In my effort to “catch up” on things, earlier today I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I don’t particularly care for Marvel properties that much these days. If I’m going into a comic book fad, I usually prefer something more “indie.” Anything Marvel just feels too mainstream and watered down, especially now that they’re owned by Disney.* However, I will say that I respect the fact that Marvel does address some pretty important social issues, and sometimes in a progressive manner. This movie in particular tackled the issue of total security versus personal freedom. Of course they had to throw in the idea that the “security” involved flying aircraft carriers that killed anybody the bad guys figured might fight them, so it became more of a “comic book” plot. Still, the topic was addressed in a pretty big way.
Therein lies the point of all of this: while something might feel too mainstream and watered down by large corporations interested in making ticket sales and selling more comic books, by addressing these issues they’re possibly affecting change by making a large fan base think. Captain America and X-Men reach a larger audience than alternative comics characters.
There’s a wide range of success and what “mainstream” actually means. But there is such a thing as pop culture entertainment that’s seen as escapism but also makes people think about the world that their living in. There have been movies made about lesser-known comic book characters as well such as Tank Girl and Ghost World, but they don’t seem to have such a lasting impact on our culture.
So is it the responsibility of these larger entertainment companies to address the important issues in order to affect change? That’s hard to say. I don’t think it’s necessarily their responsibility but it happens organically nevertheless. In order to tell a good story it must have a moral, no matter how small the issue is. In order to sell comics the moral has to be current and edgy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people will buy the comic or go to the movie because of its moral, though. It might be because they already recognize the franchise. People will go to the latest Captain America movie because it’s Captain America. They’ll go to the next movie because of what the previous one accomplished, including said moral.
Take for example the rise in gay characters in comic books in recent years, such as several characters in the Marvel universe to Kevin Keller in Archie Comics. Is this because it’s the morally correct thing to do, or because it’s the financially correct time? In the long run, does it matter? One could argue that the latter still results in the former, which makes this a moot point.
In the end, it all comes down to how stale the issue feels by the time of the release of the movie, comic book or whatever else might be released to the public. The security versus freedom issue of Captain America: The Winter Soldier reflects a topic that’s been on the public’s consciousness for years now (although I recognize that it took a few years to make). Still, it’s a discussion that’s far from over. While it might not provide a solution or address the problem in real-world terms, the fact that it gives people food for thought has value in of itself.
*That’s not to say that I avoid everything that’s mainstream in terms of comic books, as evidenced in previous blog posts. Just the other day I picked up the first issue of the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover. The eleven year-old fanboy in me was excited.