It took decades after the creation of comics and cartoons for people to begin to take them as a serious art form, and a few decades more for casual viewers to realize that there were deeper messages within those funny pictures. Visionaries like Will Eisner, Frank Miller, and even Sergio Aragones were some of the more notable artists in their time that drew more attention to sequential art as a serious form of story telling, but those messages can be dated as far back as the turn of the 20th century. In “War, Politics and Superheroes” from McFarland Publishing, we take a trip through heroes and history to learn about how comic books truly are a mirror image of real life, and how sometimes, those comics can even change political views in our real world.
Written by Marc DiPaolo, an assistant professor of English and Film at Oklahoma City University, has broached a broad variety of socio-political topics and brought them into an accessible world for both comic fans and poly-sci students. Rather than running through things chronologically, the author instead chooses a character or series to discuss their real world implications and how their fictional actions affect the real world. A quick rundown of the chapters show some interesting parallels; Wonder Woman and the rise of feminism and how the view of women has changed over the course of several decades and how she started as a symbol for women to rally behind in WW II, the Punisher as a reflection of ultra-conservatism, how Superman is meant as an FDR-style figure with roots in Judaism, and much more.
I found this book extremely fascinating and taking some surprising twists and turns in how I would think about certain characters. Some characters you would think are more obvious than others, but DiPaolo throws a monkey wrench at you and feeds you thoughts that would have never crossed your mind before. For example, according to the author, Batman is a feudal prince living in a democratic society who seeks to protect people with his old way of thinking, and the Christopher Nolan movies especially deal with Batman as a means of fighting terrorism (a theme that is seen in essentially all three of those Nolan movies). On the other end of that spectrum is Spiderman, a “class warrior” who constantly struggles with everyday problems and was not born a hero but became one, and how his actions in Marvel’s Civil War storyline meant more than just that company’s take on The Patriot Act.
As a big fan of The Punisher, I greatly enjoyed the chapter on Frank Castle as a socially castigated Vietnam War veteran who, much like Rambo, can simply “not turn it off” and is not just after street thugs, but is also attempting to clean up the corrupted officials that work the system from within for their gain. For me to condense any chapters into a short sentence or two would not be giving justice to the work that the author put into this book. Chapters seven, eight and nine bring us closest into modern times, discussing the variety of ways the X-Men represent a modern America and their thoughts on civil rights, gay rights, and dealing with prejudice, how the tortured anti-hero has become more popular, and what the political landscape looks like in Obama’s America.
This book holds no bias to one political party or the other, and treats all the topics with an equal eye and opinion. Just the facts, no slant towards one side or the other, and I commend the author for keeping it neutral (for the most part anyway, once we get into the chapter on Obama, it does become more left-oriented). The sheer amount of characters discussed from both comics and TV ensures that everyone’s favorites will be discussed in some way, and is a great way for people who would normally not care for comics to become interested.
You can order War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film from Amazon.com for about $40-45 new. Keep in mind, it is meant as a textbook, and since college kids are loaded with cash, the price is slightly higher. Well, that’s not much of an excuse for the high price, but that is the intent of this product so I would say pick it up, but see if you can get it used so it will be slightly cheaper. I recommend picking this book up if you are a person who is into history or politics, and even if you are simply a fan of good comics, you will still get a lot out of this purchase. While you may have thought fleetingly about the deeper implications of certain stories, “War, Politics and Superheroes” gives you the tools you need to examine comics in a different way and will certainly change how you read those books and watch TV in a surprising way.