Comics, Politics, & Screw You Bill Willingham

I’m a big fan of the Bill Willingham’s comics. He is a brilliant and talented writer, but this is unbelievable

To sum up really quickly, he claims that comic’s have become too liberal and un-American.

Before I go on, let me just make it clear that I’m not offended by this because of my political views. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, liberal, or conservative. I could care less what Mr. Willingham’s political beliefs are. What really pisses me off is this hateful garbage that isn’t even grounded in reality.

Mr. Willingham says:

“Marvel’s legendary patriot Captain America, in a comic book story published shortly after 9/11 spent a good part of the issue apologizing to the super terrorist he was battling about all of the terrible things America did in its pursuit of the cold war against the Soviets. “(But) we’ve changed. We’ve learned,” he whines. “My people never knew!” Then again, at least ol’ Cap was fighting the bad guy, so maybe there’s still hope.”

That issue looked at the tragedy of 9/11 as a global tragedy. That there were a series of causes and effects that resulted in a heinous act of terrorism. 

Captain America is my favorite superhero because he always fought for the American ideal, not the American Government. He battled for the ideals and freedoms that make America, while recognizing that our politicians and policies weren’t always in keeping with those ideals and freedoms. 

Willingham also says:

“No more superhero decadence [That’s his euphemism for everything he doesn’t agree with] for me. Period. From now on, when I write within the superhero genre I intend to do it right. And if I am ever again privileged to be allowed to write Superman, you can bet your sweet bootie that he’ll find the opportunity to bring back “and the American way,” to his famous credo.”

Mr. Willingham go %^&* yourself. Superman began as a Depression era crusader of the people. Not America. Not a government. Not a way of life. He fought for the people. He dealt with everything from corrupt politicians, to street hooligans, to evil menacing police officers. It was about the rights of the people, not the policies of the Government. When World War II started everything switched gears to supporting American nationalism because it was what the people needed. The Jewish comic creators also wanted nothing more than to stomp-out Hitler and the Nazis like a cigarette. 

Mr. Willingham is confusing patriotism with nationalism. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Patriotism is about loving your country enough to tell it when it’s wrong (someone smarter than me said that, I just don’t remember whom).

Nationalism is about a mindless love of government regardless of its policies or the character of its leaders.

With the exception of the 1940’s and 50’s, comics have been a largely progressive and liberal medium. Deal with it. You don’t have to agree if you enjoy the story.

To act like our actions, or lack thereof in the aftermath of the failed Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were responsible and just, is downright stupid. The fact that Mr. Willingham has a problem with Captain America voicing such a realization is hardly a problem with the comic industry.

This editorial is akin to meeting a band  that you really like and respect, only to discover that they are jerks. The music is the same, but listening to them isn’t quite what it was before you knew that they weren’t nice people. Bill, I will keep reading your work because you’re talented, but it won’t be the same.

14 thoughts on “Comics, Politics, & Screw You Bill Willingham

  1. Nice post. Your last sentence more or less sums up my own feelings on this, “Bill, I will keep reading your work because you’re talented, but it won’t be the same”. I knew he was a conservative, and that’s fine by me even if it’s not a position I share for the most part. But blind ideology and jingoism bothers me quite a bit. I just hope it doesn’t start to creep into Fables.

  2. Followed your link from CBR, and I have to say, thank you. Cap is my favorite superhero in part because he wasn’t a jingoistic mouthpiece for any political stance, but the embodiment of the American ideal, and it always irks me whenever anyone argues he is or should be anything else. (I hate the Ultimates for this very reason, even thought I get that that Cap is supposed to be a satire on W. Bush’s America).

    And that whole “American way” bullshit was tagged on to Superman during the Cold War, just like “under God” in the Pledge, and it irritates me when people act like its essential to Superman’s character.

  3. Thanks. You both make some interesting points. The irony of Willingham using Superman as an example is also pretty striking because he is the ultimate tale of immigration. A stranger from a strange land with no home to return to is immersed into the heart of America. Yes he’s white and looks like most American’s but he is very different… maybe it’s “un-American” to look at Superman’s origin in such a manner.

    There is nothing wrong with the ideals carried by the phrase “the American way,” but to act like removing it from the character’s tag-line is a sign of a great culture war is irresponsible. My observation is that people who use the phrase “culture war” are usually trying to start one.

  4. “Captain America is my favorite superhero because he always fought for the American ideal, not the American Government.”

    In which alternate universe? For most of his existence, Captain America worked either directly FOR the US government, or at their behest. The Super Soldier program was run by the Army, and Steve Rogers fought for the US government during WW II. After “de-icing”, Captain America was deputized by Shield, a government intelligence agency, and commanded the Avengers, who have ALWAYS operated under the auspices of the United States Government. An issue in the 70’s shows him getting a lecture from Henry Gyrich about not turning in his government paperwork on a regular, punctual basis. Furthermore, the US government owns the Captain America identity, which was the point of replacing him with the US Agent guy. Rogers resigned at one point rather than continue as Captain America.

    Your basic premise… that Cap was an agent that was “always” independent of the US Government is flatly wrong. The character was created for pure propaganda purposes during WW II, both by his creators and in the storyline, by the US Government. Cap has always been tied at the hip to the American government.

  5. (To my non-comic geek readers, this is a comic debate. It may seem inane if you have no attachment to the characters in question… but it is what it is.)

