Why Political Pundits Shouldn’t Fight Super-Heroes

CREDIT: Marvel Comics Click to View Full image
CREDIT: Marvel Comics
Click to View Full image

Some pundits can’t leave well enough alone. Weighing in on a hot-button story and putting the most divisive sheen on it are more important than context or accuracy. We see it all the time; whenever a news story leaves out details to promote a popular narrative or blatant disregard for facts it is dismissed as opinion. On Sunday, The Washington Times was guilty of ignoring both background and detail when the paper featured an editorial entitled “Heroic and Politically Correct.”

Over the last week, the comics industry, blogosphere, and the media at large have all been abuzz over Marvel Comics’ announcement of a new Ms. Marvel series featuring Kamala Kahn, a muslim-american teen girl from Jersey City. As we discussed on last week’s Infinite Crossover podcast, the news has been met with largely positive response. Much of that has had to do with extensive comment moderation on most sites featuring the story, but when commenters have engaged in discussion, it has been (for the most part) civil and well-informed. For a story which got attention from outlets across the political spectrum, from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal to CNN and TIME, little was said to cast the plan in a poor light.

The Washington Times, on the other hand, goes out of its way to connect the new Ms. Marvel with everything bad going on in the Middle East. According to the writers (who display a remarkable prescience regarding the book’s content, given that its scheduled release is months away) while Kamala avoids advocating for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way […] She can take her cues from Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who traveled to Saudi Arabia last week to mend fences and promptly climbed atop one.” Where one finds a connection between a Pakistani-American super-hero and Saudi Arabian women’s rights issues is enough of a difficult leap, but Times’ logical contortions don’t end there.

In deriding the costume design of Ms. Marvel for its departure from the dated “bust and gams” look of female super-heroes, the most extreme counter-example is chosen in Wonder Woman, rather than the character who inspires Ms. Marvel: Carol Danvers. This is, I suppose, understandable. By virtue of her traditionally patriotic character design and broader public awareness, she serves as a much more potent nationalist foil for the Islamic intrigue Times seeks to manufacture.

Wonder Woman (L) and Captain Marvel (R). Whose costume is more conservative?
CREDIT: ComicsTheory.com

If anything, the Times editorial staff—who use the same article about comics to take pot shots at Secretary of State John Kerry for stating that he thought debates over internal policy were best left to Saudi Arabia—should consider that the new Ms. Marvel is about as far from “evangeliz[ing] for Islam” as one can get. Kamala’s inspiration is a decorated American pilot and member of the Avengers. She is a strong, independent woman whom I’d like to see anyone attempt to bar from operating any vehicle she likes. As proponents of a Pax Americana where every nation is inspired and led by the United States, one would think that these conservative writers would find a lot to like in this story.

It is not just Kamala Kahn that they take offense with, however. The editorial goes on to call into question how “the comic book industry promotes eerie lifestyles.” Publishers are taken to task for everything from Kevin Kellar’s wedding in the pages of Archie to the recent controversy surrounding the resignation of Batwoman’s creative team.

The final assertion, that “comic books are just funny books for everybody else,” is the door to understanding the whole thing. Times, like anyone speaking outside of a field where they have any knowledge, simply demonstrates its collective ignorance when discussing comics. In an era of print when staff is minimal, it perhaps exceeds reasonability to expect professional journalists to research an area before expounding upon it. It is quite possible to get away (and do very well) with very little research when one writes on a topic with which its audience is not very familiar. When examining an area such as comics—with a notoriously detail-oriented fan base—smart money will back those who do their homework. If Times ever again finds it necessary to wade into the waters of comic book news, I hope they’ll take that to heart.

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Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He also hosts the weekly Infinite Crossover podcast in cooperation with Fanboys Inc. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and daytime supporter of all things technical. contact:joshuadepstein@gmail.com

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Josh Epstein

Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and resident of a real-world Smallville.

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