In an interview on the Youtube channel SYFY Wire on October 20, 2017, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick strongly advocated for politics in comics. When trying to come up with an idea of something that comics could be about other than politics, she was unable to think of any subject of comics worth writing or reading that would not be political. She went on to state that all comics have always been political.
To me, it seems like a myopic worldview that reduces and transforms the life’s work of generations of craftsmen and storytellers into a field and message that they largely avoided. The only positive aspect of seeing this happen is knowing that these modern writers own stories will inevitably be reduced and transformed to support a separate political issue that they themselves would wretchedly abhor by people that share a similar myopic worldview. If the stories aren’t forgotten altogether.
If all you ever see are politics, then everything is political.
Sounds like a fun way to spend an article, let’s give it a shot!
First, you take a hot button issue that has people screaming on both sides of it. Then find or manufacture evidence to support your claim. Finally, blow it out of proportion for maximum effect.
Here we go!
Comics Have Always Been Political: Stan Lee was Pro 2nd Amendment
Marvel Comics is pro 2nd Amendment. Stan Lee warns that it will only be crooks posing as moral arbiters that will try to make you surrender your guns so they can violently rob you and everyone you know.
Surely, there is no way we could prove something like that.
I present to you Two-Gun Kid Issue 57, December 1960. “The Man Who Hated Guns” Written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Severin.
You can’t get much more Marvel Comics than a story written by Stan Lee in 1960. At this point, the first issue of the Fantastic Four was still a year away. The Two-Gun Kid was one of several Marvel Comics gunslingers running around the Old West getting into adventures and usually dishing out a simple moral message before wandering off at the end. The title started in 1948 and ran until 1977. Though it published only reprints starting with issue #105 in 1972.
In this story a preacher comes to Red Rock and convinces the well drawn people of the town to give up their guns or they will never be safe. Now, the Two-Gun Kid presumably believes in the utility of guns so much that, well, he has two of them. He believes in both of them to the point that it is literally his name. Most of the preacher’s speech is presumed to have been given before the story starts. The townsfolk, convinced of the moral righteousness of the preacher’s message, are ready to go along with it. Even the Two-Gun Kid is swayed by the call to surrender his guns for his own safety.
The Two-Gun Kid has been shooting guns out of people’s hands for fifty-seven straight Comics Code approved issues and now he’s ready to give peace and unarmed safety a chance. He tosses away his gun belt like Luke Skywalker tossing away his lightsaber at the climax of Return of the Jedi. What could go wrong?
In all of its five page glory, the preacher immediately walks over to thank the Kid personally.
That slick owlhoot Preacher Brown weren’t no preacher after all. He is revealed to be the leader of a gang of outlaws that immediately shows up with their guns drawn. The storytelling is pretty clear. Stan Lee is telling us that only crooked bastards want to restrict the 2nd Amendment so that you’ll be defenseless when they come to take whatever they want by force, whenever they want.
When the kid wakes up a few panels later he puts it all together. Of course anybody that wants to restrict the ability to defend yourself is only doing it because they are hypocritical thieves capable of callous murder. Stan Lee is warning you to never give up your guns or you and everyone you know and love will be victimized by those same people preaching about safely disarming you.
But if you accidentally forsake your 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, make sure that you can also punch out the guy with a gun. Once you’re rearmed you can pull the old Comics Code trick of shooting the gun out of the bad guys hands.
Also learn how to dodge bullets. All in all it is an awful lot of skills to learn in order to get your rights back. It would probably have been a better idea not to give them up in the first place!
After a quick punch out of “Preacher” Brown. we’re all wrapped up except for the final message.
This story pretty clearly lays out a case for the right and necessity of owning a gun. Stan Lee knew that pushing his politics was so important that he buried this story at the tail end of the issue. The other stories in this issue involve using a roofie to win a gunfight and sacrificing your life. In the next issue he followed up his relentless political diatribe with a Kirby dragon attacking more well drawn dot-color townsfolk, a few lessons about honoring your word, and when it is okay to stop being a pacifist. Would this series have been better with more pro 2nd Amendment messaging beaten over the reader’s head?
After all of the above, do I believe that Stan Lee or Marvel Comics strongly advocates for the 2nd Amendment? Not at all. From all indications, I’m pretty sure that if you had asked Stan about it three separate times in the same day you would have gotten three separate and contradictory answers. He was trying to write stories that entertained. He was trying to write stories that sold. Two skills that have been lost in the current age of comics. According to the ongoing downward sales trends, comics about politics are nearly as fun as politics themselves. I don’t have exact sales figures for this issue of Two-Gun Kid but my best estimate places it between 140,000 and 155,000 copies sold. Today it would be the number one selling comic by a large margin even if you compare it to 2019 sales figures. Politics isn’t the only thing killing the comic book market, but it is going to end up on the death certificate.
Does this mean that politics should never turn up in comics? Absolutely not. When political ideologies, themes, and plots all weave together and clash with one another it can create some of the most fascinating stories. But, political ideas on their own are not original or creative and rarely do any of the writer’s politics clash with anything except the occasional strawman. The viewpoint is never challenged. Any political viewpoint that is too fragile hold up to scrutiny and analysis is not worth having at all. And any idea that’s worth fighting for is certainly worth fighting with.