Political Controversy & The Heroic Age

Wed, February 10th, 2010 at 8:54am PST | Updated: February 10th, 2010 at 3:37pm

Comic Books
Joe Quesada, Columnist

Is this thing still on?

Of course it is! Welcome back to an all-new installment of CUP O' JOE! Exclusively here at CBR, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada discusses the biggest news topics, revealing the ins and outs of everything Marvel from comics to animation and beyond!

Driven by a regular string of responses to the questions submitted in the Marvel Universe forum on the CBR message boards, we present loads of CUP O' JOE content across our mini-site from the latest installments of Joe's regular interviews with the CBR staff, CUP O' DOODLES sketch fests, polls, videos and more!

This time out, Joe returns after a month away to respond to talk that sprung up not on the comics blogosphere but on the political one after an issue of Ed Brubaker's "Captain America" drew the ire of a supporter of the conservative Tea Party movement. Plus, Quesada addresses early details on Marvel's status quo-shifting Heroic Age along with what is in store as a result of the recent teaser string.

CUP O' JOE is Executive Produced by Jonah Weiland and Produced by Kiel Phegley.

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Kiel Phegley: So Joe...It's been a while. Marvel news has been flying fast and furious of late, but you've been uncharacteristically quiet. Have you been in some bunker planning out the Heroic Age?

Joe Quesada: No the honest to goodness truth, Kiel, is that I’ve been buried under so much work and traveling so much, that I’ve barely been able to come up for air. There’s a big part of my DNA and what I feel is my job as E-i-C that has been feeling really guilty lately. I love interacting with our fans, and I love letting everyone know what’s going on at the Big M, but it’s been really hard to keep up these last few months, so I need to apologize to everyone. Heck, even my Twittering has suffered. [Laughs] Another issue is that I’ve been working on so many incredibly cool things that I’m bursting to let folks know what’s happening, but they’re so secretive that I can’t even hint about them...our fans are too smart, and any hint I give will set the net ablaze with tons of rumors and some of them will probably be right.

Ah heck, I think I just did it anyway.

This page from "Captain America" #602 has stirred up some political controversy

Kiel Phegley: Well, you've bounced back just in time to get your first piece of weird, newsy controversy of the year – someone who's taken political issue with a scene in "Captain America" #602. Before getting into specifics, what do you think about what was actually on these pages that's got some in the Tea Party movement riled up?

Joe Quesada: Well, the honest truth is that I can absolutely see how some people are upset about this, and I’ll explain exactly what happened. But there’s also a portion of this story that is being blown out of proportion and taken out of context. Do you really want to hear the whole story? Oh, who am I kidding, of course you do. If anything, this will give you insight into what the insane world of publishing 80 comics a month is like.

Kiel Phegley: Well, before getting into the details, let me ask this, when the idea came up to include a group that looked like a Tea Party demonstration in the pages of Captain America #602, was there any hesitation on Marvel or Ed Brubaker's part to do this? In interviews, Ed has noted that he's shied away from labeling things with direct political names like Republicans and Democrats in "Captain America." What sort of discussions were there about this inclusion?

Joe Quesada: Hold on. Before digging into this, you're starting from a false premise. There was zero discussion to include a group that looked like a Tea Party demonstration. Ed simply wrote in an anti-tax protest into his story to show one of the moods that currently exists in America. There was no thought that it represented a particular group.

And yes, what Ed said is absolutely true, he does shy away from labeling things and did exactly that in this instance. In Ed’s story, there was no connection to the Tea Party movement, that’s a screw up that happened after the fact and exactly what some people are getting upset about.

Kiel Phegley: In this editorial by Warner Todd Houston on PubliusForum.com he says, "Isn’t it wonderful that a decades old American comic book hero is now being used to turn readers against our very political system, being used to slander folks that are standing up for real American principles in real life — and one called 'Captain America' at that?" He goes on to say later, "So, there you have it, America. Tea Party protesters just 'hate the government,' they are racists, they are all white folks, they are angry, and they associate with secretive white supremacist groups that want to over throw the U.S. government." How do you respond to comments like that? Do you think he's taking his interpretation a bit too far? Are there some legit criticisms in there?

