Time Magazine and self-described feminism writer Eliana Dockterman recently wrote an article declaring that superheroes are a problem specifically taking issue with a number of superheroes’ gender, race, and sexuality.
If Dockterman’s name sounds familiar she was part of a chorus of voices that attacked Marvel Comics for publishing Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman #1 variant cover back in 2014.
In her article titled, “We’re Re-examining How We Portray Cops Onscreen. Now It’s Time to Talk About Superheroes” she declares that superheroes are a problem because they are “cops with capes.”
Dockterman begins her article implying there is something wrong with police officers and notes the knee jerk reaction in Hollywood to violent Black Lives Matter rioters and looters who are demanding police forces across the country be defunded and dismantled.
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She cites that Hollywood has canned Cops and Live PD and that shows like Law & Order: SVU and Paw Patrol have also come under fire.
After spending the first two paragraphs of her article demonizing police, Dockterman then makes the comparison to superheroes.
She writes, “But as we engage in this long overdue conversation about law enforcement, it’s high time we also talk about the most popular characters in film, the ones who decide the parameters of justice and often enact them with violence: superheroes.”
She goes on to cite the issues she has with superheroes, “With a few notable exceptions (more on those later), most superhero stories star straight, white men who either function as an extension of a broken U.S. justice system or as vigilantes without any checks on their powers.”
Dockterman continues, “Usually, they have some sort of tentative relationship with the government: The Avengers work for the secretive agency S.H.I.E.L.D.; Batman takes orders from Gotham police commissioner Gordon; even the villainous members of the Suicide Squad execute government orders in exchange for commuted prison sentences.”
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As an aside, The Avengers might have initially operated under S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they no longer do after the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier which exposed that Hydra had infiltrated and corrupted the government agency.
In the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. occasionally oversees The Avengers, but the team originally came together after responding to a request for aid from Rick Jones. They were not formed or run by S.H.I.E.L.D.
As for Batman, he most definitely does not take orders from Commissioner Gordon. It’s usually the other way around. Although Batman did have a close relationship with the GCPD and Gordon in the past.
The only example Dockterman gets correct is the Suicide Squad which is typically run by Amanda Waller, who heads the fictional government organizations of A.R.G.U.S. and Checkmate.
Despite her factual errors, Dockterman continues to cite her grievances with superheroes, “And even when superheroes function outside the justice system, they’re sometimes idolized by police because they are able to skirt the law to ‘get the job done.'”
She then takes issue with military and police officers who use superhero symbols like The Punisher.
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Dockterman writes, “In fact, real-life police officers sometimes adopt the symbolism of these rogue anti-heroes. The Punisher, a brutal vigilante introduced in a 1974 Spider-Man comic who also starred in a 2017 Netflix series, has become an emblem for some cops and soldiers—to the point where Marvel felt the need to address this idolatry in the pages of its comics.”
As another aside, Dockterman makes no mention that Black Lives Matter supporters are also using The Punisher symbol.
In fact, Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway launched a number of Punisher-inspired Black Lives Matter symbols.
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She does note that a number of people have shown up to Black Lives Matter protests wearing Batman and Spider-Man outfits.
Back to her grievances about superheroes. Her next problem is that they don’t have accountability. She writes, “The Punisher is representative of a larger problem in superhero narratives. When Batman ignores orders and goes rogue, there’s no oversight committee to assess whether Bruce Wayne’s biases influence who he brings to justice and how.”
She adds, “Heroes like Iron Man occasionally feel guilt about the casualties they inflict, but ultimately empower themselves again and again to draw those moral lines.”
Remember, one of her first grievances was that superheroes are working with oversight committees like S.H.I.E.L.D., Amanda Waller, and Commissioner Gordon. Now, she has issues that the superheroes don’t have oversight.
Dockterman would then elaborate, “Most of the blockbuster Marvel and DC comics movies skirt the issue of who should define justice for whom.” Again a reference to superhero oversight as she references Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
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Dockterman would then double down on her issues with superheroes being about race, gender, and sexuality. She writes, “What’s more, given that the creators and stars of these movies have historically been white men, it’s hardly surprising that so few reckon with issues of systemic racism—let alone sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of bigotry embedded in the justice system or the inherent biases these superheroes might carry with them as they patrol the streets, or the universe.”
