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Tuesday, April 07, 2020 

Comics Beat interviews Al Ewing, interviewer lets his own leftism be known

The ultra-biased Comics Beat interviewed Ewing on his Immortal Hulk run, and what's fascinating is that the interviewer's leftist politics and dislike for Donald Trump is even more noticeable than Ewing's:
The Beat: The first twenty-five issues of Immortal Hulk featured a lot of body horror elements. With issue twenty-six, you’ve shifted your focus from that to more of a capitalist commentary with kaiju fights. Can you talk about your decision to change that focus?

Al Ewing: I don’t think it was quite as sudden as that. For one thing, I’ve been telling people this all weekend, body horror is coming back in issue thirty-three, the big 750th legacy issue. Before that, leading up to issue twenty-five, we’d brought in various political ideas. We’d brought in the environment as a theme. I think the through-line there is both in the horror of the everyday, and anger as a theme. I was really thinking about things that make people angry, and of what makes them afraid. If you’re talking about the end of the world that we’re currently living through, it’s both anger-making and horrifying.

The other thing I touched on, particularly in issue twenty-six, is the Hulk as a counter-cultural figure. If you look back at those early issues, he’s hanging around with juvenile delinquents. In the ’60s, Iron Man’s building weapons for the military industrial complex. Hulk is beating them up. From a time before Stan Lee thought, “Actually, I’m feeling very counter-cultural myself,” Hulk was still the earliest example. I feel like Immortal Hulk is a book where we can do that and it won’t be out of place. It’s been an interesting journey, though I think some readers didn’t appreciate it as much as others. I don’t think it was unnecessary or that it veered off-track.
I find it interesting he doesn't mention Hulk beat up villains antagonizing the military far more, not the least being the communists in those early days of the Cold War origins. Even as Bruce Banner's Hulk side detested the guy who'd become his dad-in-law (Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross), he was willing to rescue him from dangerous situations if Thunderbolt was threatened by villains, and while the Hulk may have been responsible for a few deaths by his own hands, he never tried to murder most US military officials.

And why does Ewing consider the Hulk counter-cultural, but not Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, X-Men, or even Thor? It's not like they weren't admired by counter-cultural types, if that matters. Even Superman could've been considered a favorite adventure of the counter-culture crowd. What's annoying is Ewing's suggestion he believes the military to be rotten to the core, with no redeeming values. They don't even consider that when Lee came up with all these fantasy adventures, he portrayed commies negatively, even in the Hulk's stories, recalling an early one where Hulk and Rick Jones were menaced by commie agents, and the green titan said, after stopping a grenade from causing disaster, "do these commies think they're playing with kids?" Here's where they get around to speaking favorably of liberal stances:
The Beat: It just feels very prescient. I feel like I see a lot of what’s going on today reflected in this current arc. I see, I’m gonna say it, a very Trumpian villain in the Minotaur.

Ewing: The Minotaur is Trump before he became Trump, but you could say Trump, or Jeff Bezos, or Mike Bloomberg. If somebody went up to me and said, “The Minotaur reminds me of Bloomberg,” I would say, “Oh. Ok.”

The Beat: I say Trump because of the way the Minotaur dispatches his subordinates, like we’ve seen on the news recently.

Ewing: I will say, as a British person, we don’t have the same respect for the office as the Americans have. They have a strong respect for the office of the president. The current situation, which I think is similar to Nixon, is a different dynamic. I don’t like to comment on American politics in my personal social media feeds because British politics are so appalling. How would I spare the time? Nobody wants to see me talk about Trump when Boris Johnson is the British Prime Minister.

So the Minotaur, for me, isn’t going after anyone in specific, but it is definitely taking a political stance. I try to avoid pretending to be an expert in another country’s politics, but I think there are certain political stances that can and should be taken. If I choose to make the work apolitical, that is itself a political decision. Likewise, if I don’t throw all of myself into the work then that short-changes the reader. Not every book would do this, though. You’re not going to get stuff like this in Guardians of the Galaxy, for example. Hulk is special. And part of what makes Hulk special is you can do this.

The Beat: It’s in the DNA of the character.

Ewing: Yes, exactly.
This sure is telling plenty, not the least being the interviewer's own hints and confirmations of bias. And Ewing doesn't deny it, though he's evidently trying to cover his tracks and insist Minotaur represents liberal figures as much as conservative ones for the sake of moral equivalence. I honestly expected no less. If the Minotaur uses deadly force, it's in poor taste to compare him to Trump, because when Trump removed staffers he felt weren't delivering from his government cabinet, he didn't use deadly force like Doctor Doom could. Ewing may not try to play expert in foreign politics, but as noted earlier, he has used the Hulk as a platform for politics that became a problem in any western country. And what makes him think Americans have some kind of herd mentality making them inherently respect the presidential office? Back in Reagan's era, the left hardly respected him. In fact, what makes Ewing think the Trump situation is throughly similar to Nixon? Sure, Nixon did do stuff that was offensive, but I get the strange feeling Ewing might not think those matters count, ironically enough. In any case, his villification of Trump is done without citing any valid reasons, which seems to be the common MO among leftists of his sort. I won't say Ewing has to like Johnson, who's currently in hospital for Corona treatment, but if Ewing doesn't think Jeremy Corbyn was a bad lot, then I don't see what his problem with Johnson is by contrast.

