No Award watches Captain America: Civil War, sums up why I have no interest in superhero movies, and also invents my new favourite word, yankpain, which is “like manpain, but for when Americans are just really sad about the necessity of killing foreign civilians”.
Cut for some tl;dr about my own relationship with comics…
I’ve read comics since I was a kid, but I started in late 1990s when mainstream DC/Marvel superhero stories were considered uncool. The artists I grew up with were people like Sam Kieth (The Maxx), Alan Moore (Watchmen), and Warren Ellis (The Authority).1 My favourite comic–the only thing I own predominantly in single issues, in fact–was Evil Ernie, which was a terribad “anti-superhero” cheesecake-and-gore-fest about a villain-protagonist undead teenager who’s on a quest to turn everyone on the planet into zombies.
In other words, the comics I grew up reading were those that tended to look critically at the idea of superpowered (or super-wealthy) vigilantes running around doing whatever they wanted, without regard for due process and law.2
I think it’s probably no coincidence that a lot of the “name” writers who came out of this era of comics were British, not American. Moore, Ellis, Mark Millar (who wrote the original Civil War comic), and Grant Morrison (tonnes of stuff) are all English or Scottish. Meanwhile, the US was giving us creators like Rob Leifeld and Frank Miller.
The British, like Australians, don’t have the really aggressive vigilante/militia culture that exists in the U.S. Widespread gun ownership isn’t a thing, belief in castle doctrine (“stand your ground laws”) is weaker, vigilantism tends to be much more strictly quashed by authorities, and acceptance of the idea of violent revolution against the government is more muted (in Britain because they have a few thousand years of “been there, done that”; in Australia because we won our “war of independence” with a strongly worded letter, not a conflict). If you grow up in that sort of climate, I think it’s a lot more difficult to face-value accept superhero comics, which leads to all the de- and re-constructions that were both hallmarks of the late 90s and saviours of the then-dying genre.
For all that they’re often based on the works of British creators, however, modern superhero movies have definitely lost that critical edge; they have more in common with Miller than Moore. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are very, very different books, politically, if you actually bother to read them rather than just look at the purdy pictures of beefy dudes punching things, which I’m starting to think a lot of people didn’t. (Or, alternately, people read them when they were young and, um, less politically astute.)
Modern superhero movies, from both the big franchises, are works that emphasise a might-makes-right world where (invariably American, predominantly white and male) unilateral violence is the solution to all the world’s ills. Movies like Captain America: Civil War might pretend to investigate this premise but, ultimately, do very little to refute it.
The fact that all of this is happening now, at a time when the US has been in a deeply asymmetrical “war” for over a decade, one whose human toll is predominantly paid in the dead of nameless, foreign, brown-skinned people, one that’s created and promoted by wealthy white political elites in the West…
Well. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. What with media never reflecting political climates or anything. Particularly not when a billion dollars (i.e. the approximate box office takings of Civil War) is on the line.
To conclude, some comics I’d like to see films of:
- The Authority (with proper Apollo/Midnighter, not all that late-series nonsense)
- Zero Girl (this time it’s the girl loser who gets the powers!)
- Poison Elves (badass Victorian-esque high fantasy)
- Sex Criminals (challenge the MPAA’s stance on sex versus violence!)
- Gloom Cookie (love in the time of goths and monsters)
- Transmetropolitan (probably more relevant now than when it was written)
- My Faith in Frankie (girl with a personal god gets involved in a love triangle, solves it the practical way)
- Fell (though it’d probably work better as a TV series)
… Or, yanno, basically anything other than yet another superhero franchise film.
- All of whom have worked on “mainstream” stories. Moore is the author of The Killing Joke, one of the seminal Joker stories, for example, while Warren Ellis wrote the Iron Man: Extremis arc that was later adapted into Iron Man 3. ^
- In Evil Ernie, for example, while the titular character is the protagonist, the main heroes are the Young family, specifically Mary Young, who lead various efforts to thwart him, and are definitely portrayed as the people to root for. For a not-terribly-intellectual comic, it also does quite a bit of exploring on issues of legitimate authority; while Evil is the one who creates the dead, for example, and can psychically control them by force, he’s ultimately replaced as the leader of the new nation of zombies (the Psychotic States of America because, yanno, it was still the 90s) by Mary’s brother Rick, a.k.a. Homicide the Dead King (ref. the 90s), who wants to weaken Evil’s psychic hold, make peace with the living, and create a legitimate, free society for the undead. ^