    Douglas, I will grant you, I should have specified Steve Rogers, not Captain America. You are correct that the government did deputize a number of other Captain America’s over the years, and some of them didn’t workout.

    And you are also correct about Captain America/ Steve Rogers initial creation serving as a pro American propaganda hero, however, you’d be hard pressed to find any pop-culture icons during the WWII era who weren’t serving that function. Even Disney was making anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese propaganda.

    All of that being said, I strongly disagree with a number of your interpretations of Captain America, the Avengers, and their relationship with the US government.

    They were a privately funded institution, and Gyrich was their government liaison. At best he was portrayed as a paper pusher, at worst he was a racist villain who interfered with the team saving the world. The Avengers were an independent team operating in the US and were consequently still subject to US law, Gyrich was the bureaucrat put in charge of that relationship. They only became official employees of the government in the last couple of years. Even then, Captain America didn’t sign on the dotted line because he was morally opposed to the law.
    Steve Rogers opposed the government on a number of occasions, dropping the Captain America identity so that he could continue to fight for American ideals even when the government wasn’t supporting it’s own ideals.

    All of the debate over character history aside, none of these issues change my main points.

  6. Hateful garbage? That’s going a little overboard. The article seemed more wistful to me. And though some of his examples may have been cherry-picked (and doesn’t almost everyone do this in argument, really?) I think his larger point (that superheroes have become darker and less, well, “super”) is pretty on target. Whether that’s a bad or good thing is certainly up for debate, though.

  7. “He still finds occasion to mention he fights for truth and justice, but no longer finishes that famous line with, ‘…and the American way.’”

    What more should a superhero fight for than truth and justice?

    What more is required?

    Truth and justice are pure concepts. They aren’t tarnished by human action. To claim that Superman fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way” is at all superior to fighting for plain old truth and justice is to imply that there is something unquestionably superior and perfect about the “American way.” I love this country, but that’s just too much. Far too many injustices are tolerated or even promoted by our way of life for that to be an accurate depiction of reality.

    The implication that the “American way” is on par with truth and justice implies that all other ways are inferior. That’s a hateful, ethnocentric, and hardly the message that our superheroes should be sending.

    To cap it off, what is the “American way?” I’ve been all over this country and I’ve seen a lot of different “American ways.” If my understanding of Mr. Willingham’s editorial is correct, he seems to imply that his take on the “American way” is that absolute one.

    Are superhero comics darker now than they were in the past? Yes. The kids who grew up on Watchmen, Preacher, Spawn, the Punisher, and all manner of dark non-superhero comics are now writers. They’ve been influenced by what came before them… but not everything is dark, and it has nothing to do with the “American way.”

    Truth and justice are always worth fighting for. The goal should be to continually drive the American way towards truth and justice.

  8. Thank you for this post. You put into words what frustrated me about Willingham’s post. I just completed Fables Vol. 1 and am looking forward to #2. Now, I wish I had already read them. I”m disappointed.

  9. Some great feedback here to the Willingham rhetoric. Even as a big fan of Fables, I was somewhat confused on Willingham’s ideas every time I came across a nationalistic remark, and then I hit a wall when I reached Arabian Nights. At first I thought it might be some ill-informed perceptions, but then I saw the Israel tag line and was shocked.

    I hold nothing against those who have their own political allegiances, but to have something so blatantly forced upon you with misguided rationale is just incredible. As I began to read up on Willingham I came across a lot of his political ideology and after reading this post, it is just disheartening.

    I really enjoy fables, but now I unfortunately read everything with a grain of salt. I believe he should be brought to light on his rhetoric as it can be utterly misguided and ill-informed.

  10. “With the exception of the 1940’s and 50’s, comics have been a largely progressive and liberal medium. Deal with it. You don’t have to agree if you enjoy the story.”

    What’s so bad about there being a few conservative writers and artists to help with a teeny, tiny counter-weight in the other direction, then?

    You claim you’re neither liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, but I for one think it would be nice if you said what you actually were. Why? Because to me it seems very odd to be upset about one person complaining about bias, while at the same time stating that the entire medium is biased. Make up your mind!

  11. Oh Johan… You’ve come to the party about a year late; I completely forgot about this post. Nevertheless I will address your criticism but probably not in the way that you are hoping.

    Not that I owe you an explaination, but I have some liberal, and some conservative views. If the Republican party still cared about small government, I would be Republican, but they aren’t. So I am a man without a party.

    That being said, my political views don’t matter. If you take issue with one of my arguments, make a counter-argument. Attacking me or my politics is a waste of my time and yours. I will not endulge personal attacks.

    Thanks for reading.

  12. One more thing.

    I have no problem with conservative or even outright propaganda comics (left or right). What bothers me is changing core traits of a character to do it. Create a new character, use a character who is an established conservative, or develop a character who doesn’t have an established political world view. There’s plenty of room for different political views.

  13. Dear David Spira,
    I used to be a Fables fan,but when i read the line about israel,something started to stink.
    It’s a book about fairy tales,for pete’s sake(i’m french).
    Don’t bring politics into it,especially when you glorify evil.
    And about Captain America,i totally agree with you.
    He’s all about people,and not only americans.
    Finally,it’s good to know that there’s people who react when fascists colonizes comics.
    Merci David.
    Farid from Paris.

  14. Vous êtes les bienvenus Farid.

    I feel the same way when writers swing well-established characters to the far left for the purposes of propagandizing.

    Individual freedom is an important thing, even in comics.

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