American Patriotism In Comics: The Good, The Bad And The Indifferent
Patriotism isn't confined to simply our American culture, it's something that has permeated nearly every aspect of American entertainment.
July 4th, Independence Day, is without a doubt one of the most fervently upheld days in American society. Sure, it's been slurred and has faced a backlash in recent years because of the actions of certain individuals, yet the tradition remains that the Fourth of July is a day to celebrate our country's freedom and sovereignty. Americans celebrate this idea by drinking beer, waving flags, shooting guns, shooting fireworks, celebrating with family, and visiting memorials to honor those who have fallen in war. However, patriotism isn't confined to simply our American culture, it's something that has permeated nearly every aspect of American entertainment.
One area of American entertainment that many people miss out on are the stories within comic books. These pages are often rife with American patriotism — both critical and celebratory. Unfortunately, comics are often regarded by the majority of Americans as stories for younger audiences, and have no greater purpose than expanding children's imaginations. However, over the last 40+ years, comics have been ahead of the curve in terms of making statements on race, gender, sexuality and patriotism.
Whether you're a fan of Vertigo, DC, Marvel, Image or other publishers, many comics showcase a variety of masked heroes who have taken up some form of the stars and stripes as their primary motivation for their heroic endeavors. Characters like Captain America, Iron Patriot, Lady Liberty, Wonder Woman and even General Glory have captured the essence of patriotism in the comics, and although their stories have changed over the years, they have always held true to their love of America (or so it would seem).
For big comic publishers, you'd imagine that making the comics as pro-American as possible would be a smart business model. Considering that publishing houses like #Marvel and #DC aren't directly distributed in other countries means that the vast majority of readers are from primarily English-speaking countries. So, it would seem that being pro-American would be the go-to position to take in comics, but publisher like Marvel have spent a great deal of time spinning both sides of American Patriotism.
1. Iron Patriot — A Dark Purpose
After the events of the Skrull Invasion, Norman Osborn became a worldwide hero, replacing Tony Stark as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers Initiative. While Osborn was in charge, he reformed S.H.I.E.L.D. into H.A.M.M.E.R. and began developing the Iron Patriot Armor from confiscated Stark technology. Fusing elements of Stark's Iron Man armors with Captain America's costume, Iron Patriot became the heroic icon that had once been Steve Rogers.
Osborns's Dark Avengers were far from patriotic. The team was composed of villains that came to the aid of other villains during their active years. Although the Iron Patriot appeared to uphold the American ideals, the truth is that Osborn was simply using the country's emotional connection to the red, white and blue for his own power.
More often than not, politics and patriotism are eschewed by the media, and that is how Norman Osborn rose to such power in the comics: by manipulating the press. (We haven't ever seen that before, right?)
2. Captain America — Hail HYDRA
This is one of the most shocking twists in comic book history when you consider that Captain America is, by definition, the epitome of American values, having upheld the values of American patriotism even before he took the Super-Soldier Serum. Yet, after the events of Secret Wars in Captain America: Steve Rogers, we witnessed the beloved Captain utter the terrifying words: "Hail Hydra."
It was in that moment when patriotism seemed to vanish from the pages of the comics, as the pinnacle of morality, truth and justice became the most despised and vile villain known through the entire Marvel universe. Carrying the facade of patriotism, Captain America was considered the champion of World War II and the patriotic ideal of America, only to secretly be an undercover agent for the Nazi organization HYDRA.
Captain America's deceit shows just how easy it is to follow fascism while appearing to be a loyal American. It's quite interesting to see how quickly the world is turned around when patriotism is questioned.
3. Wonder Woman — Amazon Authority
Although Wonder Woman isn't native to America, she is one of the most patriotic citizens of Themyscira, the Amazon-inhabited home island. She has always loved her home, and fought to protect it with the same fervor that she protects the people of the United States (and the world itself). With that in mind, Wonder Woman is without question one of the most patriotic superheroes in the United States given her strong sense of justice and equality.
One of the qualities that makes her truly patriotic is the fact that even though she has had moments where she has criticized the flaws of the United States, she has worked to fix them rather than just complain about them. Being patriotic means more than just donning the red, white and blue — it's loving the concept enough to know when it's flawed.
Regardless of where you stand in terms of political affiliation or American patriotism, the fact remains that comics are often filled with both, and it's interesting to see how characters market their individual ideals as patriotism.