The Curious Case of Marvel Editor & Birdwatcher Christian Cooper

The Harvard Crimson spoke with former Marvel Comics editor Christian Cooper (who studied at the university) after his encounter with Amy Cooper in Central Park. As expected, it’s tilted in his favor entirely, by a contributor who believes in victimology, though it does reveal quite a bit about what Cooper’s political standings are.

 

First, what the writer says in response to the video itself:

 

The encounter in the Ramble, a dense woodland area in New York City’s Central Park, changed the trajectory of both Amy and Christian Cooper’s lives. By the time the police arrived, the pair had left the park. By lunch that day, Christian Cooper had posted the video on Facebook and his sister, Melody, had reposted it to Twitter. From there it began to spread, racking up tens of millions of views and garnering attention from major news outlets.

It’s perfect outrage-bait: Years after the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement, a white woman weaponizes race on camera to sic the police on a Black man. A trick that might ordinarily work in Amy Cooper’s favor doesn’t, probably because it was recorded. She has been embedded in the national consciousness as a villain.

 

And the writer wants her to be one, is that it? Hey, I think it’s regrettable if she hauled the dog away by the collar in a manner that could’ve choked it, but it doesn’t excuse that Mr. Cooper was antagonizing her over a petty issue, and acting like he had moral authority in all instances. After analyzing this a bit, I can’t help but wonder if he was the one who pulled a trick on her. Under the confidence that PC advocates would rally in his favor. If such was the case, it does hint at something troubling. When the writer turns to Mr. Cooper’s decision not to help the NY prosecution against Ms. Cooper, he says:

 

When I first spoke with Cooper over an hour-long Zoom call from my kitchen, I was really trying to understand this choice.

Eventually, I came to the following conclusions: It’s not that he thinks that Amy Cooper shouldn’t be punished — he does. He’s not an abolitionist. And he’s certainly not interested in reconciling with her.

But his decision not to assist the prosecutor in pressing charges complicates the binary of villain and victim to which the United States has clung amid this “racial reckoning.” To single her out specifically for more punishment, to make it seem like her behavior was particularly anomalous, misses a deeper point about the terror that police inflict on Black Americans. According to his July op-ed in The Washington Post, it “lets white America off the hook.”

Christian Cooper, who has been intimately involved with movements for social justice his entire life, who has lived 57 years as a Black man in America, has always understood that a Harvard degree and a penchant for birdwatching can’t always protect him. In fact, he would probably view that observation as rather mundane. He would much rather focus on creating a system where he doesn’t need protection in the first place.

It sounds like the Crimson’s writer believes Mr. Cooper was entirely in the right all along, and indeed, based on his recent digital comic for DC, he probably does too, even as he acts restrained about it. But as I’ve guessed before, one of the reasons why he withdrew from cooperation with the prosecution was because in the long run, it could hurt his reputation if a Harvard alumna were thought to be acting like a character in public, and Ms. Cooper’s lawyer could ask challenging questions that even he may realize could stack against him.

 

EDS.: RETRANSMISSION TO CORRECT CREDIT IN HEADLINE FIELD — Christian Cooper in New York’s Central Park on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Cooper’s video of his confrontation with a white woman in the park went viral on Twitter, setting off a painful discourse about the history of dangerous false accusations against black people made to police. (Brittainy Newman/The New York Times)

 

In this article though, it looks like he came up with quite an excuse:

 

He’s protective of the Ramble, and other places where birds live and breed. “I just have no patience for people who have no regard for the other living things that we share the planet with,” he says.

It was that principle that brought him into conflict with Amy Cooper in Central Park. She had left her dog unleashed in the underbrush of the Ramble, potentially disturbing nesting habitats for birds. Aware that this was a common problem, Cooper and other birders had started recording people who violated the leashing policy to encourage the city to enforce it.

“That’s not an option in my family — just sit there and do nothing,” Cooper says. “You’ve gotta do something to fix it.”

 

Again, if that’s how he feels, why didn’t he call the cops himself? Or arrange for the Audubon society to sue the city to do better? I’m sorry, but this is a weak argument, and don’t birds usually nest in trees? If it turns out no birdwatchers save for him actually took this action, then his defense is coming awfully late, and honestly sounds contrived. Even if we’re to believe birds are more important than human life, again, the ends don’t justify the means, and if Mr. Cooper’s got such a problem with dog-walkers not following the rule in the park, maybe he should consider Bill de Blasio at fault, seeing what a disaster NYC’s become under his tenure. Also, can’t humans also rummage through all that foliage, causing a mess? Who says it’s just dogs doing that? And when Cooper turns to his choice of university, he says:

 

Christian Cooper says that the primary reason why he decided to go to Harvard was because, “I’m fucking smart.”

He’s also pretty profane, I see. How does that symbolize true intelligence? I fail to see. Here’s where they get around to his comics career in the 90s:

 

This month, Cooper published a comic with DC called “It’s a Bird,” about a Black teenage birdwatcher named Jules who is given a pair of magical binoculars. When Jules points the binoculars at a bird, he sees not just the bird, but also dead victims of police violence. It’s supposed to be a reminder of the stakes of the fight for racial justice — if we don’t change, more people will die.

