Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GONE & FORGOTTEN REVISITED PSA COMICS

The cookie elves have asked the circus freak to tell you to stay off drugs

I think I'm speaking without exaggeration when I say that the ONLY reason anyone in my generation stayed off drugs, in school, away from cigarettes, well-fed and unmolested was thanks to the tireless efforts of the Teen Titans. Barred their intervention, I would have been left to the woefully inadequate admonitions of “Bad Dudes,” most likely ending up neither a winner nor bad enough to rescue President Ronnie.

Believe it or not, this book is about
minorities in the engineering field.
Who are building enormous,
terrifying Tyrranosaurotons, or
something. I agree that this issue
needs more awareness.
Thank you, trend towards major publishers issuing special edition Public Service Announcement comic books to little kids! You kept me out of prison and off the streets, off drugs and high on life! In fact, I don't even live above ground anymore, I have a sub-basement hovel filled to the ceiling with stacks of newpapers and jars of my own urine. I'd throw the stuff out, but Spider-Man once told me that bad men were trying to touch my swimsuit area, and I'm afraid to walk outside to the garbage can on the curb.

DC and Marvel (among other publishers) have always been eager to lend their character to comics with charitable aims. The Teen Titans starred in a trio of anti-drug comics, Spider-Man (with Power Pack and - holy fifth-string characters! - Skids and Rusty from X-Factor) and the Hulk have both warned kids about assorted stranger danger, and Superman, Batman and the X-Men have all made their stand against famine in Africa (bravely opposing the intimidating pro-famine-in-Africa lobby). Even the Radio Shack Whiz Kids got in on the act, turning the tremendous processing power of the TRS-80 to the problem of inner-city drug use. I think they solved it, too, I should double-check that issue. I believe the resulting equation recommended hugs, rather than drugs...

So now that we're on the same page (and that page probably includes a pudgy white kid in a striped shirt crying while Spider-Man holds his shoulders and says “Tommy, you have to understand that it's not your fault!”) I'm sure you got your hands on some of these books yourself, somehow. Either you were gifted them via a well-meaning adult authority figure who likes to say “I think these kids consider me to be pretty 'cool'” and make air quotes when he says it, OR you swiped a copy from the library and read 'em with your delinquent friends while you lit up.

Originally, this article was going to try and be a comprehensive overview of ALL the major PSA comics, but I ran into two problems. First off, if you think I'm going to make fun of a comic book about molested kids, you're nuts. What the hell kind of captions am I supposed to slap together for THAT? “Hey moron, did your daddy touch you? Haha, EPIC FAIL!”

For a South American anti-landmine comic,
Wonder Woman was re-costumed in a more
modest fashion. I'm amused by the idea that
kids couldn't learn about landmine safety
if they were otherwise confronted
with Wonder Woman's Amazon rack.
The second problem is that there are about a million of these things. I honestly thought there weren't more than half-a-dozen. As I hunted down copies after copies and documentation of these books, I began to wonder how so many kids could still be sniffing glue and starving in Africa. I mean, fuck, how many times do you have to be TOLD, junkies? The Living Legend of World War II is not used to repeating himself!

Even Storm and Luke Cage got to do one, although they take a back-seat to Spider-Man in their PSA comic about the dangers of smoking (Hell, they barely even got on the cover, first time around). Actually, looking at it a little more objectively, I believe the comic is less about smoking hazards and more about how Marvel doesn't have any prominent black characters who can stand on their own merits. Unlike DC, who has that guy who's the fourth or fifth most popular Green Lantern.

(Fun fact: Spider-Man stars in more of these things than anyone else. Which is why he tackles such bullshit topics as "Literacy," a topic no comic book has any damn right addressing)

Although their hearts are largely in the right place, I never felt these comics were a good idea. Beside the fact that half-naked vigilantes who routinely beat the tar out of mental patients in fetish gear are probably not the IDEAL spokespersons for a sane, safe, law-abiding existence – although, I could be wrong. Perhaps those anti-drug seminars they used to hold in our high school auditorium would have packed more of an impact if the attending officers had been decked out in Mardi Gras beads and bike shorts, and hauled in a wino to pummel – superhero comics are notorious for reducing even the most complex problems into artificial black-and-white distinctions.

Super-heroes thrive on the morality play, which makes super-hero comics particularly well-suited to warning kids against the hazards of trying to conquer the world. As far as pinning drug abuse or worldwide famine on an individual super-villain or monster goes, it seems to require a little more nuance.

It's already a pretty spurious premise that any PSA comic is going to spark a turnaround in any of the serious issues they address, which is why the stated purpose of these books is to inform and raise awareness. Problem is, are we really raising awareness of an issue by blaming its cause solely on some mythical villain?

Here to teach you about bicycle safety, it's
Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. You know, Ghost
Rider. The guy with no skin whose motorcycle
is on fire. That guy. He's here to teach
you about wearing kneepads.
Both the X-Men and the Superman-Batman team appeared in comics benefiting African famine relief charities. One was titled “Heroes Against Hunger” and the other was called “Heroes For Hope,” and no matter how often I remind myself, I keep switching those up to make “Heroes for Hunger” and “Heroes Against Hope.” Anyway.

In the X-Men:Heroes Against Hope book, the mutant heroes ultimately discover that the famine in drought-struck Ethiopia was being caused (or at least exacerbated) by this alien monster who fed on human suffering. OH, SO HE'S THE GUY! Gut him out hollow, would you Wolverine, and let's get back to punching the Toad in the phiz.

