As seen from the French Revolution forward, partisans of a populist movement that claims to represent the will of the people against The Man must be constantly on guard against mockery or criticism by its enemies. No slight, however minor, can be left unaddressed, lest it feed the worm of doubt, which might undermine the cause.
A recent case in point: The inclusion of some Tea Party taglines in a Captain America comic book.
Even casual readers of comics may have noticed that superheroes have been tackling controversial topics since the 60s at least — remember the groovy Green Lantern/Green Arrow racism and heroin story lines? — and, as Skulls in the Stars points out, since being thawed out of his block of ice in 1964, Marvel’s Captain America has been no exception. But till now, such adventures were mostly hotly debated only by comics nerds, rather than by the political kind.
In a new book, in the course of investigating (while out of uniform) a survivalist militia called the Watchdogs, Captain America comes across a rightwing rally, which includes signs bearing obvious takes on Tea Party slogans (e.g. “Tea Bag The Libs Before They Tea Bag YOU”), which the Captain identifies with the Watchdogs’ “‘hate the government’ vibe.” His partner, black superhero The Falcon, observes, “I don’t exactly see a black man from Harlem fitting in with a bunch of angry white folks.”
Tea partiers protested and got Marvel to say it was all a mistake which would be corrected in future editions.
Rightbloggers were especially exercised by the fleeting topical reference.
Liberal Whoppers found the Captain’s project a waste of government resources (“With all the problems in the world, Captain America is going after people who disagree with the government’s fiscal policy”). “Disgusting,” said Nice Deb. “You’ll note that one of the signs says, ‘Teabag the libs before they teabag you,’ as if a tea party protester would ever use the liberal media’s insulting and scatological term,” apparently unaware that the slogan is question had been used at such a protest. (When this was pointed out to her, Nice Deb rejoined, “Unfortunately every large group of people is going to bring out a few weirdos” — except, apparently, in comic books.)
Heavier glosses were provided by Doctor Bulldog and Ronin (“Since Captain America is most noted for his fight against Nazism, I do believe that Marvel Comics is calling us Tea Party folks, ‘Nazis'”), Conservative Scalawag (“Cause you know, Tea Party folks are just as bad as Nazis”), and Avid Editor’s Insights (“The jihadi loving libtards are perverting Captan America to show people standing up for liberty as being evil… It seems they are transforming old symbols of liberty into tyrannical propaganda”).
A popular line of attack was that it is offensive to have a comic book character named Captain America — we feel compelled to remind our readers that this is a comic book character we’re talking about — side against a conservative cause.
“The Leftist Scum at Marxist Comics has joined the friends of the NATIONALIST SOCIALIST DEMOCRAT PARTY,” said the Massapequa Tea Party, “by pissing on Captain America.”
“Captain America is going to fight an ‘anti-tax, anti-government’ movement,” marveled Hunting Muses. “What’s next? Captain French is going to fight wine makers?… Hey, I remember an anti-tax, anti-government from around the late 1700s. They had some real rebels in there with names like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock, etc etc. How about after this Cap beats up on today’s tea-party movement, he go back in time and beat up those protesters?”
Along with this implication that a comic book character who speaks disparagingly of tea parties would like to beat up George Washington, Hunting Muses brought up what became a common theme: the threat of boycott, sometimes prefaced with the disavowal of a threat of boycott. “I’m not even going to protest Marvel or advocate a boycott,” he wrote. “… However, some estimates put the attendance at the various tea parties at close to 300,000 people… is it a wise business practice to alienate that many people (plus any sympathizers) and ENSURE that they won’t purchase your comic?”
(We must applaud a Hunting Muses commenter who explained, “Remember this is not the real Captain America. This is the Winter Soldier [aka Bucky] who was reprogrammed by the communists. The real Cap is Steve Rogers who would be on the front lines defendind the Constitution, not some absurd socio-comm-liberal liberty stealing pastiche of lies perversion.”)
“There must be some comics fan out there who can give them hell,” said the Greensboro Tax Day Tea Party, “Or just quit buying their comics.” “Considering that this is a center-right country,” warned Big Hollywood, “it’s really not a great idea to keep pushing politics that are increasingly unpopular.”
“Sadly,” wrote Warner Todd Huston, “this muscle bound hero that took on the whole Nazi army during WWII seems to be afraid of those American people who’ve joined the Tea Party movement” — not just afraid, in fact, but “quaking in his little red booties,” though the pages Huston reproduces show a cheerful, confident Captain. (We might say that Huston is speaking disfiguratively.)
In a follow-up post, Huston tore into critics whose response to his work showed “how badly educated, how illogical, and how distempered the left truly is,” he asserted, along with dozens of other similar insults. One critic, for example, assumed Huston didn’t like comics; nonsense, said Huston, “at one time I had 5,000 [comic] titles in my collection”; he only left off serious collecting when “around the same time that the left-wing comic book series called ‘Watchmen’ came out in 1986.” After several other such takedowns, Huston retucked his shirt in triumph.
At The American Catholic, Donald R. McClarey said he used to read comics and credited them with “extending my vocabulary,” but revealed his first-ever protest letter was one “I wrote to Marvel Comics in pencil in 1969 protesting a story line in which Captain America was turning against US involvement in Vietnam.” So you know the Captain’s Tea Party apostasy wouldn’t sit well with him. McClarey complained that when the Republicans were in power, “the comics were filled with paranoid story lines involving evil government plots. With Obama in the White House, it is now evil to protest the government.”
Others also complained of the liberal domination of the comic book business. “Given the steady leftward tilt of the comic industry in the past couple of decades,” said Ed Driscoll, the Captain America incident was “sadly not at all surprising.” “We’ve written sporadically about Marvel’s turn to the left for years now,” said Hot Air’s Allahpundit. “…Do any of you guys still read this crap, or have the politics chased you away?”
One Hot Air commenter responded, “Stan Lee has ALWAYS been a Leftwinger. He’s a member of the far-far-away Leftwing Land and always has been.” We imagine the brethren digging through back issues of The Fantastic Four in search of treason. Kyle Fletcher of Patriotic Voices investigated Captain America collaborator Ed Brubaker, whom he found to have spoken unkindly of conservatives in the past. “Personally with your social online doings,” Fletcher directly addressed Brubaker (or an action figure dressed as Brubaker), “I’m surprised it took you this long to try to blind side the comic world with your hate filled views!”
RedState explained that nothing is innocent in the age of politicized everything. “This seemingly innocuous Captain America comic,” wrote poster mailloux, “is, in reality, a grossly effective weapon of the leftists, for it captures the hearts and minds of children… Don’t shrug off the damage done when young, impressionable eyes, just yearning for acceptance and a feeling of belonging, read a modern Captain America comic book.”
It’s like Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent all over again! Only the cause this time is not sexual perversion, but “moral relativism,” embodied by a comic book character talking down a street demonstration of which the author approves. “Quite simply, moral relativism is an M-16,” said mailloux, “in the hands of a leftist, utilitarian foot soldier hell bent on transforming the body politic by first remaking the culture.”
Comics speculators surmised that the promise of revised future editions of the comic would boost the original’s resale value. So, in a sense, it’s win-win. The issue will die down until some other evidence of moral rot is found in a sitcom, cartoon, pop song, or whatever. It’s like the old days of the culture wars — except, alas, without the saving grace of pornographic topics.