Tuesday, 24 October 2017

I read The Champions, and I liked it

The fuss about Marvel's alleged 'social justice agenda' is all the more ridiculous given that Stan Lee, when discussing the origins of the comic books that made Marvel famous, explicitly stated that he wanted to express progressive values. The introduction of the Black Panther, for example, undermined racist tropes about 'primitive' African nations (although there are more than a few details, from the name of the hero down, that raise eyebrows).

The Champions is probably one of the series that has been identified as part of this agenda, because it manages to avoid women embodying the most common superpower, has a racially diverse line-up, asks questions about the moral consequences of heroism and suggests that leadership is less important than collective organisation. Issues have addressed themes like racism, capitalist greed and even the absurdity of villainous tropes: guest star Gwenpool is convinced that racist and homophobic activities are the result of a mind-control ray, or something, and balks at the suggestion that there isn't a conspiracy working behind the scenes. With its lively art (clean panels, cartoon-like characters, energetic story-telling), The Champions walks the line between didactic content and playful adventure.

Ms Marvel, who decided to form The Champions after feeling that the older Avengers lacked social responsibility, had already been criticised for her own comic book. A female Muslim, living in a multi-racial New Jersey, Ms Marvel followed the classic Marvel pattern of trying to combine her powers with responsibility: like Spider-Man, she struggled with romance, homework and the demands of fighting baddies who had all sorts of magical powers. 

Unlike Spider-Man, she had to deal with literal - as opposed to fantastic - racism, but had an extended family and broke with the orphan trope. Despite the occasional lapse into heavy-handed didactic tactics (the one about voting ends up with her marching about, explaining why voting is good while waving an American flag), Ms Marvel demonstrates that the superhero genre can adapt to progressive politics, and that exciting fighting works well enough alongside inclusivity.

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