If you are someone who grew up reading comics, you’ll remember them as these weekly or monthly issues that tell you what your favourite superhero was up to next. Sometimes these stories are just stories but sometimes they have elements that run deeper than the ink on each page. Here we revisit some of the comics that have so much more than meets the eye.
Marvel Civil War
Marvel’s Civil War story arc has gained immense traction with it due on the silver screen soon. While we can’t quite tell the plot of the film as of yet, in the comic books, the story revolves around formation and consequences of the Superhero Registration Act. Without spoiling the story for you, basically this act forces any superhero to register their identity with the American government so there is more accountability on their part. As you can imagine this divides the superhero community into two schools of thought; while one agrees with the act the other rebels against it as their secret identities are the only thing deterring the villains from going after their loved ones. To put it simply, the act was one that invaded the privacy of US citizens and anyone who didn’t comply were locked up.
Sound familiar? After the events of 9/11 the United States Government established the USA PATRIOT Act which authorised the indefinite detention of immigrants, gave law enforcement officers the permission to search a home or business without the occupant’s consent, and even allowed the FBI to search telephone, e-mail, and financial records without a court order. Whether or not the writer, Mark Millar, did this deliberately, we will never know but he does add “the political allegory is only for those that are politically aware. Kids are going to read it and just see a big superhero fight.”
The story of the Holocaust is not something that you’d think will translate well into a graphic novel but Art Spiegelman does it brilliantly. Inspired by his father’s experience as a Polish Jew spanning World War II, from the beginning of the Nazi invasion to his horrifying time in Auschwitz and finally his liberation towards the end of the war, Spiegelman completed his work in 1991 and in the following year it was the first graphic novel ever to win a Pulitzer Prize.
With ‘cats and mice’ used to represent the Nazis and the Jews on the surface it looks like a simple personification of the cat and mouse relationship. Spiegelman however recounts that his main intention was to portray the different kinds of races in Maus through different types of animals in order to distinguish their race and class but still keep a human quality in them by drawing them in human bodies and giving the mice mouths only when there were cries and screams. “It allows for a kind of vulnerability, coming in toward the underbelly of the mouse. The screaming mouth completes the face; it’s a way of making that face human.”
While most comics offer a clear distinction between the hero and the villain, the classic forms of good and evil Watchmen sort of blurs that line with characters that are more human than superhuman. It’s hard to explain the plot of Watchmen without ruining the story entirely but writer Alan Moore skillfully weaves in questions of morality into a well written superhero epic. Does the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Does killing someone for the “greater good” violate moral grounds? Just like Moore’s ideology of no absolutes in the Watchmen universe, these questions also have no one correct answer but instead spark a conversation to rationalise the actions of the characters. Watchmen has since been recognized in Time‘s List of the 100 Best Novels as one of the best English language novels published since 1923 and in 2009 it was adapted to the silver screen by director Zack Snyder.