After deriding superheroes primarily on their skin color, gender, and sexuality, Dockterman then spends the next part of her article detailing how she wants to see superheroes portrayed in the future and it’s all about social justice.
She praises Black Panther writing, “More recently, racial injustice has become the centerpiece for some superhero films. The clearest example of that shift is Black Panther, Ryan Coogler’s 2018 superhero movie that takes as its main subject the oppression of BIPOC people worldwide.”
Dockterman then commends the potential of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sequel, “But the introduction of Miles Morales, who made his debut in the comics in 2011, could offer opportunities to explore the contentious relationship between New Yorkers and police.”
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She also hopes that the upcoming Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales video game will explore interactions with the New York Police Department. Dockterman details, “a Miles Morales video game will arrive, hopefully with a more nuanced take on the NYPD than the game that preceded it. With a Spider-Man who’s a young man of color in a city with a painful, recent history of stop-and-frisk policies disproportionately inflicting trauma on young Black and brown men, it will be a striking oversight if it doesn’t.”
Next on her list is Alan Moore’s Watchmen series. She praises the series for depicting superheroes as corrupt. Docktermain writes, “In Alan Moore’s 1986 graphic novel, vigilantes who believe they have the right to fight and live by their own moral codes often prove themselves despicable bigots or megalomaniacs. One particular image of so-called heroes confronting a riot looks an awful lot like the recent videos we’ve seen of police officers shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters.”
She then goes on to applaud Damon Lindelof’s HBO Watchmen series despite having issues with the fact that Regina King’s character is a police officer who tortures suspects. Dockterman writes, “But as the mysteries unravel, it becomes clear that Watchmen’s real intent is to revisit one of the most lauded stories in the comic book world and re-examine it from the perspective of historically excluded Black characters.”
She adds, “In doing so, the show reveals the connective tissue that links harm committed against Black people from the Tulsa Massacre to the racism that Angela deals with in the present day. Black heroes rise up to meet the darkest force, one that’s ignored by most superhero stories: racism.”
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Finally, Dockterman concludes her article by regurgitating woke Hollywood talking points about how to solve “the problem of superheroes.”
She writes, “If Hollywood is to do better in telling these stories, more creators of color need to be given the reins to tell them.”
Dockterman adds, “Writers must also shake the notion that they are bound by the strictures of outdated intellectual property.”
She explains, “The success of Watchmen suggests that creators can snatch up those familiar characters and still weave a new story, with new politics and a new perspective, using only fragments of what came before.”
She finally concludes, “Only when this creative freedom is encouraged and Hollywood offers more opportunities to BIPOC creators—and white creators use their capital to support creators who are too often overlooked—will we get more superhero tales that adequately grapple with the complexity of justice in America.”
It’s quite obvious Dockterman doesn’t give two shits about superheroes and superhero stories. She only sees superheroes as a vehicle for her own political agenda which she makes abundantly clear.
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Unfortunately, Dockterman’s take isn’t surprising or even all that novel. In fact, it’s mainstream in Hollywood. Marvel Studios has heavily signaled this is the type of storytelling they will do moving into the MCU’s Phase 4.
Nearly all of The CW, DC Comics-based shows now operate on this model.
Maybe the most shocking part of Dockterman’s entire article is that she attempts to be the voice for the oppressed when in fact the position she is arguing for is the dominant one in Hollywood right now.
And while that might be the most shocking part, the more interesting part is whether or not audiences will accept these radical changes to superhero storytelling that reject core ideas of justice and morality and replace it with the ideas of racial and social justice.
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That doesn’t seem to be the case as The CW’s viewership has declined as their shows embraced more of the social justice style of storytelling. Even major film franchises like Star Wars have suffered significant drops at the box office. Other previously successful franchises like Ghostbusters, Charlie’s Angels, Terminator, and Men in Black have also suffered after embracing this style storytelling.
What do you make of Dockterman and Time Magazine going after superheroes?