5 Things the GOP Could Learn From Comic Books

I’m a political news junkie. It’s like being a regular junkie, but without the fun early stage of euphoria. With a presidential election coming up I spend an inordinate amount of time looking into the contestants on American’s Next Top Chief Executive, which also gives you a chance to sort of experience the state of the two parties as a whole because everyone is trying to pin down what the country wants them to be in order to get or keep their jobs.

Looking at the Republican Party now is honestly a lot like looking at comic books a decade ago, an aging institution badly in need of a new direction. I really think the GOP could learn some helpful tips from how the comic industry has grown. Such as…

5. Blow Up Your Continuity, Don’t Retcon It

Marvel and DC are both on the verge of their second big reboot since the turn of the century, blowing up decades of contradictory stories, cheap deaths and incongruent power usages. They do it for one simple reason; it’s easier to get people reading if they don’t have to sludge through 400 back issues to understand what’s going on.

The GOP has this weird need to try and wed their distant past, when they were the driving force in the Civil Rights movement or even all the way back to Lincoln to their position as the minority-exclusionary party they are largely seen as today. Nobody buys into that because it has no effect on what they are now.

What they need to do is just explode the past. Stop trying to reconcile things like the Iraq War as a good idea just because the president who started it was on your team and even more so stop trying to retcon the Reagan-era economic ideas that slowly killed the middle class as Eden. They need to concentrate on what they want to be, not whatever crappy One More Day storylines they had before. Look forward, not back.

4. Ignore Your “Biggest Fans”

Between the reboots and the big budget Hollywood films there’s a huge number of comic fans that moan about how much things have changed. They feel comics have been opened up to a bunch of new posers who don’t really understand comics like “real fans”.

The GOP has its fans as well, staunch voters that like things just the way they are and balk at the slightest change. They claim that if things do change they will leave, give up, and stop handing out money. In both politics and comics those people are really just used to being catered exclusively to, and they cannot be counted on to ever help grow your fan base. If the GOP want to survive it has to seek new audiences, go mainstream, and curtail some of the in-jokes and excesses. And don’t worry; nobody actually stopped reading comics when Miles Morales became Spider-man and they won’t stop voting Republican if you quit trying to outlaw abortion every five minutes either. Who else are they going to vote for?

3. And Yes, Diversify and Be Smart About It

The GOP has a problem with minorities. It has for many, many years. Yes, there are black Republicans and women Republicans and gay Republicans. They do exist, but the party as a whole is the party of straight white men. Just like comics for a long time was the domain of straight white men.

Now the female Thor and the Muslim Ms. Marvel are selling like hotcakes. The mantle of Wolverine is about to pass to his daughter and the romantic relationship between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy was finally made canon. Whole new demographics are flocking to the comic medium in a fit of inclusive joy, and that could be the GOP. Just because someone is transgender doesn’t mean they don’t like low taxes and small government.

But they have to be engaged on their terms, not the party’s. Their unique concerns need to be heard and acknowledged as worthwhile, not just shunted aside because they don’t fit the traditional narrative of the party. That’s why Ben Carson is such a dud; he may be black but 90 percent of the things he says is just the rhetoric of the old white male establishment. It’s why an entire nation rolled its eyes when Ann Romney said “I love you, women”. There has to be quality, not quotas.

2. Improve Your Portrayals of Your Villains

I’m not sure when it happened, but villains have become the most interesting parts of comics. Hell, the best thing that’s ever happened to Spider-man was having Dock Ock’s brain in Peter Parker’s body. Throw in stuff like Batman’s tangle with The Court of Owls, Captain Cold’s run as a public hero and the Axis switch in Marvel that re-calibrated good and evil and the nature of villainy has gotten a nice shot of nuance that it deserved.

With a two-party system one side is always going to paint the other side as the bad guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that in theory. The problem comes when they make your villains one-dimensional, and by proxy unbelievable. Say, for instance, a presidential candidate gets caught in a room full of rich folks saying that 47 percent of Americans are basically leeches sucking off their fortunes who will never vote for him. It’s a vast oversimplification of a really big chunk of the population, and it’s largely one of the reasons Barack Obama won a second term instead of going home to record that cover album of soul songs that really needs to happen once he's done presidenting.

The GOP needs to start taking good long looks at their own villains like the poor and gun control advocates. Try to understand them. See from their perspective. Maybe even listen to them occasionally. It’s like Sandman robbing banks to pay for his kid’s medical treatment. It’s still wrong, but there’s more to the story worth knowing.

1. Employ a More Realistic Worldview

For a long time comics and conservative philosophy had a lot in common. The premise was that society was fine as long as you kept dangerous people from changing it or hurting it. Supervillains came out of the night, were thrashed, and everything went back to normal. The end.

Since 9/11 comic books really don’t do that anymore, especially Marvel. Series like Secret Avengers or Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye explored how America is not full of good guys, but is instead a complicated place with people spread all over the moral spectrum. The concept of American exceptionalism in the comic medium did not survive the Civil War and it was cremated in World War Hulk. Sometimes your hero needs a Mjolnir right in the noots and sometimes the whole damned system is broken.

The GOP still clings to the older, more simple world of the Golden Age of comics. America is great, evil should be punished, and the men in charge are always right. The problem is America is not all that great. The normal is often a problem to a lot of people. Wage gaps, lack of access to health care, rotting infrastructure, police brutality, and plenty of other issues are on the minds of the people that the GOP needs to court they want to stay relevant. Those people are tired of being shown a fantasy utopia where all the solutions involve a punch to a guy in a ridiculous costume. It’s out of date. America needs to improve, and it can’t do that if one half of its political binary is going to keep acting like the answer to everything is more flags. If Captain America can see the fallacy in that, so can Republicans. 

After all, which candidate has won the last two elections? The nerdy Spider-man fan, that's who. Give that some thought.

Jef has a new story about robot sharks out now in Lurking in the Deep. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner