Darin Wagner writes for Bleeding Cool
The title of my column this week (which is something of a follow-up to the one I did last week) comes from a question that has been asked of me from both comic book fan and pro alike on various message boards over the last couple of years. The question has been asked rhetorically and the question has been asked sincerely. My answer tends to differ from the vast majority of the answers offered by non-conservatives.
For those of you who need some definition of conservatism as it pertains to this column, I'm referring specifically to American conservatism… which has several principles, including the moral superiority of liberty; characterized by capitalism, small government and the rights of the individual.
Simply put, a conservative comic book would be one that regularly presents and simultaneously explains conservatism.
To illustrate this, I will revisit a scenario from my last column. Let's say molten man-monsters from under the Earth's crust are causing a seismic disturbance in the ocean that threatens an oil platform. In a liberal comic book, the superhero or some other character given in-story credibility would mention somewhere during the action (most likely in the form of a snide comment) that such platforms are recklessly built and operated. They might go so far as to use the moment to promote so-called "green" energy and/or take jabs at corporate America and capitalism too. The basic ideas conveyed are that oil rigs are bad, that oil is bad and that humanity really shouldn't be drilling for oil. In a conservative comic book, none of these things would be said. Instead what you might find is the protagonist mentioning something like how statistically safe drilling for oil is, how important oil is to mankind, what technological marvels modern oil platforms are or how well the platform's damage control team responded to the unusual crisis. (Complimenting the damage control team would reflect positively on the company they work for and imply that the company is a responsible one… as opposed to how oil companies are typically portrayed when there is a liberal slant.) Now, someone might be saying "But Darin, DC's Aquaman and Marvel's Namor both have a history of dislike for the 'surface world' and have shown great concern for the ocean environment. How can these characters be used to 'present and explain conservatism,' as you say?" Aquaman and Namor have indeed been portrayed as being rather cranky from time-to-time when it comes to the standards and practices of the surface world. It would not strike me as terribly out-of-character for either of these superheroes to offer a soliloquy lamenting the fact that overzealous surface-world environmentalism has pushed the drilling for oil off land and further and further out into their domain. I think both of these guys would prefer on-shore drilling to off-shore drilling any day.
Now, would a story that featured moments like the one I just described stand out on the shelves today? I rather think that it would. Most reactions would range from "I never thought of it that way!" to "Whoever wrote this is nuts!" It certainly wouldn't be something most readers would expect to see come from Marvel or DC these days.
When asked what a conservative superhero comic book might look like, many non-conservatives will nonchalantly respond with a question like "You mean a superhero who is FOR pollution?" The ones who try a smidge harder come up with scenarios like a superhero charging a fee for his services and not saving those who are not current with their payments. They describe a superhero only saving Caucasians or not responding to a disaster occurring in a poor neighborhood… in short, they describe a superhero who is not heroic. It is for this reason that a conservative comic book would need a conservative writer and/or editor. If you ask most writers working in comic books today to do a conservative comic book, I think the ones who agree to try would come up with some sort of superhero version of Stephen Colbert… a straw man character not actually intended to represent authentic conservatism, but rather to depict it as a joke and to actually support the opposing viewpoint.
For a better example of what a conservative superhero story would look like, I can direct your attention to a film most of you have probably seen…
In 2009, the website of William F. Buckley's magazine National Review named Pixar Animation Studio's superhero film "The Incredibles" the #2 Best Conservative Movie of The Last 25 Years.* The site described it as follows: "This animated film skips pop-culture references and gross jokes in favor of a story that celebrates marriage, courage, responsibility, and high achievement." The conservatism in "The Incredibles" is subtle for the most part… but it's definitely there. I can remember nearly jumping out of my seat in the theater when Helen tells Dash "Everybody is special" and Dash mutters "Which is another way of saying no one is." "Everybody is special" is something I can remember hearing entirely too much in public grade school… it was something my liberal teachers always said in an attempt to bring us all together, but what it really did was dampen our sense of achievement and individuality. Later in the film when the supervillain utters his variation of this in summing up his long-term evil plan ("When everybody's super, no one will be!"), I figuratively punched the air. I've often thought of the story contained in the movie as "the anti-WATCHMEN" because it's a different take on ideas contained in that watershed comic book from the '80s. While the two stories both feature former superheroes dealing with a superhero ban, the two are very different. In WATCHMEN, the characters who represent "conservatism" are sadists, genocidal madmen and tragic sufferers of insanity. In "The Incredibles," conservatism is represented by a family.
Since I've mentioned WATCHMEN, some of you may be asking "What about BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS?" Sure, DKR also deals with a superhero ban of sorts. Sure, there's conservatism in DKR. There's a lot of other stuff in there too though. I think the comic book industry needs more stories like the one in "The Incredibles" film than the one in DKR right now. I can't recommend DKR to the parent of a little kid who has the potential to get hooked on comics and provide a lifetime of sales to the industry.
Someone said recently that comics have always been subversive. I think right now; in this world of escalating statism, mandatory multicultural indoctrination and environmentalism running amok… conservative comic books would be the subversive comic books.
*Many of you probably want to know what #1 was. I'll be nice. It was a film called "The Lives of Others" (2007).