As for their claim you can "do this" with the Hulk, because it's supposedly in his DNA, is that really so? Gee, and I guess if you depicted the Hulk as an outright terrorist supporter, a racist, or lenient on sexual assault, that would be okay? Anybody who's going to say a character meant as an anti-hero, who could initially take questionable positions but ultimately wound up doing the right thing in the end, is possible to do anything with that their personal politics condone, has got to be pretty desperate and out of their minds.
The Beat: You’re allowed to stretch those limits.

Ewing: Hulk is, I think, the most limitless character Marvel has. Part of that lack of limits is that you can speak to things that superhero comics generally shy away from. I say that, but I’m not doing anything Steve Gerber didn’t do. Or Steve Englehart. I’m following the traditions of Marvel in the ’70s. Maybe this is just part of comics. To be honest, I haven’t had that much back-chat on it. Editorial have been wonderful in letting me do things my way. Joe [Bennett] has been wonderful as an artistic collaborator, and I’ve been working with him to make sure the stuff he wants to do is in the book. And the readers seem, generally, willing to come onboard. There are times when I thought I’ve gone too far on certain things. But I’ve been very happy with it.
As I've said before, the whole notion the Hulk is without limit is utterly ludicrous. But what's Ewing mean by the superhero genre avoiding certain things? Marvel under Axel Alonso certainly didn't by the time they got around to turning Captain America into a Nazi in their 2017 Secret Empire crossover. Ewing's not following Bronze Age traditions any more than any other modern writer who's long thrown away reason for the sake of rabid ideology, as he put in only so much forced LGBT propaganda, and recently made Bruce Banner out to look bad, contradicting Bill Mantlo's storytelling horribly. He's gone too far alright, yet he's obviously not sorry (and the CB interviewer doesn't seem the least bit concerned). But have readers truly been willing to climb aboard? Sales of 20,000 to 50,000 are far from a victory, especially when you discover so many copies still gathering dust at the stores, mainly because of the non-returnable policies.
The Beat: With the great success you’ve had I’m not surprised people are sticking with the book. You’ve blown them away, the book is a breakout.

Ewing: I’m very grateful for those who have stuck with it, and maybe that includes people who are picking up the book and reading things they don’t agree with. I’m grateful to those readers as well. I can’t give them half a job. I need to put all of myself into it, and sometimes that means going to these places.
Claimed again without citing any sales figures, I notice. Yup, we get it. So if they decide to stop reading because of what they disagree with, will he stop being grateful? Or is he just grateful to anybody who feels buyer's remorse after the fact?
The Beat: You’ve explored Hulk as this anti-authoritarian hero of the people since he’s taken action against Roxxon.

Ewing: I think he’s always been heavily anti-authoritarian. He’s always had a strong following in the counter-culture, in those early issues like I said with the Teen Brigade.

The Beat: I meant more in how it’s reflected in the journalist character Jackie, and how she’s jealous that Bruce gets to express his rage in a way that she can’t. And now that sentiment is kind of applied to the world as he’s captured the world’s anger and is directing it at Roxxon. Is he the hero we deserve or the hero we need?

Ewing: We’re going to get to a point that questions what is effective. It’s not saying that anger isn’t effective, it’s about how Bruce may fall down in other ways. It’s tough because the Hulk is not Batman. He’s not a hero with a plan. I think in that sense, at this point in time, someone with a plan is needed? But also that rage, that anger, is valid. As an avatar of rage, the Hulk should not be feared and we shouldn’t be locking that anger away. He’s also a representative of people with dissociative identity disorder. There’s a lot of things that the Hulk is, but the question is whether it’s enough for Roxxon. That gets to a larger question of, in the real world, how do we deal with late-stage capitalism? How do we deal with the horrors in our lives? I’m not sure I have the answer, but maybe I can at least provide a moment of catharsis.
So the Hulk's anti-authoritarian, but nobody else is, huh? Tell us about it. Did Rick Jones and the Teen Brigade condone the idea of Hulk injuring and killing military officials like Thunderbolt? Nope. And again, the jade giant was never the only star in superhero worlds to acquire a following with counter-culturalists. Let's remember his first volume in 1962 was not an immediate success, got cancelled after 6 issues, and following guest appearances in a few other books, most notably Avengers, that's when Stan Lee was finally able to build up popularity again, and continued more solo adventures in Tales to Astonish, first alongside Ant-Man, then the Sub-Mariner, before taking over the numbering in a solo book that became far more successful the 2nd time around. It's hardly the first time any Marvel hero could go after Roxxon over their corrupt activities either. But curious Ewing should frame it all as a bad case of capitalism. Apparently, he's the kind of Euro-socialist who believes capitalism's inherently negative, and decided to use Roxxon as the representative.

