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Tempest in a teapot: Politics, apologies and Captain America #602

by  in Comic News Comment
Tempest in a teapot: Politics, apologies and <i>Captain America #602</i>

So we’ve seen this mixture before, even if all the ingredients aren’t always exactly the same. Take one dose of outrage, throw in some major media coverage, add an apology to the offended and presto — you’ve got the makings of a controversy. This week’s bruhaha, of course, is centered on a panel from Captain America #602, where an anti-tax protester had a sign that said “Tea Bag The Libs Before They Tea Bag YOU!”

It’s been picked up by everyone from the New York Times and Washington Times to political and comics bloggers. Even MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann got in on the act on his show last night, quoting CBR’s interview with Joe Quesada even though he didn’t mention the source.

So let’s see what folks around the comics blogosphere are saying about it. A lot of the discussion seems to be centered on Marvel’s apology, so let’s start with Brendan McGuirk’s post on ComicsAlliance, titled “Why Marvel Owes No Apologies for Captain America’s ‘Tea Party’“:

It shouldn’t be entirely surprising that Marvel, now a multi-billion dollar subsidiary of Disney, would kowtow to the media behemoth that is Fox News. Marvel Comics are for people of all stripes and creeds, of course, and no one should be made to feel unwelcome for leaning one way or another politically. Brubaker, however, has established himself as the preeminent Captain America writer by deftly weaving modern real-world allegory with bombastic superheroics to powerful effect, and so there was something rather disingenuous about Marvel’s recant, as it seems to be missing the point; sure, you can remove the “Tea Bag the Libs Before They Tea Bag You,” sign, but are you really saying this story isn’t about the Tea Party movement? Isn’t that what makes the story so interesting?

The intermingling of real-world concerns with colorful theatrics has been huge factor in the success of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. From its earliest installments, there have been seeds of the real world planted throughout this celebrated tenure, and that has been the lens through which we understand who Captain America is, and how he functions as a national hero.

Tom Spurgeon says that good art challenges people’s self-conception:

Marvel shouldn’t be pressed to apologize for inadvertently pissing people off — it’s art. Art isn’t there to support anyone’s self-conception, and a lot of the better art out there challenges that kind of thing every chance it gets. Everyone should learn to live with it. Not only should Ed and Joe and Marvel be believed when they offer an explanation, they shouldn’t have to offer one. They shouldn’t have to see their explanation interpreted as a broader apology, either, which is doubly unfair. In the end, they should feel free to have Captain America fight The Teabagger if that’s what they want. Or the evil twins Hope and Change. Whatever. I promise you the republic will survive. Also, it struck me as super creepy that Ed Brubaker’s tweets were dug up in this Fox News article not just as the interesting sidelight they’re portrayed as being but as a kind of broad implication that maybe he shouldn’t be believed when he says this specific thing was unintentional. How do you answer that? I suppose no one expects an answer. While someone out there will certainly suggest this proves comics’ relevance, I don’t think there’s any victory to be had in becoming the latest pile of chum feeding the snapping leviathans of American political churn. What a stupid story.

Johanna Draper Carlson also questions the need for saying they’re sorry:

Captain America (the comic) is doing a storyline where Captain America (the character) infiltrates a racist bunch of political extremists. This is exactly the kind of thing the comic should do to keep the character relevant — have him represent the best of the country’s ideals.

Well, another group of wacked-out political extremists, the Tea Baggers, found out and got upset. Instead of respectfully acknowledging the right to have a different opinion, editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and writer Ed Brubaker started casting around to throw blame somewhere else. Brubaker said it was added in production, and Quesada said the letterer just picked something up randomly from online.

Most ridiculous is that they are planning to change it when the story is reprinted. How silly, to kowtow to a bunch of ignorant loudmouths! What happened to the Marvel that used to chase controversy as free publicity? Or do those guts only apply when they’re tweaking their competition?

And Jennifer Smith at Fantastic Fangirls summarizes some of the things Marvel hasn’t apologized for in recent years:

What makes me angriest about this whole situation, however, is how starkly it contrasts with the list of all the things Joe Quesada and Marvel writers have REFUSED to apologize for in recent years – all the people whose legitimate complaints have been brushed aside derisively in the name of art or the almighty dollar. Let’s start with Jonathan Hickman’s use of the offensive slur “retard” in a recent issue of Fantastic Four, defended in the letter column as necessary to his art because “that’s what a three-year-old would say.” Let’s talk about how editors spent months defending the Chameleon raping Peter Parker’s roommate in Spider-Man without repercussions or even acknowledgment that it had been rape. What about all the times people have brought up the sexism or racism in certain comics and been brushed aside as crazy entitled fans, as if they were banging on the doors of the Marvel offices demanding the return of Deathlok? Marvel does not make a habit of apologizing, even when it probably should.

And if you’re looking for a bit of humor in this whole thing, over at ComicsAlliance Chris Sims imagines what else the protesters might have been protesting:


Now there’s a protest I think everyone on both sides of this debate can get behind.