Take also, for instance, the well-intentioned Captain Awareness comic, which is certainly trying its hardest for a very worthwhile cause. However, as the tale within the pages unfolds, it turns out that incidents of rape are actually caused by a big smoky monster which possesses men's bodies and makes them do bad things. Whereas I appreciate the sentiment that my gender as a whole is so inherently pure of heart and free of ill will that it takes an all-powerful ethereal being of gross malevolence to turn even the most sociopathic brute into a rapist, I DON'T THINK THAT'S REALLY THE PROBLEM!

This trend is sort of endemic to the super-hero genre as a whole, which often makes villains out of 'embodiments' of emotional or metaphysical states, as well as the occasional elemental and whatever the heck it was Speedball was supposed to be in relation to kinetic energy. OH WAIT, why the hell didn't SPEEDBALL DO AN ANTI-DRUG COMIC? That's automatic GOLD, Marvel! “Don't do me, kids, I'll ruin your life. Say no to me! Hugs, not me!”

So let’s say these PSA comics are right, that there are living, human embodiments of nicotine addiction and domestic violence. Let’s say that the super-hero universe does indeed abound with what appear to be normal people in fright masks and aerobics gear, but who are secretly the singular source of all the world's sorrow, hate, apathy, anger, bigotry, poverty, what have you. Now me, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool, bleeding heart tree-hugging Leftist, but even I support executing THESE assholes. “So, this is the universal embodiment of all hate in the universe? There'd be no hate without him, am I getting this right? Okay, pardon me, Punisher, may I borrow this?” Boom, problem solved. And here I thought it took a deep understanding of the nature of man in the wide and unresponsive universe to salve the wounds of the human condition, when all you really have to do is beat the guy in the Danskins to death with a crowbar.

The PSA comic trend has died down, even as the number of licensed tie-in comics featuring the same characters seems to have skyrocketed. I guess there’s only so many hours in the day, or maybe we’ve run out of living metaphors for tragedy we can have Wolverine murder.


8 comments:

OTL said...

I remember a Captain America anti-drug PSA that basically said all the illegal drugs are being supplied by aliens (!). (Trying to get people too doped up to resist an invasion or something, I'm guessing, but I'm not going to go look for the stupid thing.) Naturally, Cap defeats the aliens, yet illegal drugs are still around for some reason.

I think comics may have lied to me.

Calamity Jon said...

That's an article which used to be on the site but got wiped in the disaster a few years back. On the plus side, I recently acquired the SEQUEL to that issue, so I'll be writing up an expanded revisit of that article fairly soon ...

Michael Hoskin said...

>Unlike DC, who has that guy who's the fourth or fifth most popular Green Lantern.

Actually, most popular - albeit, not in the medium of comics.

>One was titled “Heroes Against Hunger” and the other was called “Heroes For Hope,”

And, as Priest noted with bemusement at the time they were published, NEITHER enlisted African-Americans (or, really, non-Caucasians) for their perspective.

OTL said...

Ah, cool. Sorry, fairly new reader here, so I didn't get to see the earlier article. But I look forward to the sequel. (Actually didn't know that issue *had* a sequel...)

Calamity Jon said...

"Actually, most popular - albeit, not in the medium of comics."

I imagine your heart's in the right place there, Michael, but are you sure about that? Because John Stewart wasn't the star of the big budget Green Lantern motion picture, or the recent Green Lantern animated series, he's not being used on any of the cross-promotional merch I've seen lately - fruit snacks and the like, Hot Wheels and all that - any Green Lantern action figures on the rack seem to be of the other guy and, for that matter, I don't think he's even got a Lego figure, much less appears in the Lego games or movies. Is there a wildly popular Green Lantern radio show I've been missing?

Michael Hoskin said...

True, Whitebread McBomberjacket has gone from zero to sixty in the last decade in terms of representation, but when his film came out there were accusations of "whitewashing" across the net - the "how dare Hollywood replace an African-American hero with this interloper!" Not unlike some of the internet reactions to Justice League's first season, as a matter of fact (stay outraged, internet).

But so far McBomberjacket's products have a palpable air of "FAIL" written across them, whereas Stewart's show is still reasonably well regarded. Perhaps it's a draw?

BillyWitchDoctor said...

I remember when Timm's JL cartoon was announced, and unfortunately at the time I visited /co/ regularly. When CN announced who would be the toon's Green Lantern, there was much sharting of underpants.

And again when CN announced Young Justice would feature a new, different Aqualad, and suddenly everyone gave a tinker's damn about Aqualad (or in this case, "Blackqualad," HUH HUH HUH HUH HUH OH GOD SO WITTY).

And then again over the live-action Daredevil movie.

And then again because of Heimdall.

And now over the Fantastic Four reboot. BECAUSE WHITE PEOPLE CAN'T HAVE BLACK CHILDREN, NOT IF THEY'RE "PURE," HOLLYWOOD'S JUST PROVOKING US INTO LOOKING LIKE BIGOTS BECAUSE OF OUR BIGOTRY, WHITE POWAR, FART FART FART (Oddly enough, I don't recall much pants-crapping over Alicia being "cast black" in the prior Fantastic Four movies.)

And in each case, the casting either didn't matter (Daredevil, and probably FF) or gave us an enduringly-popular breakout character (JL, YJ, Thor). So maybe all the angry little Limbaughs on /co/ can go die in a creosote fire?

neofishboy said...

The only casting issue I thought had any merit was the Kingpin ... though not for anything related to race. One of the Kingpin's defining characteristics is that he looks like somebody who'd have a heart attack if he tried to walk around the block, but he's actually a skilled and dangerous fighter. Michael Clarke Duncan already looks like he'd kick all the asses.

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