Joe Quesada: There is one legit criticism in there, and a lot of not so valid stuff, but let’s dive into this. By the way, for those that haven’t read "Captain America" #602, here’s your spoiler warning: read no further lest you want to know what’s going on.

In the story, our new Captain America – who is Steve Rogers’ old sidekick Bucky Barnes – and Sam Wilson the Falcon – another ex-sidekick of Steve Rogers – are in search of an armored super-militia group called the Watchdogs who attacked a sheriff and his squad and have set up roots in the hills outside of Boise, Idaho where they are building a weapon and planning an act of terrorism against the people in that town. Keep in mind that the Watchdogs have been villains in the Marvel Universe since 1987. Bucky and Sam hatch a plan to infiltrate this group and defeat it from within so they travel to Idaho. The idea behind this was to expose them both – in particular Sam (who has been portrayed most often as a leftist leaning character) – to other parts of America. While in Idaho in search of the Watchdogs, they come upon an anti-tax, anti-big government rally, which is something that Sam, in particular, hasn’t been personally exposed to, and it hits him the wrong way. Here, at this moment in the story, Sam is the fish out of water. This, however, is where Mr. Houston misreads what’s happening in the story. He assumes that the people protesting in the streets are the Watchdogs, when in fact they are not, so this is an element that is taken out of context. These protestors as written by Ed are no different than protesting crowds he wrote into issues of "Cap" last year. Only those protestors were angry about oil prices skyrocketing and the housing market problems. So in short, the Watchdogs, and the protestors aren’t connected, they just happen to be in the same story.

Where Mr. Houston is correct is in our accidently identifying in one of the held up signs, the group as being a part of the Tea Party instead of a generic protest group. That’s something that we need to apologize for and own up to, because it’s just one of those stupid mistakes that happened through a series of stupid incidents.

The book was getting ready to go to the printer, it was on fire already from a deadline standpoint, but the editor on the book noticed that there was a small art correct that needed to get done. On the first page featuring the protestors, the artist on the book drew slogans into the protest signs to give them a sense of reality and to set up the scene. On the following page featuring the protestors again, there were signs, but nothing written in them. From a continuity standpoint, this omission stood out like a sore thumb, but was easily fixable. So, just before the book went to the printer, the editor asked the letterer on the book to just fudge in some quick signs. The letterer in his rush to get the book out of the door but wanting to keep the signs believable, looked on the net and started pulling slogans from actual signs. That’s when he came upon this one.

And used it in the scene and off it went to the printer. Unfortunately, to make the deadline, the work wasn’t double-checked thoroughly, and it was printed as is, which is where we as an editorial group screwed up. We spoke to the letterer, and he was mortified at his mistake and was truly sorry as he had no political agenda. He was just trying to do his job, but ultimately the onus falls on me as E-i-C. All that said, we caught the mistake two weeks ago, after it was printed and removed the sign from the art files so that it no longer appears in future reprints of the title or collections. So, while the crowd protesting has nothing to do with the villains in the story, we in no way meant to say they were associated with the Tea Party movement, it was a simple perfect storm of screw-ups. It happens, we’re human.

However, where I do take exception with Mr. Houston’s article is when he states that we are calling the Tea Party racist...wait I’m sorry, that we’re saying that every white person is a racist along with several other horrible and inflammatory accusations. Nothing can be further from the truth, accidental placement of a Tea Party sign or not, those sentiments are not in the pages of our comics and are a complete and irresponsible misrepresentation. And as for his criticism of the remarks made by the character of Sam Wilson, this is a four-issue series. So to really get a full picture of why he feels the way he does and what conclusions he comes to at the end of the story, you really need to read the whole thing and not just judge a story and its intent on the first issue. What we do at Marvel is provide our readers with the unexpected and many times what is on the surface is not what is really going on.

