Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A rebuttal to Chuck Dixon's article in the Wall Street Journal

Wanted for guest editorial: Straight, middle-class white man who has lived a slightly less privileged life than the one to which he feels entitled. Bonus for non-ironic use of Political Correctness!

To the "Liberals are the Real Racists" Signal!

"Why aren't you tolerant of my intolerance?"
And "as if in answer", Chuck Dixon is here to defend his brothers, who get, not the hero they need,  but the one they deserve. (Dark Knight shout out!)

I've never had much of an opinion on Chuck Dixon. He mostly wrote the Batman titles when I was working in the comic store, and I read them, because, c'mon, what else was I going to do, work? But they never struck as either particularly good or particularly bad. He did create Bane, whom I rank as one of the great latter day Batman villains, but his writing was not otherwise to my taste.

A friend sent me a link to the article Dixon wrote with Paul Rivoche for the Wall Street Journal (!!) The title tells you everything you need to know about the content: "How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman - A graphic tale of modern comic books' descent into moral relativism" but,  here's a link to the entire piece, if you are so inclined.

I believe people have the right to believe whatever they want. However, it bothers me when someone uses his status as an authority in a field to mislead low-information readers, who don't know much about the topic, but are relying on the author to present it to them factually. Perhaps it's presumptuous of  me to correct the auteur who wrote the comic book adaptation of Snakes on a Plane, but it's been a while since I've gone on this kind of rant.
Chuck Dixon/Paul Rivoche:  In the 900th issue of Action Comics, Superman decides to go before the United Nations and renounce his U.S. citizenship. " 'Truth, justice and the American way'—it's not enough any more," he despairs. That issue, published in April 2011, is perhaps the most dramatic example of modern comics' descent into political correctness, moral ambiguity and leftist ideology.

Ha ha ha. I remember this. The conservatives were so butthurt. Never mind that it made sense in context. (Superman intervenes to show support for protesters in Iran, but things go badly because he is seen to be acting on behalf of the American government) Laura Hudson over at Comics Alliance said it so well that I'll quote her rather than paraphrasing. "From a “realistic” standpoint it makes sense; it would indeed be impossible for a nigh-omnipotent being ideologically aligned with America to intercede against injustice beyond American borders without creating enormous political fallout for the U.S. government."

Superman is saying that he's a citizen of the world, that he's there to help anyone who needs him. Anyway, there was a predictable outrage, and it was walked back five issues later,

This is from Action comics #904, by the way
before being removed from continuity entirely when they rebooted the universe.

Dixon is being disingenuous here. There is no way that he doesn't know the context of the remark, and the subsequent walkback.
Dixon: This story commences way back in the 1930s. Superman, as he first appeared in early comics and later on radio and TV, was not only "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound," he was also good, just and wonderfully American. Superman and other "superheroes" like Batman went out of their way to distinguish themselves from villains like Lex Luthor or the Joker. Superman even battled Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.
All right, this is a trivial complaint, but since Dixon is presenting himself as an authority on comic books, I feel compelled to correct this. Superman didn't battle Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II. That's because, in DC comics continuity, Hitler controlled the Spear of Destiny, and any hero with mystical powers or a vulnerability to mystical powers, would fall under his control if that hero ventured too close. That's why Superman primarily battled Nazi saboteurs and fifth columnists at home in World War II, instead of, say, dropping an asteroid on Berlin. 

This is fairly well known, and it's the first entry for the Holy Lance in the Appearances in popular culture section on Wikipedia.
Dixon: Superman also led domestic crusades, the most famous against the Ku Klux Klan. A man familiar with the Klan, Stetson Kennedy, approached radio show producers in the mid-1940s with some of the Klan's secret codes and rituals. The radio producers developed more than 10 anti-Klan episodes, "The Clan of the Fiery Cross," which aired in June 1946. The radio show's unmistakable opposition to bigotry sharply reduced respect of young white Americans for the Klan. 
Superman HAS returned to the Klan-busting social justice type stories. Grant Morrison wrote Action Comics for two years after the reboot, and that told stories of Superman in his early days, before he formalized the costume, back when he was an angry young man doing exactly the kind of things Dixon wishes he still did. There is no way Chuck Dixon could not know this.

Here's a scene from Issue #1 of the 2011 reboot. Superman breaks into the home of a corrupt businessman, threatens him and then throws him off a roof before catching him.