They go on to talk about his work on Guardians of the Galaxy as well, and it sounds like he made sure to exploit it as a political platform for all it's worth:
The Beat: You’ve employed this reflective and summative look at the Guardians. You’re taking advantage of their history; these characters are tired and beaten down. Was that the hook that you found in the group, to examine the characters and what they’ve been through over the course of the last couple of years?

Ewing: Part of it is that I do enjoy telling stories about characters who are at the end of their rope in one way or another. There are a lot of people who like their superheroes to be indefatigable and ultra-powerful. I always find superheroes at their most interesting and most heroic when they’re at their weakest. The idea of starting with the Guardians as just burnt out, it made it interesting for me and, like I mentioned earlier, I wanted to get into something without getting into current politics. But maybe I could touch on the feel of current politics.

The Beat: You get to make up your own politics in a cosmic landscape.

Ewing: There is that, but I wanted to give the sense of not knowing where things were going, but we know they aren’t going to be good. I think in a way it becomes more of a holiday from the world than an actual reflection of it, but I wanted to do space politics. Part of that involves treating the Guardians as veterans of wars. At what point do you say, “You can go home.” If you treat them as superheroes they’re always expected to go out and keep fighting. There were a lot of people who were astonished that Gamora would say, “No, I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m not re-upping, I’m not re-enlisting. I’ve done my tours.” And she’s done about ten. That’s why I’m not treating them as superheroes but as a group of veterans. That’s something that’s definitely come out as I’ve written it, and it’s part of the appeal in that I think treating them as superheroes almost lessens them as characters. I feel like I’m continuing where Donny [Cates] left off in that respect. He started a procedure and I’ve carried on from him, but obviously doing it my way.
It's not so much "making up" his politics, so much as it is channeling his personal politics into the books. So I won't be shocked if he (and Cates) takes an anti-war approach to dealing with the Guardians, and while I'm sure Ewing is doing it his way, it probably still isn't all that different from Cates, if he too went by a liberal slant. It's one thing to depict the Guardians as veterans, but another to make them look much more tired of wars than need be. The original Guardians, developed by Roy Thomas and Arnold Drake in 1969, were battling metaphors for communism. And when Jim Valentino developed the early 90s take on the Guardians, he gave it a sense of fun adventure, which helped distinguish it from the grittier stories occurring at the time in various other comics. A newer approach depicting the Guardians as weary vets doesn't sound the same as the earlier renditions, and Ewing's probably let his politics cloud any chance of that too. I don't expect Cates' take to be any better.

In the end, this is also a fascinating example of an interviewer not concealing his own biases, eschewing the idea of remaining neutral even as he could ask about the politics in a book, and letting his mindset cloud all concerns about whether the writer disgraced Bruce Banner for the sake of shock value at the expense of past story developments that were handled far better than what modern writers on corporate-owned characters are doing.

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The Guardians of the Galaxy were developed by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan under the editorship of Stan Lee. Roy Thomas was associate editor, but he is not credited with a role in the series. How do you see the Badoon as metaphors for communism? They had some Nazi traits, with their death camps using slave labor and their belief that particularly inferior races should be exterminated, but nothing suggesting communism.

In England, the Queen is the head of state and the Prime Minister is only the leader of the majority political party. In the US, the president combines the two roles. He is chief executive and head of state both. So his office is surrounded by a lot more symbolism and reverence than is attached to the prime ministership, even when the person serving is too small a man to fill that role.

Ok, here’s a question:
You are proudly on the far-right fringe. You declare it in your autobiography, and your work is republished by bleedingfool.com, a fringe comicsgate site. Why is one of your reoccurring attacks to point out the bias of other creators, journalists, and/or websites? Do you not see the inherent hypocrisy in that?

Also, you reference sales of Immortal Hulk as being 20k-50k. Besides #1 (which sold about 85k), the title has consistently sold between 40-50k and has been a top 25 title. Comichron.com, which reports Diamond’s sales, will confirm this. However, your numbers have no confirmation or information that can be cited, which I notice you criticize the interview for.

There is an art to making an argument, and it consists of reasoning more advanced then “I don’t like stuff, therefore it’s bad!”

" In any case, his villification of Trump is done without citing any valid reasons, which seems to be the common MO among leftists of his sort."

Except that he doesn't vilify Trump in the interview or the book. He discusses how one of his characters is a generic evil millionaire who is not a politician, and who has a few characteristics in common with a number of rich people, liberal or conservative; as you say, he draws a moral equivalence. No derogatory comments about or vilification of any particular person there, even if you have some clues as to how he, in common with the majority of the American and British population, feels about Trump.

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