EXCLUSIVE: Spidey's in trouble in "New Avengers" #62

Kiel Phegley: Marvel has for a long time played in what I guess I'll call "political allegory" with story lines shadowing real world events from wars to cultural movements to more pointed commentary with stories like "Civil War." Are those broad ideas something you'd see crossing over into more real world political discussion if a creator wanted to go that way? In other words, does Marvel have a policy concerning politics and political views shown in their comics?

Joe Quesada: Yes, it’s something that I’ve spelled out quite clearly to our editorial group and creators over the years. Our books are no one’s soapbox. I have always made it a point never to publicly talk about my own political beliefs as I don’t feel it’s my place to do so and use Marvel as a bully pulpit. Our readers come in many shapes and sizes, and we need to be respectful of that. Yes, we have characters that have certain attributes built into them, like political beliefs and religious affiliations, but we try to handle those as carefully as possible, and when we present one side of a coin, I encourage my editors and creators to fairly show the other side. Do we always succeed? No, sometimes things slip through the cracks. It’s just something that happens in a world where you produce over 80 titles a month. But it is something that I believe very strongly about and try to get our editors and creators to be mindful of as well.

Kiel Phegley: This, I think, connects with recent Marvel news in that I was wondering how Heroic Age is going to be affected or has already been affected by our modern landscape. Like I said, the past few years of Marvel have reflected some pretty tumultuous times, both here in America and abroad. When you guys talk about the Heroic Age bringing back "classic heroes" and "an age of optimism" and the like, do you think that tone fits the national identity at this point as well, or does that pull come more from the in story ideas of the Marvel Universe?

Joe Quesada: What’s interesting about looking at this era of Marvel is that our stories have actually been more of a forbearer of things to come. It’s almost like the Marvel Hive Creative Mind is one big Nostradamus-like chamber that starts to create stories years in advance that end up reflecting the mood of the country and our readership. Hopefully Heroic Age keeps that streak alive, as I feel there’s one thing everyone can agree on - we could really use some good news for a change.

Kiel Phegley: Well, speaking of Ed and Marvel's Heroic Age, we've been seeing this new set of teasers for "Secret Avengers" this week. First off, how does that book, with its already shadowy feel based on the teasers, fit into the ideals you've set up for Heroic Age?

Joe Quesada: A lot of people are reading a ton of stuff into our Heroic Age moniker. The one I love the most is the one about this being the sanitizing of Marvel content due to our joining the Disney family when in fact the two aren’t even remotely connected. Heroic Age has been on the burner far longer than any of us knew there was a Disney deal in the works. Globally speaking, in the Heroic Age, the heroes have won, things are looking up for a change and the skies are that much bluer. But, and I’m going to leave it at this, because things are finally looking up, you really need to be that much more vigilant because that is when they are the most fragile.

‘Nuff said.

EXCLUSIVE: Spider-Man faces off against a mind-controlled Spider-Woman in this Daniel Anuña drawn sequence from "New Avengers" #62

Kiel Phegley: Secondly, how long are folks going to have to wait until we see some actual members for this team? You're not just going to combine the teasers up as silhouettes so they make one big black blob, are you?

Joe Quesada: The team solely consists of blobby amorphous figures. [Laughs] Just be patient, Kiel...please, how long have we been doing these?

Kiel Phegley: To round out this installment with some fan questions, and a fan question on the end of the event cycle to boot: Altercator asked, "I just realized the genius of the Siege event: It's truly a war between Marvel villains & heroes. Past few big events like Avengers DisAssembled, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk & Secret Invasion, there hasn't been much clash between heroes & villains, only among the heroes themselves. But in Siege, this is it. A Marvel War. Well, not exactly THE Marvel War, but nevertheless a war. What do you think? Am I smart or what ? (Just joking)

"But really, between Secret War & Siege, has there been a Marvel U-wide war between heroes and villains? Acts of Vengeance comes close, but that's all just spies, suspense & subterfuge. A Marvel Cold War. Also, is it possible that Siege, X-events, Hulk & the current cosmic Realm of Kings will somehow leak into each other?"

