Math and data science guy with an interest in hybrid media / comics / movies / games and a tendency to wander off topic.

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    Comics (and their subsequent films) and democracy

    Western comics have an intimate relationship with the democracies in which they originated. It would be interesting to better understand how the two interact: that is, how the underlying ideas of democracy have influenced superhero stories, and in turn, how superheroes affected our ideas of democracy. For instance, Captain America was created during WWII as a champion against fascism, but the way he has been envisioned and even the person filling the role has changed over time, perhaps reflecting society’s changes.

    More recently the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been tremendously successful, and several of its movies seem to approach interesting issues. A core question Civil War asks is how much power a democratic government should have to control the ethical decision making of individual participants (and upholders) of that democracy? The movie appeared (May 2016) at a time when it seems Western democracies were going into crisis. With themes about rebellion from overly controlling governments, did it influence people’s thoughts going into Brexit (June 2016) or the Trump election (Nov 2016). Another instance is the ongoing theme in many comics of the deep resilience of participatory forms of government, which we see again in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s End Game. Might that have similar influences?

    • The very mode of production of comics as descendants of pulp is democratic in terms of its mass production, popular culture, affordability. Moreover, its origins as art/literature written for children in essence made a niche for itself by creating its own adult market out of those children who then grew up and still wanted more. That reflects the mythological tie between liberal democracy and free market capitalism in that the demand of the consumers dictates the production of a supply though in fact the products breed further desire for consumption that merely appear as a self-generating demand. In a similar fashion, the rejection of the military in characters of the MCU like Stark and Rogers only appears to represent a democratic appeal to the common people but a closer examination reveals that the MCU ends up remaining a propaganda machine for the anti-democratic status quo when it vilifies such agendas as environmentalism (Thanos) or minority reparations or equality (Killmonger) at a time when climate destruction is demanding from our collective hand more extreme measures and Black Lives Matter struggles to have its voice heard. – williamnolen11 5 years ago

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    Latest Comments

    Nice article! I guess one thing to emphasize though is that the issues of gender in comics and their related movies are quite complex and hard to get right.

    There is a nice (recent) paper on the topic called “Diana in the World of Men: a character network approach to analyzing gendered vocal representation in Wonder Woman” at

    The short version is that just having strong female characters isn’t enough, with Wonder Woman as a case in point. The movie was given many plaudits for having an empowered, independent female character, but when the film is quantitatively analyzed we find that Diana loses out to her (male) sidekick.

    Feminist Criticism of Society and Comic Books' Past

    So many superheroes’ origins get rebooted because either:
    – they have a tech origin, and tech moves on, e.g., Spiderman’s radioactive spider (in the atomic age) later becomes a genetically modified spider.
    – an artists wants to explore some aspect of the character and uses a reboot of the origin to shift the context, e.g., Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing.

    But (as identified in the article) Batman’s origin is universal. Cliches exist for a reason. Tech wasn’t a big part of the deaths, and you can take a character in a lot of directions from this single origin point. So there hasn’t been a need to change. And there is also tremendous resistance from the fan base to big changes. It would be a brave writer who tampers with that origin story.

    Why Has Batman's Origin Remained So Iconic?

    Nice article!!!

    One of the problems (for comics) is that they are often judged in the public mind by their worst, most trivial instances. The stigma associated with them means that many people don’t even look at what’s out there. It’s as if we judge all prose by some throw-away kids book from 50 years ago. And incidentally, this is happening in a context where parents are increasingly pushing younger and younger kids towards ‘big-kid’ books.

    Comic Books, Adults, and a History of Stigmatization