 

And if we don’t make proper distinctions between who’s good or bad, no matter their racial and ethnical background, the travesties will continue. So I’m wondering why Mr. Cooper seems to take such a superficial view of George Floyd, despite his criminal background, for example, or why he appears to view only law enforcement as a serious issue, and not criminals themselves.

 

Growing up, Cooper loved comics. Throughout college he frequently visited a comic store called The Million Year Picnic, which still stands in the Square today. “I discovered all sorts of wonderful, fantastic, crazy, nutso worlds and stories in that wonderful little place,” he says.

His sister says Cooper has always used comics to express his vision of justice. “He saw that the whole idea of being able to fight the bully, fight the wrong, was not just in something that my parents taught us,” she says.

Right out of college, Cooper became an assistant editor at Marvel Comics, which he says was “the one time it might have almost hurt” to have a Harvard degree. “They looked at my resume and they said, ‘You’re way overqualified for this job.’ I said, ‘I don’t care! I will Xerox ‘til my fingers are bloody! I just want to be in the place.’ Fortunately, they looked past Harvard on my resume.”

While working at Marvel, Cooper edited Alpha Flight, a series about a group of Canadian superheroes. There, he helped introduce Marvel’s first openly gay superhero, Northstar.

“It’s funny because I had read Alpha Flight from its first issue at Harvard in freshman year,” he says. “And [there’s] nothing explicit but by the end of the first issue I was like, ‘Northstar is gay.’”

So when a new writer for the series suggested that Northstar should come out, Cooper and another editor thought, “Oh, that’s a good idea.”

They had no idea that they’d started a controversy. “Marvel completely shut us down,” Cooper says. “They couldn’t stop the issue coming up, but they wouldn’t let us talk about it.” Cooper began to receive hate-mail from readers, including from a comic book store owner in Texas who complained that he’d now be forced to put Alpha Flight in the adult section and wrap the cover in paper. “I’m like, ‘Really? It’s not Playboy; it’s Alpha Flight.’”

In 2012, two decades after Cooper helped establish him as a gay character, Northstar was given the first same-sex wedding in Marvel history, in the series “Astonishing X-Men.” In contrast to 1992, the issue was not played down by executives; in fact, the event was depicted on the front of the comic. “Times change,” Cooper says wryly.

 

Well I know Mr. Cooper’s homosexual himself, but if he believes this is such a big deal, it’s a shame. What makes this so much more important than the issue of Islamic terrorism, for example? It’s clear he views the 2012 story approvingly, no matter how forced it was, shoving the topic way down the readers’ throats, though sales were pretty stagnant at the time.

Say, and would the “new writer” in question happen to be Scott Lobdell? It’s strange, but Bill Mantlo reportedly wanted to do it before them in 1988, and his story proposal was nixed. Yet a scribe with as mediocre a resume as Lobdell’s inexplicably got the job, one that included a questionable storyline involving Aurora coming before that, and his was greenlighted. How odd. Especially when again, you consider that Northstar’s homosexuality was the least of issue #106’s problems, and Canadian Mounties could easily be made out to look bad in the story, what with its contrived ending. Until now, much of the latter end of Alpha Flight’s 1983-94 run hasn’t been reprinted in trades, issue 106 included, and something tells me it’ll still take awhile until it does, because the story in question was pretty embarrassingly bad, yet all Mr. Cooper cares about is the message. But without good writing, how can you convey a good message in turn? And I continue to wonder what Mr. Cooper thinks of Lobdell’s questionable conduct with the opposite sex over the years? I don’t think Lobdell’s the worst, and there may have been at least 2 accusations made against him that were false, but it’s clear Lobdell did make mistakes in some way or other that he should’ve avoided. Last time I looked, Lobdell, once notable for his work on X-Men related books for about a decade, has not been associated with the franchise for nearly 2 decades, and with the way he wrote that jarringly nasty, unrealistic moment in his last X-tale, “Eve of Destruction”, it’s best he never return to it. His portfolio is very lukewarm, and his last X-story is easily his worst.

And then, the Crimson reveals Mr. Cooper once spent time in jail for taking part in questionable protests at a time when Rudy Giuliani was mayor of NYC, also giving a clue to his politics:

 

In 1999, Christian Cooper spent a night in The Tombs.

The Tombs is a nickname for the Manhattan Detention Complex, an imposing 15-story brutalist structure with slits for windows near Chinatown. It’s a jail that usually holds men who can’t make bail, and has a long history of violence and corruption. Cooper remembers being put with several other men in a small room with a toilet in the corner. “They wake you up at 3 a.m. to throw you Wonder Bread with a slice of baloney between it to feed you,” he says. “It’s just a vile experience.”

Cooper had been protesting the killing of Amadou Diallo, a Ghanian immigrant who was shot by the New York Police Department 41 times on his own doorstep. New York was consumed with protests — “Black Lives Matter before they called it Black Lives Matter,” Cooper says. Thousands took to the streets. “Some cop came up and smacked the sign out of my hand and grabbed me and carted me off,” Cooper says. “And that’s the one where I ended up in The Tombs.”

