Identity politics has sowed seeds of a bitter civil war in an iconic American art form, driving it towards cultural irrelevance and financial collapse. Against the odds, devoted fans and a few creators are struggling to establish an alternative network. How did things get so volatile?
Welcome to the inverted world of American superhero comics. In an age of blockbuster superhero movies making billions, comic sales are low and dropping. Rather than embodying aspirational qualities of bravery, self-sacrifice and fairness, today’s comic-book superheroes are weak men wrestling with toxic masculinity. Ineffectual, hapless and emotionally incontinent, they are wretched role models. Some fans deride these emasculated heroes as “beta males and cucks” (cuckolds); the descriptions are dismissive, but accurate. King’s other book Heroes in Crisis is set in a counselling centre attended by superheroes seeking treatment for stress.
And in the end, Heroes in Crisis wasn’t even about that much; just a shoddy excuse to force a superhero favorite into the role of a villain, and the allegation he only killed accidentally is no excuse. What they did to Wally West is abominable, and for that, it’s high time to boycott DC – and Marvel – on a serious basis until those responsible are shown the door.
On the other hand, the women are bad-ass warriors and super scientists who don’t need men—quite literally, as many of them have been converted to lesbianism. The Unstoppable Wasp featured an all-female team of self-validating young genius scientists (in a rainbow coalition of ethnicities) who also happened to be lesbian or bisexual. The characters were examples of transparent virtue signalling and demographic targeting. Shallow interchangeable characters and feeble stories failed to appeal to young girls—The Unstoppable Wasp was ignominiously pulled because of low sales.
A cohort of female young-adult authors was hired to tap fresh audiences but has instead driven away the established audience without bringing in youngsters, women and ethnic minorities. These writers do not take American superhero comics seriously. They undercut everything with humour, hence endless quips about pop culture and banter about food. Exciting adventures are replaced by slice-of-life dramas. New writers push leftist politics and fringe social attitudes: escapist adventures are problematic because they allow readers to ignore social issues; muscular men and shapely women reinforce body stereotypes, marginalising the overweight and transgender people. In an age of “positive representation”, characters are unblemished representatives of identity groups, hence the glut of perfect (and perfectly dull) characters. Characters are gender- or race-swapped to undermine supposed stereotypes. There’s a Korean-American Hulk (Amadeus Cho, in The Totally Awesome Hulk) and a teenage black girl Iron Man (Ironheart).
When fans complained about bizarre story choices, lazy art and drastic alteration to established characters, they were called bigots and smeared as Nazis not just by other fans but also by creators. The comics industry, which has always had diverse creators and characters, was castigated as a white patriarchy by newcomers ignorant of its history. Experienced popular artists who are Republican voters (Mitch Breitweiser, Jon Malin) and traditional Christians (Doug TenNapel) have been unofficially blacklisted by social influencers and industry insiders. Artist Ethan van Sciver experienced harassment, stalking and intrusion into his private life. There is a climate of fear as a handful of professionals and a few hundred political activists use social media to intimidate creators, fans and staff into support or silence. The specialist press runs a sombre roll-call of comic-book shops, which are practically the sole sales outlets, closing because they are unable to sell politically-correct comics to readers in search of escapist entertainment. My book Culture War details how the American superhero industry has been damaged by entryists, who enter cultural production with the sole aim of using it for political goals.
Of course, depending how one looks at all this, I’m disappointed that decent business agents who can afford it aren’t trying to buy out corporate-owned franchises and make an effort to repair them, both outside and in. Sure, creator-owned products look like they’ll be the future of the art form, but even so, I should think anybody who cared would find ways to get a publisher in bad shape bought out by sources who actually care. For the meantime, artists with their own wares should take the time to polish them, but anybody who really believes in Marvel and DC’s power as entertainment vehicles should be doing what’s possible to find a caring business buyer.
Anyway, it’s good that somebody in the press actually cares about the subject, and was willing to take an objective approach to the subject. Kudos to Standpoint and Alexander Adams for being one to speak up for the right side.