Dixon: In the 1950s, the great publishers, including DC and what later become Marvel, created the Comics Code Authority, a guild regulator that issued rules such as: "Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal." The idea behind the CCA, which had a stamp of approval on the cover of all comics, was to protect the industry's main audience—kids—from story lines that might glorify violent crime, drug use or other illicit behavior.

Orrrrrrr...the Comics Code Authority grew out of the false comity and moral panic of the 1950s, and was strongly influenced by Seduction of the Innocent, a work now recognized to have been based on data that were almost completely fabricated.  (From the link: Wertham "manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence" in support of the contentions expressed in "Seduction of the Innocent." Wertham intentionally mis-projected both the sample size and substance of his research, making it out to be more objective and less anecdotal than it truly was. He generally did not adhere to standards worthy of scientific research, instead using questionable evidence as rhetorical ammunition for his argument that comics were a cultural failure.)

Dixon: The 1990s brought a change. The industry weakened and eventually threw out the CCA, and editors began to resist hiring conservative artists. One of us, Chuck, expressed the opinion that a frank story line about AIDS was not right for comics marketed to children. His editors rejected the idea and asked him to apologize to colleagues for even expressing it. Soon enough, Chuck got less work.

And while this anecdote is too vague to verify,  I feel compelled to point out that A.) Children are affected by AIDS, every day B.) Comics were marketed primarily to collectors in the 1990s, as my holographic cover of Magneto ripping out Wolverine's skeleton will attest, and C.) Correlation does not imply causality.

Dixon: The superheroes also changed. Batman became dark and ambiguous, 

Batman, as you probably know, and he, as a writer of Batman, certainly knows, started out straight up murdering dudes, and was probably darker in the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams run in the 1970s (it was a reaction to Adam West series) than he was in the 1990s.

Also, as Dixon was on the Batman books when we got this, 

 he has precious little room to criticize the dark and ambiguous character Batman had become.

Dixon: This would matter less if comics were fading away. But comics are more popular than ever, as evidenced by Hollywood megahits like "X-Men." One third of English-as-a-second language teachers in the U.S. use comics. If you doubt the future of this medium, look to Amazon, which bought comiXology, a company that translates comics to e-books. Or try getting a booth this July at Comic-Con, the mob scene that is the annual comics convention. 

Listen, I like the medium of comic books.  I like reading them with my daughter, and on my own. I like the stories they tell. But if you're reading this on the blog, you'll see that the tag reads "superheroes" and not "comic books". Superheroes are doing very well indeed; comic books are dying. One of the main complaints about Comic-Con (after how hard it is to get in) is that it's no longer about comic books anymore. Comic books exist primarily to generate content for movies, cartoons, toys and video games.

Dixon: As a peer of ours recently wrote on comicsbeat.com, when it comes to catching up to the left in modern comics, "Conservatives are taking the remedial course." As our contribution to that course, the two of us poured years into a graphic novel of "The Forgotten Man," conservative writer Amity Shlaes's new history of the Great Depression. But ours is one book. We hope conservatives, free-marketeers and, yes, free-speech liberals will join us. It's time to take back comics.
Well, good luck with that, but the free market of which you think so highly has spoken, and it's not looking good for you. I've heard it said that the goal of religion is to "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." I'm not a religious person, but I like that sentiment, and I think it's a reason why conservatives like Dixon tend not do well with superheroes. Real heroes look out for the little guy. They're not punching down. They fight for those who can't fight for themselves. Until he learns that lesson, Dixon is always going to be taking the remedial course.


  1. Superman is clearly a progressive, especially in his oldest form. Someone who wants a hero for American conservative thought should probably look elsewhere.

    I would quibble with the "straight up murdering people" comment. Early Batman used force judiciously.


    1. There have always been some high-profile conservative creators (Frank Miller, Bill Willingham and Steve Ditko all spring immediately to mind), mainstream superhero comics have tended to skew pretty substantially to the left since the modern age began about 50 years ago. It's not a recent development.

      It's funny. I was thinking about Dixon's goal in writing the article, and, on the surface, it's obvious. "We've got a new book coming out. Buy it." I think all the bellyaching is, on some level, insincere. Yeah, he feels aggrieved, and wants to vent his spleen, but my impression is that the article exists primarily to sell a product to a sympathetic audience that would otherwise not know of it.

      Re: Batman. I was talking about his *very* early days, back before they really decided what he was going to be, and he was more like a dark pulp hero like the Shadow than what he is today.