Honestly, it’s been hard for me this past week to think of something to talk about that isn’t the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub massacre that took place on Latin night in Orlando, FL in the early hours of June 12th which was a targeted attack against the queer and Hispanic communities using a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle. This semi-automatic rifle has been the weapon of choice for many a mass shooter. That fact was not lost on the crowd of thousands that we attended the vigil at Stonewall Inn here in Manhattan’s West Village last week.
Despite this fact, no one really expected anything to be done about gun violence. After all, we’ve experienced so many mass shootings these last few years and our government has done next to nothing about it. Certainly on a federal level. And besides, it’s an election year. You know how politicians get during election years.
Then something unexpected happened. And it’s sad that it was unexpected. Democrats successfully launched a filibuster for gun control legislation. We’ll find out just how successful it was in the weeks and months ahead, but it’s a start.
All of this got me thinking about how this issue has been handled in comics. The comics medium hasn’t shied away from political topics or national tragedy in the past. Marvel Comics have tackled subjects like September 11th, 2001 in The Amazing Spider-Man, and the political climate in the United States for Marvel’s Civil War comic. Spider-Man teamed up with Planned Parenthood once to stop the villainous alien, Prodigy, who was trying to get as many teen women pregnant as he could so he could steal the babies back in the 1976. Hell, Captain America even took on the Tea Party at one point. However, you won’t find much, if any, commentary on gun violence being in and of itself an issue and an appeal for gun control with that.
DC Comics doesn’t fair much better. After the Aurora, CO shooting at a movie theater playing The Dark Knight Rises, quite a few outlets wrote about Batman being against using guns, like this piece in The New Yorker. Though it’s great that Batman and many other superheroes don’t use guns, and many situations involve them defeating villains with guns, that’s different than actually taking on our gun culture and the NRA.
The closest we may have gotten was in Alan Moore’s The Saga of Swamp Thing #45. In that issue, titled Ghost Dance, a small group of people find themselves in a house haunted by all those who have been killed by a Cambridge Repeater Rifle. It’s really wonderful commentary on the issue and if you haven’t read it you should, or at least read up more about it here.
Many smaller comics and graphic novel publishers have not addressed this issue. In fairness to many of them, this is a uniquely American issue and many smaller publishers are based outside the United States or at least publish books written outside the United States. One area of comics you do find gun violence and gun control commentary being addressed is in political cartoons. I know we don’t often think of them in the same way as we do comics, but they are part of this medium and have been around well before Marvel or DC were even being conceived. Even before The Yellow Kid.
There have been some great, some interesting, and some incredibly cynical political cartoons dealing with this topic recently. You can find some of them here. They range from liberal to conservative, from sensible to radical, and from welcoming to xenophobic. Whether you agree with the particular political cartoons you see or not, the important thing is that they are keeping the discussion going.
The comics medium needs to be a part of that discussion, just like every other communications medium. The real danger isn’t the conversation we don’t like to have, but not having that conversation at all.