This was actually the third time something similar had happened to him. “There’s a family joke that you’re not a Cooper unless you’ve been arrested at a protest,” he once said in an interview with CBS.

The second time was also at an Amadou Diallo protest a few weeks earlier. For two weeks in March of that year, thousands of protestors sat in front of police headquarters carrying signs reading, “I’m Afraid of the NYPD” and, “Adolf Giuliani” (a reference to the harsh law-and-order tactics of then-mayor Rudi Giuliani). Eventually, more than 1,200 people were arrested, including Cooper and his father. “That was actually actually a very bonding experience, to be arrested with my dad,” he says.

The first time was at a protest against anti-gay violence. Around the same time Cooper was at Marvel he was also active in the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which was formed at the height of the AIDS epidemic to counter homophobic media narratives. GLAAD frequently protested outlets like the New York Post and persuaded the New York Times to use the term “gay” instead of “homosexual.” Eventually, Cooper became co-chair of GLAAD’s board of directors.

Cooper is a believer in street activism and protests, though in recent years his work has mostly been concerned with the “less sexy” aspect of enacting change — what he calls “political maneuvering.” When the New York State Senate was still held by Republicans, he created a political action committee (PAC) called “No More R.E.P.T.Y.L.s.” R.E.P.T.Y.L.s — pronounced “reptiles” — stands for, “Republicans toying with your life.”

The PAC was meant to support challengers of Republican incumbents with the goal of flipping the State Senate. This was particularly important to LGBTQ+ New Yorkers; the state had yet to pass anti-discrimination protections or legalize gay marriage, despite the fact that states around them had. “No More R.E.P.T.Y.L.s” itself wasn’t particularly long-lived — “I was never very good at fundraising”, Cooper says — and later became an email list which he used to solicit donations for important races in New York.

In 2012, Democrats won a numerical majority in the New York Senate — though they wouldn’t gain an actual majority until 2018 — a moment that fills Cooper with pride.

Well, this is certainly illuminating, and explains why I don’t find much to admire in somebody like Mr. Cooper. As noted earlier, the Diallo affair was all manufactured controversy, all for the sake of attacking Giuliani. An interesting bit of recent history: Diallo’s mother may have forgiven Kenneth Boss, the last of the plainclothes officers involved in the case to retire, and the tragedy always weighed heavily on him in later years. And to think, Mr. Cooper’s that kind of activist, who considers Republicans the root cause of all evil. More disturbing is his hint he has no issues with the serious downsides of BLM (and Antifa), including violent assaults, arson and antisemitism. And to think he once worked for a company built up by a Jewish-American writer like Stan Lee. I wonder if Mr. Cooper’s activism is why he later left his job with Marvel? Later, when Ms. Cooper comes up again, this is his one of his explanations why he decided to avoid causing her any more problems:

But he still can’t villainize Amy Cooper. “I approach it the way I do it because I was there. And yeah, she’s a deeply flawed human being who did a shitty racist thing, and may still be doing shitty racist things.” he says. “But still, I can’t help but see her as a human being because I was there.”

 

As I’d noted before, giving a description of a suspect’s physical attributes is something Israeli security specializes in, and, Ms. Cooper may be a Democrat voter, ironically or not. Does the reason he sees her as human have what to do with that he realizes he acted pretty poorly and irrationally himself, without considering that she had no way of knowing whether a perfect stranger could be planning to attack either the dog, the woman, or both (I don’t think he even identified himself as an Audubon member)? Again, even here in Israel there’s women who could’ve responded the same way as she did, so I’m tired as can be at how he plays both sides of the same coin, preaching victimology even as he sees why it’s best to avoid making things worse than need be for her. Interestingly enough, he later says:

 

Cooper suggests instead that we direct our energies toward changing the system itself. This is where he and his sister are in complete agreement. He seems leery of some of the more radical proposals coming out of this moment, though he allows that the idea of defunding the police — redirecting funds from policing to social services to get at the underlying sources of crime — “has a lot of merit.” Police officers, he points out, are expected to perform a variety of duties that might be better addressed by trained professionals. “Defund the police is a stupid slogan, though,” he qualifies. “Turns so many people off and is easily caricatured.”

 

I get the feeling he does uphold the idea of defunding police, even as there’s a high majority in the Black community who want police presence and funding to remain the same or better, but he’s holding his cards close to his chest, as he must figure it could look bad on his Harvard resume. If he’s saying police aren’t well trained in any way or anywhere, that’s ludicrous and paints all with the same brush. Sure, there’s criminals and corruption in law enforcement everywhere. But it doesn’t mean an entire employment list is rotten to the core, and if he’s not willing to make distinctions, it’s appalling, as is any continued support he has for BLM, even as support for the movement’s dropped over the past months.

 
The political leanings of the Crimson certainly tell a lot about where a university once thought to be very prestigious is going nowadays. And once again, Mr. Cooper himself has pretty much explained why I can’t admire him, since he only seems to care about his views at the expense of many other people. That’s why it’s fortunate he’s no longer in comics proper, as he’d likely end up doing really bad politically motivated stuff, aided by publishers whose politics sadly coincide with his.
 
 
Originally published here.

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

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