It’s often been said that when comics pick up on a trend or world event, it’s pretty much history by that point. And that observation is usually noted with a sense of implicit criticism, rooted in the belief that either comics are just notoriously slow to keep up, or that they seem to be a bellwether of anti-trendiness. Much like how if a teen hears Mom whistling her favorite tune, it must be time to find something else to listen to.
The reasons for this could be many. Perhaps creators often think inside the box, crafting their stories with MSNBC and Fox News turned off. Maybe storylines are laid out so far in advance that recent events just take time to work their way into these plans. Or perhaps current events and trends have to be in place for awhile before they bleed into the idea-development process. It might seem uncool, but maybe this is a safer road to travel, to play off established goings-on, rather than developing ones before their true impact is known.
But, have comics done this before? Have they dived headfirst into the world of current events as they’re just breaking? And if so, how were they able to do it, when it historically takes a few changing of the seasons for this to happen? And how did it go over with readers, if they did?
To all of the above, I will tell you. And then some, if my own history of rambling is any indication.
The most shocking example of this that comes to mind was, naturally, immediately after the most shocking event of our time. September 12, 2001, was a new comics day, and one of the comic books that shipped that day was Adventures of Superman #596, by Joe Casey and the late Mike Wieringo, and was an epilog to a just-completed event storyline entitled Our Worlds at War, which in part featured an otherworldly attack on the Earth that resulted in heavy damage across the world.
Metropolis was one of the cities victimized in the attack, and among the badly damaged structures were the twin Lex Towers, and a large panel illustration of the towers by Wieringo captured the extent of the devastation. The buildings weren’t leveled, but the depiction of two twin towers in ruins after an attack on a major east coast city went beyond striking too close to home for many. Many took great offense to this image at a time when the rubble from our own towers right here on Earth Prime was still smoldering and the number of lives lost hadn’t even begun to be surmised. The entire country was still shell-shocked and hadn’t even yet processed the meaning of the attacks.
So perhaps it was emotion that was to account for reports that some lashed out at DC for being so insensitive and callous, because they dared to print such an image at the worst possible time imaginable. But anyone reading this is smart enough to know that a moment of thought would yield the realization that it simply wasn’t possible for this to be some kind of malicious and ill-timed attempt at sensationalism, or knife-twisting, or whatever. Even if there were some preposterous notion that DC would have any kind of motive to deliberately do such a dastardly thing. No, everyone figured out that these stories cannot be generated literally overnight, and the accusations quickly evaporated, as the concerns of all turned to far more important matters regarding the attacks.
So DC’s momentarily apparent foray into something mirroring current events turned out to be nothing more than a sad coincidence. For a moment, it might have looked like DC had some kind of bizarro crystal ball that allowed them to foresee this horrific image, but only for a moment. It had passed, and surely such a thing was way too coincidental for something similar to happen again.
Except, it kind of just did.
No one with a computer, TV, radio, or jabbery neighbor is unaware of President Obama’s administration’s recent and successful mission taking out of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. And just as this victorious event is a kind of bookend to the 9/11 attacks, DC again had its own coincidental bookend to AoS #596, and again Superman is at the forefront of it, in the form of Action Comics #900. For national media picked up on David S Goyer and Miguel Sepulveoa’s The Incident backup story, where Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship after taking some heat from the president’s national security advisor regarding his involvement in the civil unrest in Iran. Wow, civil unrest in Iran; that was months ago. See what I mean about slow to keep up?
Anyway, there was no stark similarity in imagery or anything else so blatantly obvious this time. There wasn’t even a fictional event that one could parallel with a real one. But, think about the Operation Geronimo, as it’s now called, for a second. It was a highly covert mission, one that was secretly planned out, and kept secret, a huge success in and of itself in the age of internet blogs and WikiLeaks. The operatives involved remain unnamed and unseen. And there is no released video or photos as to what exactly occurred within that compound.
Now, as a comic book fan, isn’t it kind of fun to imagine that this is exactly the kind of mission that the U.S. would have called in Superman for? Something that needed to be done quickly by someone who could easily overpower and take out the foes he was sent after? And isn’t it fun to picture bin Laden firing at Superman, only to have the bullet ricochet off Superman’s chest and have bin Laden end up fatally wounding himself? Meaning that the world’s ultimate terrorist would have taken himself out with the same kind of violence that he preached. It would have been poetic, and very satisfying. It even could have been something that was acknowledged within the context DC continuity, either overtly or covertly.
Except, only four days before Operation Geronimo, Action #900 was released. Apparently, that bizarro crystal ball told DC’s powers-that-be to release the comic before the incident this time, probably so no one would accuse them of callousness or insensitivity again. But that means that, with Superman renouncing his citizenship, he most likely would not be sent on such a mission, so that fantasy was therefore dead.
With the success of the military’s operation, American pride is riding an all-time high. Once again, American citizens are waving the flag in support of the U.S. Government, but for the first time in memory, it’s being done as a sign of victory, not just solidarity. Concerns about the economy and the federal budget were momentarily set aside as Americans, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, poor and rich, embrace simply being proud citizens of the United States of America.
Something that Superman just willingly walked away from.
Congratulations, DC, you unwittingly did it again. That is not something we’re really in the mood to read right now. You really better put that bizarro crystal ball away and maybe instead try something a little more reliable next time.
Like Madame Xanadu’s tarot cards, perhaps.
So on this Memorial Day week, there’s no better time to salute not just the brave, dedicated, and anonymous members of the U.S. Military was participated in Operation Geronimo, but to all of our soldiers. Soldiers who embrace this country’s freedoms and tirelessly fight and sacrifice to preserve them, bereft of any abilities like super-strength and invulnerability. You don’t see them walking away, for it is they who are the true heroes.