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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 

Fans need to focus their criticism on the apologists too

Some comics fans have led passionate debates about Marvel's abuse of its own properties like Captain America, but while they can or do have justification it, they should also be criticizing the industry's apologists, if you ask me. I came upon this ugly, sickening whitewash by Newsarama of Marvel's obscene little act of bigotry, the Captain America: The Truth, Red, White and Black miniseries, from Novermber 19, 2003, written by people who clearly have no respect for Steve Rogers whatsoever, and IMO, have no business working in comic-related business either. This to me is a perfect opportunity to defend the Sentinel of Liberty by delivering a counter-sock to any of those knee-jerk apologists I can find, and I'm gonna take it. First of all, the opening paragraph, which tries to downplay the meaning of controversy, make the comics fans seem like idiots, and also tries to present writer Robert Morales as some kind of a victim:
Of Marvel comics not written by Bill Jemas in 2003, you probably couldn’t get more controversial than Truth: Red, White and Black by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker. A trade collection of the seven issue miniseries is due in February, and Morales was up for talking about his experiences.
Look out, for what you see above here is trying to make it seem as if controversy isn't such a bad thing, and Morales look like...you get the idea.
For those who may not have been around when Truth was announced, imagine that Marvel chose a small group of passionate (and vocal) fans and systematically kicked all of their puppies.

Hard.

The concept of Truth dates back to an original concept by editor Axel Alonso who latched onto the Tuskegee analogy for how the military would test a Super Soldier Serum. Alonso mentioned it to Morales, who jumped all over it, and started conversations between the two.

The idea was picked up on and mentioned publically by Bill Jemas early on in the Jemas/Joe Quesada era. According to Jemas, he later brought up the idea of a black Captain America at a dinner with writers and editors as a possibility for the Ulimtate line. According to Jemas’ rationale, World War II era America wasn’t the most PC place in the world, and, given the reality of the Tuskegee, if the government had a “super soldier” serum to test on someone; blacks were going to play a role somewhere.
First of all, while the Tuskagee experiment, in which black college students from Alabama were tricked into taking part in a shitty experiment in the 1930s, was a most atrocious period in history, it should be noted that none of the victims were ever held hostage or arrested and dragged into a dungeon, as Truth accuses the US army of doing. Second of all, while it's true that were experiments conducted during the 40s involving chemicals, as far as I know, it was convicts in prisons who were the subjects. And not just black ones, but white ones too. In 1940, there was one such case in Chicago in which 400 prisoners were infected with malaria to study the effects of new and experimental drugs to battle the disease. And there's every chance that plenty of the prisoners used in that experiment were white. And let me also note that, if there had been any experiments on soldiers during the 40s by the US army, there's every chance that white soldiers could or would've been subjects of them as well.

In fact, in comic books, if there's any example of army-based experiments involving white subjects, it was in 1981, in Fantastic Four #233, when John Byrne wrote a story involving a middle-aged business agent who'd served in the army during the 1950s and took part in what turned out to be a nuclear-based experiment, pre-Incredible Hulk, gaining some kind of psychokinetic powers that could alter reality. That's right, the guy featured there wasn't black at all, he was a perfectly white Anglican-American, as were almost all the other soldiers sitting out there in the desert too as "the gates of Hades yawned wide." He didn't tell the officials afterwards about the slight buzzing that developed at the back of his head, something he hardly even noticed later on, ditto that he was affecting reality. Following his horror at the apocalyptic destruction wrought by Ego, the living planet, in which he made a super-alteration that saved the earth, his power wore off entirely. He may not have noticed that either, but I must say that he was one lucky guy.

And with that told, let us now turn to Jemas' "rationale". Not only was it incredibly exaggerated, if anything, and downright insulting, but what really does in this whole article is that it downplays the insult unto them, coming dangerously close to implying that assaulting their intellect was justified. And, as mentioned, it tries to make Marvel's staff out to look like the victims.
Boom, baby.

The news hit a segment of fans like a ton of bricks, with many claming that this could never have happened, as it didn’t appear or wasn’t mentioned in any previous issue of Captain America, and some accusing Marvel of trying to “PC-up” Captain America. Message boards were choked with posts about what an outrage this was, and that, as claimed in extreme cases; it was an affront to everything that Captain America stood for.
But my dear Matt Brady, comics company apologist extraordinaire, it was an affront to everything the great Steve Rogers stands for. Unfortunately, Brady, the main man in charge of running Newsarama, would rather have us think otherwise and accept all changes to the character and origin, regardless of whether it's insulting and offensive or not. And that's the biggest problem with this propaganda - it makes the readers out to look like jerks, which was sadly what Jemas and Co. were hoping to do, to say nothing short of making ludicrous implications about the US Army of today as conducting similar experiments in Iraq by using the story as a metaphor for today's world scene.
Not to put too much of a spin on it, but the hate from within the comics community leveled against Morales and Baker, while the first issue was still in production was something probably experienced only maybe George Lucas thanks to the general insipidness of The Phantom Menace or making Greedo shoot first – the lesson being, you don’t dick with pop cultural institutions.
Ah, see that? In other words, the comics community was inciting against Morales and Baker. Translation: the community are not purists and patriots devoted to the ideals of the American way, but rather, blind jingoistic hatemongers. Talk about inflating things more than need be; that's Newsarama for you folks. And while they may have shapened up a bit since last year, they still have a long way to go if they want to be taken seriously and not as just another sleazebag news source.

