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Whap! Pow! Fans Boot Defense Contractor Out of Marvel Comics

Over the weekend, something remarkable happened at, of all places, the New York Comic Con [1]. Fan protests broke out surrounding Marvel Comics’ announcement of a joint venture with U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman. In short order, Marvel had scrapped the joint venture entirely [2].

The plan was an unsubtle attempt to thread the military industry leaders into the Marvel comic book universe—and in a positive light—introducing a Northrop Grumman-armed team working with the iconic Avengers for some sort joint adventure. Northrop officials said this was intended to emphasize the value of science and aerospace technology for readers.

What it really was, however, is the latest in a long line of attempts to ensure the American military-industrial complex is, everywhere and always, presented in an immutably heroic light in popular culture.

It’s an ongoing campaign that touches all aspects of popular culture whether one is aware of it or not. For sure, professional sports of all kinds in America have enjoyed military and defense industry subsidies for years. [3] This has mostly involved pricey sponsorships nominally presented as advertising or recruitment, but are most obviously displayed in over-the-top fly-overs and pre- or half-time ceremonies and ubiquitous product placement. Fans are so used to seeing displays of loyalty to the armed forces they don’t even realize it’s choreographed, paid-for theater.

But there is another degree of influence here. In the course of buying advertising with a football league, the military and its allies are buying the league’s loyalty, too, and the ability to cultivate the notion that super athletes and battlefield heroes are patriotically interchangeable.

In movies and video games [4], collusion between creators and the military industrial complex [5]ensures preferred pro-war, heroic narratives and political outcomes. But at what cost? Movie studios routine give [6] the Pentagon, NSA, and CIA opportunities to veto aspects of their scripts, or demand radical changes to a story to ensure it comes off as sufficiently pro-government or pro-military. Again, this is so common [7] that it doesn’t even register with the public, because it would be unimaginable to see a big-budget Hollywood movie that wasn’t government-approved on some level.

This has gone far beyond just military movies, too. The Interview, a 2014 Seth Rogen flick which ends with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un assassinated on-screen in an incredibly bloody fashion, was produced with State Department and CIA input. Reportedly, the driving force for this was Washington defense researcher Bruce Bennett [8]. This is particularly noteworthy because the movie’s plot closely follows Bennett’s ideas for regime change in North Korea, which he has been peddling in the Beltway’s power centers for years.

Television is perhaps the laziest of all in terms of allowing for this influence, structuring entire shows around government agents, police, and military being impossibly heroic, and above all, sacrificing everything for country. Three new such shows debuted just this fall [9], the highest profile of which, CBS’ SEAL Team [10], uses the tagline, “When we face the worst, America sends in their best.” This sort of military porn is apparently viewed as a safe bet in prime-time network line-ups these days.  

Comic book readers, it seems, are a bit more savvy than the typical media audience. With superhero storylines increasingly built on moral gray areas and asking tough questions about interventionism, teaming the Avengers with a Northrop Grumman-armed group in a Northrop Grumman-supported and branded publication, clearly wouldn’t wash. Let’s face it: if Northrop Grumman’s characters and equipment would only be for “good guys,” that would not be a good read for anybody.

Marvel has a history of addressing controversial issues in its storytelling. Iron Man, indeed, owns a major defense company, and the moral quandary of arming the warfare state is a familiar wrinkle. Northrop Grumman, clearly, wouldn’t allow their own branded characters to wrestle with the morality of wiping out populated areas with their warplanes.

Fans realized what a conflict of interest this partnership would be, and in standing up against it, forced Marvel to back down. Like superheroes battling an arch-rival, the battle to keep comics out of this sort of relationship is one they’ll likely have to fight again, when the next contractor or service branch comes around.

It’s a positive story for comic book fans, and a teachable moment for fans of other pop culture. How much better would television, movies, and video games be if storytellers had the freedom to tell whatever stories they want, without manipulation, subsidy-driven cajoling, or fear that some bureaucrat down the line is going to find something objectionable and force a re-write?

Hollywood has its own myth-makers, and professional sports can produce their own legends.

Giving the military-industrial complex carte blanche to co-opt either of them as a vehicle for their own goals and interests makes for a less interesting culture for everyone.

Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com [11], a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Daily Caller, the American Conservative, Washington Times and Detroit Free Press.

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Whap! Pow! Fans Boot Defense Contractor Out of Marvel Comics"

#1 Comment By Rich On October 11, 2017 @ 12:23 am

Do kids even read comic books these days?

#2 Comment By Dale McNamee On October 11, 2017 @ 12:57 am

I’m glad that I don’t read comic books…
1 Corinthians 13:11…

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 11, 2017 @ 3:59 am

It had DISNEY written all over it, Marvel is their comic book subsidiary, as DC is Warner’s. Hence the easy migration to comics. However, jingoism has been a staple of comics since their greatest mass popularity during the 1940s.

