It is no secret that superheroes on the big screen rake in ample box office success. This could help explain why this summer alone has already featured four films with heroes in tights.
By no accident of design, Hollywood reiterations on comic books often reflect on administrations, policies and ideologies taking place in the nation’s capital. Thus, dissecting the seemingly premeditated moves of comic writers and filmmakers, examining the political nuances of plot and deciphering the political leanings of superheroes themselves is a coral reef of vast, colourful, diverse complexity, and a pastime for many.
Take Ironman as an example. Following its 2008 release, Tony Stark was famously described by comic-artist Jorge Lucas as the “first political superhero” post-9/11—albeit hailing from the conservative end of the spectrum, if his occupation as a weapons manufacturer hadn’t given that much away.
Even the first Spiderman, released a year after 9/11, though not overtly political, came with cautionary undertones. The barefaced dictum that “with great power comes great responsibility” uncannily captured the zeitgeist of the Bush pre-emptive doctrine era.
However, Hollywood’s political superheroes have thus far remained very wealthy, very handsome, very male and very white—even though one could argue the legitimacy of some commendable films featuring colored-and-heroic crime fighters, like Will Smith’s Hancock. However, I’d argue that Hancock remains infused with perennial stereotypes of the habitually unemployed, foul-mouthed, lazy drunkard African-American male—who in the context of this particular film gets “saved” when he encounters “a white man with a heart of gold and an angel of a son” wanting to help Hancock with his “image.”
This June, when Marvel Comics killed off its longstanding and most popular character, Spiderman, the comic book industry swung into action.
In the spirit of many a ‘retired’ athlete and rapper, Spiderman will not remain out of the comic book industry for too long and is slated for a comeback this September. This time however, he’s ditching Peter Parker’s persona as scrawny, awkward, white, science-nerd and adopting a new persona as the half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales.
Adding further spin to this intriguing minority web, the sexual orientation of your friendly neighborhood superhero remains deliciously unannounced by Marvel Comics creative team, which includes Brian Bendis.
In the past, both Marvel and rival DC Comics have featured minority superheroes but “changing the identity of Spider-Man… its single most recognizable property, is a watershed moment,” according to Bendis.
I remember a time when getting that rolling ‘r’ and the glottal stop before the ‘s’, when pronouncing the name of DC Comic’s most exalted supervillain, Ra’s al Ghul, left one feeling all sorts of important. Bear in mind, this was the relatively innocuous early-90s, prior to 9/11 and the resulting Islam-induced paranoia. And in those simpler times my sincere fascination with al Ghul, an ecoterrorist, was not as questionable.