Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics 104: City of Heroes
The old adage that art imitates life holds true even in the world of comic books. Pop culture has always been a reflection of society mirroring the fashion, politics and social attitudes of a particular time. Throughout the years comic books have featured world wars, atomic annihilation and social movements as backdrops and inspiration for their narrative tales. City of Heroes, the latest episode in Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics examines how the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City changed the portrayal of superheroes and how comics are written.
The first part of the episode focuses on how New York and the political and societal realities of the city have been interwoven into the fabric of modern three-color myths. Beginning in the 60’s through the 70’s and into the later years of the century the comics had come of age with serious creators located in New York telling stories that were geared more towards adults than young kids.
The tragedy of 9/11 shook the world and in an attempt to make sense of the tragedy comic book creators used their platform to tell stories of the true heroes that walk among us everyday. In an attempt to make sense of what had happened pinup issues with images of first responders dealing with the fall of the towers were followed by comics featuring heroes like Spider-Man and Superman. It was a form of catharsis for the creators and the public who were able to begin the slow process of healing through these stories.
The political aftermath of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror were also reflected in comics. The days of fighting a known enemy like in World War II became murkier when global terrorism emerged as the world’s central foe. Characters like Captain America mirrored the uncertainty surrounding the American public with regards to its government’s foreign policies. With a splintered, polarized country followed a fractured comic book world where superheroes took sides and began fighting amongst themselves.
City of Heroes is a thoughtful and at times sobering look at how New York and comics are connected. Filled with interviews from comic book creators, first responders, actors and screenwriters the episode gives an account of how the realities of the world find their way into comics and movies. As noted by CNN commentator Van Jones, “9/11 didn’t just change facts 9/11 changed fiction.” Superheroes are now more thoughtful, more complex and averse to wanton destruction. New York is a city of hope, courage and dreams and comic books in their own way represent the same thing.