I can't recall when I first heard it, perhaps because it made so much sense or because I first heard it so long ago; but I remember hearing that if you want to prevent an argument with someone, you should stay away from three subjects: religion, politics and sex. Unfortunately, these are the three most interesting things to discuss! Joking aside though, there is a lot of truth to that wise little phrase.
While the idea of "sex" in comics isn't "new" by any stretch of the imagination, politics and religion are by far, the touchier subjects of the three. While sex can serve to shock audiences, I would venture to say that it (as a subject) may not necessarily alienate reader; at least not in the way politics might. We see sex in comics a lot (just look at all the discussions we've been having recently) but religious and political discussions and commentary are subjects that comic book readers are exposed to a lot less frequently when they read comics, so when they do happen to take place, they can come across as incredibly shocking. Politics in comics is a very, very touchy subject, and that could be because it can be interpreted in so many different ways -- but is it a subject that should be "off limits" to writers, or is it something that writers can use to draw in readers and entertain their audiences? Do politics in comics alienate readers?== TEASER ==
The most recent example of a political reference in a comic book was when a direct reference to the Tea Party (an actual conservative group) appeared in Captain America #602. The Tea Party, which is a real political movement in the United States became offended and the conservative community retaliated. Fox News claimed that labeling the protestors as "Tea Party" "[made] patriotic Americans into your newest super villains." Whether this is true or not is based on your perception of the issue. However, the uproar forced Marvel's former Chief Editor to apologize on behalf of the error, and promise to strip it from all future reprints of the story.
Many would see the appearance of the Tea Party in this particular issue as a way of acknowledging the current state of the American political system. It was as if to say yes, the conservative Tea Party exists and they are important to the current state of American politics -- that doesn't necessarily make it a criticism of conservatives or the Tea Party movement. In fact, this wouldn't be the first time that current American politics have crossed into a Captain America story.
During World War II, Captain America fought the Nazis, during the Cold War he fought the Russians, and etc. Politics have always heavily influenced Captain America stories because the whole premise of his character revolves around it. Many of the first Captain America appearances were a way for the creators to provide commentary on the current state of the country and the socio-political atmosphere. Does this mean that Captain America comics should steer clear of any influence of our current political atmosphere, because it might alienate readers?
Most of us who have read it would agree that V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore, was a truly great story -- and it was extremely politically charged. However, unless you know anything about Alan Moore, you might not guess that V for Vendetta wasn't only a story about a masked revolutionary who stands up to a totalitarian regime; it's also Moore's commentary on what he truly believes is the best form of government: anarchism. Now, you can choose to read this classic graphic novel two different ways: one, can you read it for what it is, a great story; or you can read it with the thought that Moore very seriously believes that anarchism is the solution to all of our political problems.
"Anarchy is a romance. It's clearly the best way and the only morally sensible way to run the world. Everyone should be the masters of their own destinies. Everyone should be their own leader."
Even if you don't necessarily agree with Moore's ideas and political philosophy, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a great story, right? Some of the best stories have been birthed from political concepts like V For Vendetta, for example, which deals tells the story of an anarchist (V) who is trying to overthrow a totalitarian government. Moore, we should mention, is a self proclaimed anarchist.
Another example of stories that use political concepts and integrate them into their plot-lines are Judge Dredd comics. Judge Dredd is set in a dystopian future where what is left of the world is being patrolled by an oppressive political system. Several Judge Dredd story lines like Robot Wars (Progs 10-17) and The Devil You Know (Progs 750-756) are extremely politically charged; so much so that the entire premise of these stories is based on revolution and the overthrow of a political system.
Does that mean that we should take these books seriously, or should we simply view them as socio-political commentary? Superman Red Son is another example of the influence politics can have on a comic book. What would Superman be like had he been raised in Communist U.S.S.R.?
When creators inject their personal political beliefs directly, it can become a problem; but Alan Moore did this exact thing in V For Vendetta, and he gave us a great story. So is it possible to for politics to exist in comics without causing such a stir? What do you think? Do you want politics in your comics, or would you rather leave them out of it?