captain America and his freedom fighters. There were some attempts to be moderate but that all went to crap once Matt Fraction basically erased Stark’s memory of Civil War and had him look at his past decisions with intense embarrassment and regret.

I found that to be a slap in the face to conservatives, Part of the draw of Civil War was that both sides had valid arguments and they couldn’t come to a peaceful agreement. To have Stark, the ringleader of the Pro-Reg side, just kind of go “Oh, well, I’M the idiot, I guess” really felt like Fraction inserting his own viewpoints into the story rather than “rolling with the punches” and giving us a heroic conservative who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the large crop of liberal characters.

Jake Earlewine

July 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm

“You don’t write it different than what’s established”

I wish Chuck Dixon would explain that to Bendis and all the other writers who have no respect for established characters, all the writers who disregard previously established personalities and just make up their own SHIT.

Zer0n Huggins

July 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Funny. I always thought that Tony’s presence in Civil War was a caricature of a libertarians idea of a democrat.

The Hulk and I are both libertarians. We just want to be left alone.

It’s pretty much impossible to create a fully realized creative work without a political dimension to it. It doesn’t bother me when there are politics in comics. It doesn’t even really bother me when characters change and express new views. It does bother me when it is clear that the comic is just a vehicle for presenting a host of biased one-sided “talking points” clearing influenced by a single party’s political agenda. It does bother me when the vast majority of comics seem to represent the same single party perspective. And it very much bothers me when the same people who do this sort of thing and those who support it, then complain about a “lack of diversity,” as if the color of the creator’s skin, or their gender, really makes a big difference when most everything seems required to represent the exact same “liberal” viewpoints and single party bias anyway.

@Jonathon: “He’s not saying don’t make them political, he’s saying don’t express your political beliefs through them, that they have an established personality when it comes to the political view.”

Except that he’s just coming off an op/ed where he explicitly stated that liberal politics are poisoning superhero comics and specifically cited a 2011 Superman comic that nobody even really remembers, whose depiction of Superman was not nearly as liberal as his original 1938 conception.

In a vacuum, Dixon’s remarks make sense. In the context of what he’s said in the past few weeks, on the other hand, they’re pretty lacking in awareness.

“We don’t think these characters should be used for anyone’s point of views even if they agree with us.”

Take that, Jerry Siegel!

Besides Seigel, It seems Chuck dixon never read any Denny O’Neil either. Or JM DeMattias. Dixon’s comments sound outwardly noble, but in context of his past comments, like how mentioning homosexualuty is the same as adding sexual content, it’s clear that he just doesn’t want his favorite characters to be liberal mouthpieces. Which is also a noble goal, but it is rarely the case. The vast majority of American comic writers are liberal and like most American conservatives, Mr. Dixon sees any idea in that vein as a personal.

Mind you it works the other way around too. Mark Waid’s tweets about Ultimate Captain America, while far less indignant, were also just dejection at the portrayal of a favorite character as a conservative. What I am saying is that American poltical discourse isn’t discourse at all, and removing polticd from this genre will not solve that. There needs to be more politics. Mark Waid should be able write about Daredevil fighting white supermacists, Chuck Dixon should be writing about Batman fighting ELF, or an analog thereof.

Superman in 1938 was not just liberal, he was a full-blown socialist who rained down ironic justicy on corrupt businessmen. Trapping a warmongering weapons manufacturer in the middle of a war is something only the AUTHORITY would do nowadays. But Superman did it in the 1930s! Siegel and Shuster basically gave us Superman versus Halliburton!

When America became more conservative in the 1950s, Superman became more conservative too. A kind of super-patriarch defender of the establishment. If you don’t want people inserting other political views in a long-established characters, then I regret to say, that ship has sailed.

The problem is that America nowadays is sort of split in two, with one side barely tolerating the other. And Dixon is resentful that most writers fall on the side not his own. But that’s the breaks. Most people that work in the arts and entertainment are Liberal, just as most people in business and the military are Conservative.

PS: Iron Man’s side on Civil War could be read both as “Conservative” and “Liberal”. I suppose they sort of hedged their bets. If you think of superpowers as guns, then it becomes obvious how Iron Man can be seen as a dirty, gun-grabbing Liberal.

Marvel Comics too has always been very political.

In his interview, Dixon talks of wanting superheroes to be some kind of “pure” escapism. But the thing was, the Marvel Universe was established as being just like the “world outside your window” but with superheroes, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko.

They were hardly “neutral” in those days. Half the stories were heavily anti-communist. A lot of stories in the late 1960s were openly supportive of the civil rights agenda. That nowadays Marvel Comics would tackle LGBT rights and the War on Terror is very, very appropriate to the spirit of the early Marvel Universe.

