What’s Superman’s stance on the death penalty? Who might Spider-Man vote for? Marc DiPaolo, assistant professor of English and film at Oklahoma City University, has examined the political leanings, often subtextual, of comic-book superheroes.
“War, Politics, and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film” was released by McFarland and Co. last month.
“I’ve been collecting comics since 1984, and as I would read them, an outrageous story would come up,” DiPaolo said. “And I’d make a mental note, and I’d put it in my closet. And over time, I’d notice this series of provocative stories that I happened to own.”
DiPaolo wrote chapters on superheroes for other books, and he’s now combined those essays with several new ones for this volume.
DiPaolo, 34, grew up in Staten Island, where the adventures of Peter Parker appealed to him.
“Growing up in New York, I think I liked comics because they were in New York,” he said. “And I really related directly to Spider-Man, because I was in high school, he was in high school. We were both in New York — he was Queens, I was Staten Island. I liked literature, he liked science. But I felt like he was me.”
DiPaolo’s book is about how superheroes in comics and film can be a mirror to the politics of their time.
In his chapter on Superman, DiPaolo writes how the Superman radio show used leaks from a human-rights activist to
inform a story about Superman battling the Ku Klux Klan.
In the 1940s radio serial, “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” the radio show revealed tactics and secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, discovered by activist Stetson Kennedy in his undercover investigation.
“While ‘The Adventures of Superman’ radio serial has significance for fans of the character for introducing both boy photographer Jimmy Olsen and the radioactive rock Kryptonite — the only thing that can harm the invincible Superman — the ‘Clan of the Fiery Cross’ is definitely that radio show’s finest hour,” DiPaolo writes in his book.
With chapters on Wonder Woman as a feminist icon, the X-Men and civil rights, and President Barack Obama as a comic book character in his own right, DiPaolo covers multiple characters and companies.
“A lot of times comics are their most dynamic when there’s a war going on or there’s a very divisive president,” DiPaolo said. “Any time there’s a big cultural fear — a big recession, a big war — comics get very interesting. And they don’t want to be too preachy … but on some level, they have to react.”
- by Matthew Price
From Friday’s The Oklahoman