A writer friend of mine posted an article recently that Marvel Comics was planning on changing the direction of their stories to stop having “Social Justice Warriors”. I admit I didn't read the article because speculation on how writers and editors plan on creating something that hasn't happened usually turns out to miss the nuances and key points of what will eventually be made. I will wait to see what the comics are actually like. But the title stuck with me and bothered me. The last time I was this bothered was when I read about Captain America being an agent of Hydra.
I read the speculative essays on how the Red Skull used the Cosmic Cube to change history so that Captain America would actually be an agent of Hydra. Personally, I don't like time travel stories. People will argue that I love Doctor Who so I must actually like time travel stories. But I counter, that most Doctor Who stories only use time travel to place the Doctor and his companion where the story then takes place, very little time travel occurs afterward as the story unfolds. My real problem with this Captain America story line is I couldn't accept him as a Neo-Nazi. Capt was created to defeat the Nazi. Yes, even Stan Lee said it was a brave and acceptable thing for a writer to do. I see that now, that's where the nuance and writing comes in. Having a hero actually be the exact thing which is antithetical to everything he believes in can create some wonderful stories and character developments. Superman: Red Son would be a great example. There are many great examples. Most of those are alternate worlds or time lines or mini-series. I can accept those because although they may change future directions for the hero they don't undermine what the hero stands for, rather they enhance it through comparison.
I can accept Captain America agent of Hydra now, although I still don't plan on reading it. I am not interested in seeing my hero like that. I started reading Captain America around issue 212 in 1977. Jack Kirby was still writing and drawing those issues. Captain America had a partner, Falcon. Not a side-kick like Bucky, but an actual partner. Falcon was Capt's equal. I was pretty young and didn't see the true significance of that. But it was great because my friend who was African-American had a superhero and I had a superhero and we could be partners just like them. So maybe I saw some significance in that. Maybe my friend saw even more significance in it than I did. We didn't talk about those things, we just fought the Nazi and the Red Skull. We defended America and the American dream of all men being equal. I do remember that I especially loved Capt, Green Arrow, and Aquaman because they were blonde, like me. Other superheroes had black or brown hair so some of our friends said I couldn't be them.
That was also around the time that Linda Carter was staring in the show, Wonder Woman. There were no male Superheroes in that show. There were heroic men, but she was Super. Isis was another female superhero TV show. And there was Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, more female superheroes. I loved those shows and I had nothing in common with them. But they upheld great ideals. This was shortly after the American Bicentennial, so patriotism, national pride, and the American dream were prominent ideals being represented throughout the media. We had a great country and even though not everything was perfect and people disagreed, if we upheld the tenements of Liberty, Equality, and Justice we would always be the good guys. I was young then. Those ideas became inherent in me. Those were the ideals I wanted my heroes to exemplify. I was happy knowing that skin color or gender didn't make someone better or worse, that they were equal. What mattered was how they acted.
A little after this time, my friends stopped being interested in comics. They became interested in sports and other typical activities. I didn't. As time went on, we drifted further apart as our mutual interests vanished. I was identified as being different. My childhood nickname was “freaky albino”. I became the target of bullies. I was the weird kid. Eventually, I had no friends. My home life wasn't too much better. My parents were divorced when that was relatively rare in my community. I was being raised by my grandparents who didn't understand the last generation let alone mine. And they didn't want a weirdo grandson. They tried to force me into normalcy which failed miserably and made all of us quite unhappy and disliking each other. I felt like I didn't belong in society. My grandparents were thinking and acting like they did since the 1930s, I was acting like it was the 1970s. My African-American friend wasn't allowed to come over to my house. I couldn't play with the girls who were Wonder Woman, Isis, Electra Woman, and Dyna Girl. Boys played with boys and they played sports.
I still had comics. I found an old issue of X-Men, issue 140, shortly after the death of Phoenix. I got some more issues. For some reason, Nightcrawler and Wolverine appealed to me. Yes, those are pretty obvious reasons. I was an angry loner so I quickly identified with Wolverine. I wished I had his rebelliousness and strength to stand up to authority. Nightcrawler was a lovable and kind-hearted man who wished that people could accept him as he was. He tried to use the projector that Professor X gave him so that he would pass as normal, but his true form was always revealed. These were people who were shunned by society but nevertheless used their gifts to be heroes. The X-Men were such an obvious symbol and parallel for the LGBT community. Not all of the stories even touched on the mutant persecution, hatred, and bigotry. But when they did, back then, those were very powerful stories. I dare anyone to read the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills or New Mutants issue 45 without having some emotional sympathy for the victims of blind persecution.
I had found out that there were other weirdos like me in the world, I wasn't alone. When I started high school, I put that to the test and actually found many great friends. I am still friends with many of those people. I accepted that I was weird and owned my difference like David Bowie, but that is a different essay. I still read comics. I still believed in those same patriotic ideals. I made a good life for myself and befriended anyone regardless of skin tone, gender, sexual orientation, or religious identity. I judged everyone equally based upon their character and behavior.
I raised my son with those same ideals. I used Batman and Captain America to help teach him to read. I would read to him every night before bed. But we didn't just read the stories, we also discussed them. Why was Nightcrawler sad in this issue? Why did the Red Skull treat Falcon with contempt yet he felt Captain America was his equal? They weren't just fun stories with cool pictures, they were a way to teach morals and situations that he had not yet lived through. They were a way for us to connect to each other and the world around us.
When my son was in first grade he almost got expelled because he physically grabbed a boy who was bullying another kid. But because he touched the other child he was going to be expelled. The fact that he was helping a child in need didn't matter to the principal. My Wolverine and Captain America righteous indignation showed up to that parent meeting. Yes, he should have gotten a teacher to resolve the problem, but he did what his heroes had shown him-he defended those in need. I was very proud.
So when I heard that comics want to stop having Social Justice Warriors in their stories, I wondered what they will have? I read Walking Dead and the big spoiler was that the zombies weren't the villains, people were. People who had stopped caring about each other. People who had lost their sense of justice. When I first heard the phrase Social Justice Warrior, I thought it was a new superhero. Being a Literature major in college, I like to break down phrases and understand their total meaning. Social, being of and about the society and community. Justice, the fair and equal treatment of people. Warrior, the defender of the community, the person who fights. Together, a person who fights for fair and equal treatment of all members of the community. That sounded like a superhero's job description to me.
Do I want super without the hero? No. There are anti-heroes, tragic heroes, and flawed heroes but what made them more than just a collection of powers was their morals and ideals. Wolverine meditated. Nightcrawler prayed. And Captain America was an artist. Walk through the walls with a Jewish girl from Chicago sometime and see why these things matter and how we can keep them in our lives.
~ Y.M. Valentonis