8 Comic Book Heroes That Spread Progressive Ideals
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3. Green Arrow. Ever conscious of economic inequity and social ills, this arrow-wielding superhero is widely held to be the Robin Hood of the comic book world (at least in comics that do not feature the actual Robin Hood). Using his smarts and trick-arrows as instruments for social change, he evolved throughout the hippie era in sync with American activists and antiestablishmentarians (in the ‘70s, this dude even visited an ashram). In 1970, Green Arrow was paired up with establishment liberal Green Lantern as a foil to his advocacy, which allowed author Denis O’Neil to explore issues like racism, environmentalism and poverty. They even explored drug abuse, in a storyline in which Green Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy (ha), was addicted to heroin, and in later years, HIV positive.
4. Silk Spectre II and Ozymandias. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is widely regarded as one of the best, most complex and literary comics ever made, a satirical commentary on political extremism that even has one of its villains helping Nixon with black ops during the Vietnam War. (People who saw the movie without reading the book: read the book.) Amid its cast of unconventional superheroes sits Silk Spectre II, a feminist hero who follows in the footsteps of her mother (Silk Spectre I) in defending citizens from crime despite the illegality in Moore’s dystopian America. Ultimately, she is the reason her former lover Dr. Manhattan saves the world from nuclear disaster -- for now. Meanwhile, Ozymandias acts the perfect liberal -- vegetarian, outspoken, possibly gay -- though it’s a testament to the complex moral ambiguity of Watchmen that he might, in fact, be exactly the opposite.
5. Maggie and Hopey. With Love and Rockets, Los Bros Hernandez made vast inroads for progressive comic-lovers. Created in 1981 by California-based brothers Jaime and Gilberto Hernandez, they created a much-loved coterie of Mexicans and Chicanos who reflected the people they knew -- normal characters who loved punk music and their families. They created some of the earliest, most realistic depictions of Latinos in American popular culture, something they don’t get enough credit for in the mainstream, introducing a series of wonderful, playful women who remain some of the most three-dimensional female characters in comics. Among their biggest stars are Maggie and Hopey, two adventurous best friends who met at a punk show and have been occasional lovers ever since. From their actions and declarations, Maggie is bisexual while Hopey identifies as a lesbian, but their relationship is never too explicit, a storytelling device that renders them even more believably human.
6. Sandman. Beloved Sandman creator Neil Gaiman is quite open about his politics -- he’s plenty open about his views on his blog, where he’s at times been accused of communism. And through Dream, the complicated, goth reincarnation of an old Marvel character, Gaiman explores a multiplicity of issues told through global mythologies with a taut moral compass. Dream is also Orpheus, but he’s got the life-trials of a man -- love loss, life struggles -- and in his interactions with the human world, he engages with characters who are feminist, of varying race/ethnicity, gay or transgendered, drug-addicted, and more. This is unique in comics even today, but in 1989, when Sandman was created, it was pretty rare.
7. Huey Freeman. The protagonist of comic strip-turned-TV show The Boondocks is revolutionary in several ways; young, whipsmart, inquisitive and witty, he’s a vessel for series creator Aaron McGruder to unleash progressive black thought in an accessible, acerbically funny way, while questioning inequality as fiercely and adroitly as he does pop culture. Named after Huey P. Newton, clearly, and a staunch member of the hip-hop generation, Freeman often rants eloquently on his disdain for his mostly white suburban neighborhood as well the exploitative vagaries of commercial black pop culture (Tyler Perry, Cuba Gooding Jr and Oprah have all taken a hit). And he’s only 10! Meanwhile, a little kid going on racism polemics on the Cartoon Network? That’s gangsta.