Joe Quesada: Hey, Altercator , I might argue that the entirety of the Dark Reign period has been nothing but an extended war between the heroes and villains in the Marvel Universe– one in which the villains have held the upper hand.

And there aren’t specific and concrete ties between "Siege," the upcoming X-Events and "Realm of Kings" other than that they all occur within the same universe, and the events of each will have a spill-over onto the others in some ways moving forwards.

Kiel Phegley: Frequent board member/question asker Hypestyle threw this out there covering some bases for a lot of characters both big name and fan favorites: "Hey, Mr. Quesada: When this Heroic Age stuff starts to kick in, I want to know if the following characters will be a part of it: Black Panther (TChalla, Shuri), Blade, Iron Fist, Cloak, Dagger, Pulsar, Luke Cage, Dr. Voodoo."

Joe Quesada: Hypestyle, wazzup m’ man! Everyone plays and is in the pool! But keep in mind, Heroic Age isn’t an event, it’s a state of mind. Woooooo, trippy.

Kiel Phegley: Byzantine asked after a character who's popped up in a Bryan Hitch teaser add but hasn't been added to a team officially as of yet, saying: "Joe, Can we expect any continuation in the very much needed and enthralling redemption tale of Hank Pym after April and in the near future? Are there any plans for any of the various Avengers characters who seem to be getting the axe post siege?"

Joe Quesada: We’ve not yet made all of our "Avengers" announcements, Byzantine, so stay tuned these next few weeks for additional updates! And rest assured, Hank won’t be fading away into the woodwork.

The two Captain Americas square off side-by-side in this Stuart Immonen illustrated sequence from "New Avengers" #62

Kiel Phegley: Lastly, I couldn't let you go with only asking about big new shiny stuff as there were also some cancelations recently that caught a lot of fans off guard, specifically of the very young series "S.W.O.R.D." and "Doctor Voodoo." I'll let Talmerian take the reigns on some general questions about how things turned out there: "I am sad that Doctor Voodoo has been cancelled. I thought Remender was going to have some time to work the long form story. 5 issues seems too little to even Drumm (Ha! Get it?) up interest. Oh well, I hope there are plans for Doctor Voodoo at least?"

Joe Quesada: Hey, Talamerian, yeah, we’re pretty bummed about the cancelations as well, but that’s the publishing biz. However, in the short term, Jericho will be seen in the first issue of the "Age Of Heroes" anthology series in May. And in June, he’ll be showing up in...a title we haven’t announced yet, so I can’t tell you about it.

Kiel Phegley: Talamerian continued: "I kind of liked S.W.O.R.D., but that version of the Beast was just poorly done. I agree with the cancellation just because of that Beast. Any artist who just ignores previous character design and doesn't have the decency to explain the change should be fired. The story had some interesting elements and seemed to have legs, will we see Kieron Gillen on other Marvel stuff?"

Joe Quesada: I think one of the things that makes Marvel great, actually, is the ability of different artists to interpret the characters in their own unique way while still remaining true to the essence of who the character is. It’s all a matter of your own personal taste. And yes, you’ll be seeing more out of Kieron Gillen in the weeks and months to come – he’s currently writing "Thor" as well as the "Siege: Loki" one-shot we just announced for April.

Kiel Phegley: Overall, how does it happen that ongoing can get scuttled so soon after their launch date?

Joe Quesada: You guys have to remember, we’re usually working with a three month buffer so we know sales figures for future issues before the first issue sees print. And also, after years of doing this, we have handy charts that can predict sales trends pretty accurately. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but our sales guys know there stuff. Also, in this weakened economy, it’s a bit tougher to give a title some extra time to gain it’s legs, but I suspect you get that.

Have some questions for Joe Quesada? Please visit the CUP O' Q&A thread [http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?t=274875] in CBR's Marvel Universe forum. It is from this dedicated thread that CBR's staff will pull questions for our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer session with Joe on Fridays, so get crackin!

TAGS:  cup o' joe, marvel comics, heroic age, siege, captain america

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