#4 Comment By TJ On October 11, 2017 @ 9:17 am

Wow.Fans protest Northrupp Grumman featuring in a Marvel comic… I guess the disease of liberalism has infected everyone under 25 then? This is a company that is, in part, responsible for preserving the American way of life, and these lazy, pampered, privileged SOBs complain about them being in a comic book? I hope Marvel goes under and these snowflakes trust funds go bust.

#5 Comment By Richard On October 11, 2017 @ 9:29 am

Good for Marvel.

I recall the old animated GI Joe series, which was filled with impossibly chiseled heroic types shooting the hell out of the bad guys forces, but no one was ever killed or wounded or shot in any way. Instead, the Cobra guys would simply scatter and take cover, and shoot back wildly. Even when the bad guys’ aircraft were shot down, they always showed them as bailing out with parachutes. It was the same idea from the old A-Team series–military responses to every problem, but no on even got shot or died.

Even as a child I knew this was crap and knew I was having my intelligence insulted. As soon as my children are old enough I plan to sit them down and watch a few choice episodes of The World at War so they understand what’s real and what isn’t.

#6 Comment By kevin on the left On October 11, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

1. This is a great, great column. And the reality it highlights is why I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when people around these parts argue that Hollywood and the NFL (!!!) are ran by “cultural marxists.”

2. The protesting comic-con nerds were of course the virtue- signaling, SJW, young urban elites this website loves to hate…

#7 Comment By Robert Charron On October 11, 2017 @ 2:06 pm

There is some intelligence out there after all.

#8 Comment By N. Joseph Potts On October 11, 2017 @ 3:09 pm

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they bombed the NAVAL BASE at PEARL HARBOR. They did NOT bomb the nearby population center of Honolulu.

In retaliation, the US nuked Nagasaki and Hiroshima and firebombed most other population centers in Japan.

Just sayin’.

#9 Comment By Mia On October 11, 2017 @ 8:36 pm

I love it when the good guys win! Stupid offense contractors (because what the military does overseas is NOT defense), need to be kicked out of the whole public sphere. Whoever says they help preserve the American way of life is wrong.The only things they contribute to are an unwise foreign policy that does NOT serve America’s interest and the huge debt, which also does not serve America’s interest.

I hope someday we get a POTUS that will cut all ties with Northrop.

#10 Comment By Terry Washington On October 12, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

Although I am pleased to see Marvel Comics(full disclosure: I am a longtime Marvelite!) refuse to get into bed with Northrop, I might point that in Marvel’s defence its stories(esp during the 1960s and 70s- ie during the Vietnam War) have persistently queried the facile jingoism( esp in Captain America and Iron Man) of the Right. Tony Stark(Iron Man’s alter ego) even stopped making weapons for the Pentagon and Captain America questioned whether he had any relevance in the America of 1971, esp as a member of the “Establishment” but made the point that the “Establishment” also gave America and the world a couple of brothers named Kennedy(presumably JFK and RFK) as well as Dr King and Marshall McLuhan!

#11 Comment By Trevor Bajus On October 12, 2017 @ 1:08 pm

Progressive here.

Great article. Just thought I’d say thanks. We have a lot of common ground and we need to explore it more.

If you think about it, I’d like that money to go into healthcare. Perhaps you’d prefer to keep it because you think you have a more effective way to use those resources.

But what is important is that we all think we should stop wasting it building planes that don’t fly to fight an enemy that doesn’t have an air force.

Maybe, rather than attacking each other on the things we don’t agree on (and I am sure there is PLENTY) maybe it’s time we run issues like this up the flag pole.

Most people, conservative or liberal, want the Wall Street crooks to go to jail.

Most want to sensibly regulate firearms* like we regulate cold medicine and cars.

Most people think that the law should be applied fairly, even if that means that rich people also have to follow the same laws as the little people.

FIghting over the stuff we disagree on can wait- it will always be there. But there is so much that we both want to get done, we should start coming together on shared ideas, and save the squabbling for later.

* Though I am a lot more accepting of the 2nd Amendment than many of my fellow progs, because I watch how conservative protesters are treated by the cops and how liberal protesters are treated. Cops are nicer to you guys because they are afraid of getting shot.

#12 Comment By Franklin On October 12, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

Kudos to TJ for that spot-on satire of the average bootlicking, myth-believing American.

The “responsible for preserving the American way of life” line made me spit out my coffee. Hilarious.

#13 Comment By Sid Finster On October 13, 2017 @ 10:59 am

If Northrop-Grumman is responsible for the paranoid and murderous “American way of life” that we have today, then I want no part of either.

#14 Comment By Cheimison On October 13, 2017 @ 11:15 pm

I don’t blame the state for propagandizing people, I blame people for being intellectualy passive morons. I have no sympathy for normies, they are the problem, not victims.