Much has been made of some of the current titles being released at the moment, and how they mirror or relate to our current world and political climate. Many comics seem to have metaphors for Donald Trump, or stand in Trump characters, or look at the whole politics of the situation, such as Nick Spencer‘s two Captain America books.
However, it’s worth remembering that older, classic stories can also hold resonance outside of the time of their release. While comics are a great medium for a pretty quick response to the outside world, they can also provide more timeless allegories that can find themselves reflecting the times time and time again.
One which has occurred to me very recently is perhaps one which does not readily come to mind: Infinite Crisis.
Infinite Crisis was a seven issue event series from DC, the more recent of DC’s massive reboots but now about two universe reboots ago. Running between 2005-2006, the Geoff Johns written series, illustrated by Phil Jimenez, Ivan Reis, George Pèrez and Jerry Ordway, that a story over 10 years old now might still have some relevance to present current affairs may seem surprising. And also we’re not talking a V for Vendetta or generally political style book. No, this is a massive universe redefining superhero event.
[SPOILERS FOR INFINITE CRISIS FOLLOW]
The general plot revolved around several survivors of DC’s classic Crisis on Infinite Earths affecting the world of DC at the time. DC at this point didn’t really have much in the way of a multiverse, a result of the original Crisis, and the survivors Kal-L (Earth 2 Superman) and his wife Lois Lane, Superboy Prime (Superboy of Earth Prime, which was ostensibly the ‘real’ world) and Alexander Luthor (a ‘good’ Luthor from Earth 3) had watched this new world as it became darker than the worlds they knew. They would come to the conclusion that this world had been corrupted, and Luthor made plans with Superboy Prime to destroy this new world and return the multiverse to create the perfect Earth. Whilst Kal-L changed sides in the end, after the death of Lois Lane, Luthor manipulated Superboy Prime into becoming fervent in his desire to destroy the ‘darker’ Earth to return his own.
I won’t say how it ends, though you can probably guess. I do highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t because it is honestly one of the best comic event series’ there has ever been.
But how exactly does this reflect current affairs? Well, my theory pretty much revolves around Superboy Prime.
In the series, Superboy Prime is presented initially as someone who, like pretty much all Superman-types, is a good person and hopeful. However, cracks quickly begin to show and the teen seems more petulant and quick to anger then we’d recall from Crisis on Infinite Earths.
As we learn, Prime had been watching the world unfold from their viewpoint outside of reality. And it was a world that continued to change from what he knew. With each passing day, Superboy Prime saw a world that kept on changing from the world he knew, and in his mind not for the better. And Alexander Luthor was there with a word in the ear.
Sure, the DC Universe had become darker. But to say that his own world was fundamentally better is perhaps a bit wrong. After all, he was a child. There may have been things he just wasn’t aware of or didn’t see, but now all he could do was watch. And he saw heroes fall, saviours kill, and people lose trust in each other.
This world worked different. People talked different. Communities acted differently to each other. Whole new people, unlike any he’d seen before kept turning up and just made things more…complicated.
Stepping outside of the story for a second, of course they would. In the 80s and 90s, comics became more complicated and yes, darker as they started to include stories which were more ‘realistic’ or grounded, and included greater representation of the world around them. Audiences were more drawn to such stories, and comics as a result evolved to match it.
Of course, all Superboy Prime knew is that the world had changed and he didn’t like it. Instead of trying to adapt, to learn to change with the world and society, Prime sought to stop the changes and revert the world back to something he nostalgically remembered, in true comic book fashion, by physically assaulting reality itself.
And when the world fought back? Well, Prime lashed out, he became reckless, he hurt, destroyed and even killed. He himself became something he feared most, through his violent inability to accept the world around him.
And he was ready to turn back time, to return the world to something he wanted it to be, which it could never really be and maybe never even was, no matter what the cost.
Maybe that sounded familiar? After all, right now, our society seems to be going through a similar dilemma. One need only look to the US election campaign, the ascension of Trump, Brexit, the rise of more hardcore conservative values. There are so many people looking back instead of looking forward. Who see a world around them vastly different from what they nostalgically remember and are terrified. And in that fear, they turn to anger, trying to find reasons for these changes that they cannot see for simply what they are, change, and instead see something insidious and nefarious and something that needs to be fought.
And what’s worse is there are the Luthors out there: people so happy to manipulate and whip up these fears and angers, to achieve their own ends. People who in some cases maybe ostensibly look like the good guys, or who for some say all the right things. Who speak to their fears, tell them they are right to be afraid, and promise to bring back something that they truly cannot.
We need to accept that things change. That sometimes change is hard, and it is frightening at times, and yes, some times part of that change does come when something terrible happens. But we cannot ever turn back the clock. The world will never be what it was, and that is a good thing. The world moves forward and as it does so it improves. To try and turn back the clock on rights, laws, borders, and boundaries does not serve to help anyone.
Superboy Prime couldn’t learn that, and just look what happened to him.