In a world of ultra-nationalism and intense political divisiveness, is there still room for the standard American superhero? According to Eric Kripke, showrunner of Amazon’s “The Boys,” there may not be.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kripke discussed his understanding of superheroes, and the way that he believes they are responsible for the rise in alt-right politics. In fact, Kripke outright tells The Hollywood Reporter that when it comes to classic superhero stories that, “there’s these undeniable fascist underpinnings to it. They’re there to protect white, patriotic America.” But is this true?
Though their creation stories are filled with the pro-American rhetoric of the 1930s and 1940s, they still were created to protect people, not ideals. After all, superheroes were created by marginalized people, to defend the marginalized.
Iconic creators such as Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created characters to tear down rising Anti-Semitic notions. When they wrote characters to “uphold American Ideals,” they didn’t mean the ideals the nation has, but rather the ideals the nation was built upon and the ideals the nation should follow. As other issues began to become more prevalent in America, such as racism and misogyny, superheroes began to take on these issues as well.
An iconic image of Superman created in 1949 states, “If YOU hear anybody talk against a schoolmate or anyone else because of his religion, race or national origin—don’t wait: tell him THAT KIND OF TALK IS UN-AMERICAN” as a way to unify the country against the incoming wave of white supremacist ideals. X-Men comics are written about characters who represent many minorities, such as LGBTQ+.
At one moment Kripke directly states “They’re protecting the status quo.” This is fundamentally untrue when it comes to comics. With more and more characters either becoming legacy titles – such as America Chavez’ Captain America – or re-envisioned, like New 52’s Wally West, comics have been more representative of the variety of American experiences. Kripke’s conclusion stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the intended message.
This misunderstanding is prevalent in the superhero fandom however, which is the basis of Kripke’s opinion. It doesn’t matter if someone’s understanding of the material is wrong, it still informs their dangerous opinions.
In a recent segment on “The Tonight Show with Noah Trevor,” Jordan Klepper interviews a man that compares Donald Trump to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, even going so far as to refer to him as the first “superhero” president. Klepper responds to this claim by pointing out that Tony Stark believes in science – something Trump has been accused of not doing.
Another example is with the character The Punisher, American War Vet Frank Castle. The Punisher is a violent, gun-toting anti-hero and icon to both the alt-right and many members of the American Army and Police Force, most notably “American Sniper” Chris Kyle.
In Kyle’s autobiography he wrote, “We all thought what the Punisher did was cool: He righted wrongs. He killed bad guys. He made wrongdoers fear him… We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to fuck with you.”
The Punisher is an “anti-hero” as described by Creator Gerry Conway, and not meant to be an idol to anyone, much less simultaneously a hero to the US Military, the police and alt-right nationalists. But that means he’s not a superhero either. To imply that characters like Spiderman, a poor orphan from Queens, is on the same level as a character created to be one of his rogues is disingenuous to the genre.
The idea that superheroes are inherently fascist is a problem, because it divorces real people from the choices they’re making. By choosing to idolize problematic characters they neglect the positive influence these characters are supposed to have, even going so far as to bastardize certain characters to fit their mold of what superheroes should be.
The idea behind “The Boys” is that if real people had these mythical powers, they would be corrupt. I find that untrue. If corrupt people had powers, they would use them in corrupt ways, much like a corrupt cop uses his power every day. Superheroes aren’t supposed to be cops though. They’re the people on the ground fighting for a better future.