Whence Superheroes

The graphic adaptation of Amity Shlaes’s 2007 history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man, scripted by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Paul Rivoche, has become a bestseller and a cause of some controversy, most notably due to Rivoche and Dixon’s letter to the Wall Street Journal decrying the left/liberal leaning of the comic-book industry in general and its monthly output.

My immediate thought was to check current sales results and, having done that, I can declare their strategy to have been successful. Chuck and Paul found a perfect venue for promoting their work while appearing to totally diss the format and forum into which they have released it.

There is a potent and thoughtful response on the Comics Alliance site, here:

http://comicsalliance.com/chuck-dixon-paul-rivoche-conservative-politics-comic-industry-response-superman/

But beyond that, there is the question the two have raised, however disingenuously, about the “liberal leaning” of mainstream comic books. They asked: Are comics too biased toward liberal thoughts and ideals? This is a total bulls*it question.

They are not talking about comics as a whole. In fact, they are ignoring about 2/3’s of all products that are published in the realm of graphic storytelling. What they are really asking, rhetorically, is: “Are superhero comics too liberal-oriented and left-leaning?”

Well, the original, iconic superheroes, those who created the genre and have had everlasting staying power and a vast impact on American culture and society, those which de facto define the genre, were created by Jews, either first-generation Americans or the scions of them. Their families had fled from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, either in advance of National Socialism (Nazi-ism) or from its ever-threatening, ever-expanding, bloodthirsty reach.

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby—all Jews. What made their characters SUPER heroes? The fact that they championed the inherent rights and freedoms of the little guy, the average citizen—which, in America, included the freedom to pursue your own religion, whatever that might be. Superheroes, and superhero comics, were created by Jews as wish-fulfillment.  The wish being to be left the hell alone to pursue their own lives as they saw fit and to value and honor their own culture and heritage.

Does that sound like leftist, liberal-minded thinking? By all of today’s definitions, I would say, “Yes.” And I would also say, “So what?”

Superheroes had to take up for the common man, the poor work-a-day shlubs. These were the folks who needed the most protection from prejudice and mob hysteria. These were the targets of cruel and deadly prejudice in the world. If America’s superheroes could not stand up and be counted as saviors of the common, decent, hard-working man, what would make them superheroic? Of course superheroes were created by liberals. Of course the original characters have left a legacy of protecting “the little guy.”

Aside from the superhero comics, the rest of the field—certainly graphic novels—is remarkably balanced. So Dixon’s and Rivoche’s lament castigating the entire industry of graphic continuity is totally disingenuous.

They are not stupid. They know the heritage of their chosen field. Superheroes are, by nature, apt to take up the cause of the “little man” against a company, a corporation, a faceless political system, the personifications of prejudice.

No, Dixon’s and Rivoche’s screed is a marketing gambit. Plain and simple. Their book is now a bestseller, and the “hubbub” they have created around it has served sales very, very well.

In this case, it is not I who is the cynic.

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