Morales, subject of the interview here, must've really enjoyed playing victim and wallowing in victimology:
“There was a version I was working on that had Jesus become Captain America…that was too much for Bill, from the first scene of “Private Jesus Christ reporting for duty, sir!” and his sidekick Peter,” Morales joked about how he could’ve garnered a rougher response.

And it all caught Morales by surprise. “It was a very weird thing that I assumed that nobody would pay attention,” the writer said. “I really didn’t think it was going to be as big a deal as it was, and in fact, it wasn’t for me, because it started so long ago. I started working on the story in either March or April of 2000, and if I remember correctly, I had lunch with those guys in June of 2000, but nothing really started to happen until after 9/11, and that kind of changed the character of everything. I did a lot of research, a lot of reading, and then when it started coming out, I couldn’t believe that people were so hot under the collar because I was only doing seven books. There are hundreds, if not over a thousand Captain America books out there – you’re free to ignore me. I mean, in the whole Cap canon, this is a blip, especially since it doesn’t say anything about Cap other than Steve Rogers is a decent human being who becomes proactive.”
Yeah, I heard that defense before. And ain't that something - Morales didn't care if he was disliked as a writer or not; all he cared about was his paycheck. But the fact is that, if it were to have been accepted as canon, it would have been disgracing everything Steve Rogers ever stood for, which is very similar to what Superman does: truth, justice and the American way. And, it would've made it hard to take him seriously as a hero, since his background was being so horrifically soiled. And I might also note that it would've also been damaging to the fact that Cap also stands for the rights of minority groups, both then and now. Not that Jemas and co. would've cared.

(Speaking of the American Way, if there's one more point to make on Superman Returns omitting that part, it's that being an American citizen does not make it impossible to be a foreigner's hero and idol. France's interior minister Nicholas Sarkozy may be the son of immigrants of Greek and Hungarian descent, but does that mean that he can't be the hero of the more native French people, or of people in the US as well? Of course not. And likewise, there are many famous people in America who've met with admiration and respect in Europe as well, as both Capt. America and Superman do for the help they do their best to provide to the world.)

The rest of this interview article gets too treacly and sensationalistic to bear, but if there's something I think I noticed about the whole thread, it's that almost none of the respondents, if at all, seemed to have anything critical to say about Matt Brady, for his apologia and victimology. Nobody seemed to take him to task for the way he paid lip service to Marvel's staff of loons plus Morales by making them look like victims or that The Truth miniseries' premise wasn't offensive and insulting, nor that he made the fans of Cap and any of the readers who decried their sick little act of bigotry out to look like blind villains who were "seeing things that weren't there." I realize that it could very easily be because Brady erased any personal criticisms and condemnations, but still, if nobody stood up to him, you have to wonder why.

And the point of this is make it clear to anybody who found the miniseries as offensive as it was that: while you have every right to be angry at Marvel's staff of the time for pulling that publicity stunt, don't let newscasters as bad as Brady slip beneath your notice. If he's done you wrong as dedicated fans, have no qualms about confronting him. As a "mainstream" news reporter of sorts, he's done more than enough to be asking for a serious rebuttal, otherwise, he could just go on and on with his propaganda shtick, and few others would be up to the challenge of taking him on critically either.

In the past year, Newsarama actually did start to tone down the more sensationalistic approach they were taking in past years of their existence, but apologia and lip service are still there in some way or other. If they are, that's why I'd suggest issuing some criticism against them, one of the best things the blogosphere is for - to focus on issues like these and to speak out against sensationalists like what Brady was being in past years. If you can figure out how to best protest such would-be news coverage, then that could be a step towards improving things.

Biased news coverage is one of the leading problems that's led to bad comic books in turn. To fight for better story quality, that's why the media focusing specifically on comics needs to be dealt with first.

Open trackback parties: The Mudville Gazette, NIF, Point Five, The Right Nation, Stop the ACLU.

2008 Update: I've discovered a strongly recommended article from Nationl Review's Jonah Goldberg (Hat tip: Molten Thought) that sets the record straight about what really happened at the time of the Tuskagee experiment, but also tells something very important to consider: it was an outgrowth of leftist policies.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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