Corporate Greed: There was a time when there was such a thing as the American Dream. It was predicated on the idea that if you worked hard, lived a good life and saved your money you will achieve success. The American Dream manifested itself differently in comic books where it was represented in the very beginning of the industry by downtrodden sons of immigrants during the Great Depression. Their vision was that of the meek attaining tremendous powers and using them to protect and serve their community. Their creations, which launched a genre known as superheroes, represented “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
The recent PBS documentary Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle did a wonderful job bringing attention to these idealistic virtues of superheroes and comic books. What it neglected to do, however, was show that superheroes of today also represent the continued victimization of their creators and their families and have become the iconic representation of Corporate Greed as the two monolithic media corporations Time/Warner and Disney, the parent companies of DC and Marvel respectively, seek to control, dominate, and protect their intellectual properties. They do this by the use of Draconian creator contracts, militant trademark enforcement of not just their characters but the word superhero itself, and by putting a stranglehold on the markets where other comics are sold and distributed.
This is what I see as the greatest failure of the documentary. That it supposedly represents superheroes as being a significant part of our culture. That superheroes are the modern American mythology. That superheroes represent Truth Justice and the American Way. That Superheroes are everywhere consumed by the imaginations of everyone. The documentary fails because it focuses solely on the superheroes represented by Marvel and DC and consequently becomes a tool that empowers their domination and control of the entire genre.
Corporations are quickly corralling us all into a culture that is dictated by them. There was a time when culture would influence decisions made by a corporation but now media has such a firm embrace on our cultural psyche that they can manipulate our every whim. As corporations like Time/Warner and Disney seek to control trademark ownership of public domain characters from every fable, myth, legend, story and comic book they have a lock on each and every one of us that goes much deeper than our pocketbook. They control the extent our imaginations and the marketability of our creativity, personally and as a culture.
Superheroes were born from comic books for one reason. No other medium besides comics gives any person the opportunity to create so vividly a story that is so fantastic and so unimaginable about a person with incredible superpowers and their adventures. Comics let us deliver that idea to an audience in a precise and visually stimulating way with very little expense.
Imagine that the images that could be drawn on a page by a poor immigrant teenager with a pencil and ink were so fantastic that it required over forty years of technological development before they could be made believable on film! Today, it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make a superhero action film but a superhero can come alive in a comic for next to nothing. The creator of the next great superhero could be a young kid publishing that story right now for very little cost on the internet, reaching millions of people around the globe in an instant.
That is the power of comics. That is the power of unfettered culture. That is the biggest fear to these big corporations, that the next great superhero will fly right under their nose and take the world by storm and they will not own a piece of it.
So Corporate Greed does what it does best and attempts to create tunnel vision for everyone it can with documentaries like Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle. They create a new mythology that everyone is expected to believe, that the Marvel and DC superheroes are the only game in town.
If they get enough of our attention and enough of our money and can control enough of the distribution system (we are to believe there is only one real comic book distributor) maybe we won’t notice that there is a world of other comics and superheroes out there. Maybe we won’t notice that many are much more entertaining and original than the seventy-five-year-old rehash of Superman or that fifty-year-old not-so-fresh take on Spider-man.
It is our job as true fans of the medium of comics and the genre of superheroes to remain vigilant and to ensure that the wealth of accurate information about what we love is not forgotten because the true archives of the past is the fertile ground from which a fruitful future will spring regardless how much manure is spread on the dried up wasteland of lies that the corporations want us to believe.
Yes the title of the documentary got it right. When it comes to superheroes there is a never ending battle to tell the truth about the comics industry, seek justice for creators, and to not fall victim to corporate greed because what we usually get told in documentaries like this is just a pile of very pretty bullshit that panders to the big guys.
Previous links to my perspective on this documentary can be found here:
Making Comics Because We Want to,