The latest issue of a DC Comics series hit close to real-life politics, showing a child refugee, whose family was ‘gassed’ by the Syrian president. But it’s hardly new for the medium intended for teen audiences.
Doomsday Clock is an ongoing limited edition series, in which a universe of Batman and Superman gets intruded by characters (and themes) of the dark world of ‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore – which is itself a deconstruction of the superhero comics. In the freshly-published issue #8, Superman visits a fictional Middle-Eastern nation ruled by supervillain/antihero Black Adam and sees scores of refugees sheltered there.
Black Adam introduces one of them, a child from Syria’s Douma, saying that “his younger sister [was] gassed by Assad, the Russians’ puppet.” Some would say it’s no big deal, considering it all happens in a world where a guy dressed in blue and red flies and shoots beams from his eyes, but can easily hide his identity by putting glasses on. By the end of the issue the US and Russia go to war, by the way.
Others would argue it’s just an example of how American children are indoctrinated from a young age to support narratives that their country’s government promotes. And the US comics industry has a long record of doing it too, right from the good golden days of Captain America bashing the Nazis with his shield.
Occasionally this practice becomes pretty macabre. The classical story arcs of Batman comics, ‘A Death in the Family’, is best known for killing off the second character posing as Robin, the sidekick to the caped crusader. Jason Todd was beaten by the maniac Joker with a crowbar and left to die in an explosive-rigged room. Readers were asked to call one of two phone numbers to vote for either a miraculous survival or a real death in next issue.
This was in the 1980s, long before such a poll would be done through the internet, but a bit of dedication and automation by a Todd-hating fan sealed the fate of the boy wonder. A grief-stricken Batman goes after Joker with the worst intentions only to be stopped by Superman. Why?
Because Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution and now leader of the country, decides that appointing the Joker as his representative at the United Nations is a brilliant idea. And the US government simply cannot allow a diplomatic incident, like Batman beating and arresting the Iranian envoy.
So Joker, dressed in an Arab keffiyeh (kids don’t need to tell apart Middle Eastern cultures) gleefully tells the UN General Assembly that he and the current leaders of Iran “have much in common, like insanity and a great love of fish” and, yeah, gasses his audience.
That is not to say US-published superhero comics are all about brainwashing children into standing by its government’s foreign policy. But the simplified comic worldview does sometimes conflate with real-life politics in America. Like a 2008 piece published by the Wall Street Journal, which argued that George W Bush was Batman in terms of breaking the rules to get things done. Or more recently Bill Maher accusing comics fans of getting Donald Trump elected.
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