I never thought that Chuck Dixon was especially conservative or right wing, at least by today’s standards. A few months ago, on a CBR interview with Tim Truman where they discussed their work on Airboy for Eclipse in the late 1980s, Dixon described himself as “a Barry Goldwater conservative.” That is VERY different from what is considered “conservative” by the standards of 2014. If Barry Goldwater were alive today, he’d probably be regarded as a moderate.

While I do disagree with Dixon somewhat, in that I think it is possible to address certain political controversies within mainstream superhero comics, I also believe that you have to be extremely careful when doing so. For every nuanced, thoughtful examination of a controversial topic, there are at least a dozen heavy-handed, unsubtle attempts that rail against straw men and fail miserably. Marvel’s entire Civil War crossover is an example of that.

I would go so far as to say that the Green Lantern / Green Arrow stories by Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams fall into that category. Many people consider those to be “classics” but to me they’ve always been the most anvilicious example of soapbox preaching. O’Neil totally threw Hal Jordan under the bus and made Oliver Queen into the exact sort of contentious, holier-than-thou ultra left wing radical that gives liberals a bad name. I think O’Neil & Adams did superb work on Batman. But for me GL / GA was a bust.

Anyway, I am more or less middle of the road in my politics, probably leaning somewhat to the laft. So generally both conservatives and liberals manage to piss me off. I honestly think the majority of Americans, if you ask them, would express views that a considered moderate. But they usually get drowned out by the far-left and far-right, who are much more vocal and in-your-face.

Ben -

Oliver Queen was also a bit of a hypocrite. His liberal compassion flies out of the window the instant his ward gets involved with drugs, and it’s Hal and Dinah that support Roy.

But we gotta examine GL/GA in the context of the times. O’Neil & Adams were trying to make DC more like Marvel, trying to appeal to the teenager crowd that were into Rolling Stones and New Hollywood. It sounds preachy now, but that was pop culture at the time. Even PLANET OF THE APES was full of politics. They were trying to get DC out of the kind of 1950s sitcom stories that were no longer appealing at the time.

But perhaps they overshoot the mark.

But the position of a thoughtful moderate that is tired of partisan politics is also very much a product of the times.

Talmidge Mcgulliger

July 2, 2014 at 8:14 am

I’d rather comics have some sort of message, even if it’s one I disagree with, than have them watered down so they don’t offend anyone. Hell Stan wrote plenty of comics that were clearly against the Vietnam War, pro environment, and Anti-big business. I’m fairly sure he’s the one who established Cap was a new deal Democrat and Roosevelt supporter, although that might have been a Jack Kirby thing. He downplays it in interviews because that’s his humble braggy shtick but his comics were incredibly political and those are some of the most well regarded and reprinted stories in history so I just think Dixon is displaying a bit of a persecution complex in that article.

For one he goes on to mention how conservatives in comics have trouble getting hired but never mentions that his editor for ten years was Denny O’Neil, the guy who makes Obama look like a tea partier,

“Hell Stan wrote plenty of comics that were clearly against the Vietnam War, pro environment, and Anti-big business”

Which stories?

Captain America #125, “Captured In Vietnam,” by Stan Lee & Gene Colan, was a rather moderate anit-war tale. Lee’s script didn’t really take a position on whether or not the conflict was justified. Rather, he had the Mandarin working behind the scenes to undermine peace negotiations, making it appear to both the North and South Vietnamese that the other side was to blame, in order to perpetuate the conflict, so that eventually the country’s two factions would decimate each other, allowing him to then easily conquer the region. So it’s more of an indirect commentary on the futility of the Vietnam War, and how such a conflict could be manipulated to serve the self-interests of forces with no real stake in the outcome, with the actual citizens of the country paying the price for the actions of outsiders.

Talmidge Mcgulliger

July 3, 2014 at 9:36 am

Daredevil 47 is the first one comes to mind as addressing the futility of war while directly referencing Vietnam, and Silver Surfer said a few times in both those later FF appearances and the first solo series that we were destroying our planet with war and pollution, sometimes indirectly and sometimes outright. Also the first Kingpin story has an ant-capitalism bent too.

Talmidge Mcgulliger

July 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

Also the first Sons of the Serpent story, Stan’s last in Avengers, has a bit about the dangers of misguided patriots starting a war and who profits from it but I don’t think they reference Vietnam outright.

Here’s a look at another Captain America issue where Stan Lee touched upon American politics:

http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/captain-america-130-a-message-for-july-4th/

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