I am quite often surprised by the venues in which I will encounter stories on comics and graphic novels. I certainly never would have expected the self-styled journal of "liberal intelligence," The American Prospect to feature as its cover story a report on current trends in super-hero comics, complete with a blow up of a panel from Warren Ellis' Black Summer.
The article by Julian Sanchez examines recent attempts, in stories that directly or indirectly criticize the Bush administration, from Black Summer to Marvel's Civil War, to mix progressive politics and super-heroes. It is Sanchez's conclusion that, while well intended, these super powered political allegories ultimately fail because of what he sees as the conservative--he goes so far at one point as to use the word "fascist"-tendencies inherent in the nature of the super-hero genre itself.
Sanchez cites Civil War as "...the clearest example..." of his thesis: "The Superhero Registration Act," he writes,"is a straightforward analogue of the USA PATRIOT Act; the rhetoric of its opponents could have been cribbed from an ACLU brief. But under scrutiny, their civil libertarian arguments turn out to hold very little water in the fictional context. The 'liberty' the act infringes is the right of well-meaning masked vigilantes...to operate unaccountably, outside the law--a right no sane society recognizes."
Sanchez, in my view, has a valid point. Super-heroes have always been defenders of the establishment and the status quo, and political allegories in the genre have always worked better when the so-called heroes become the oppressors rather than the freedom fighters.