I wasn’t going to post anything about the five-year anniversary of 9/11 because I didn’t feel like I could add anything that hasn’t already been said. But a discussion at Comics Should Be Good reminded me of a mailing list post I made five years ago, on September 17, 2001, on the subject of terrorism in comics. After rereading it, I’ve decided it’s worth reposting:

This is long. It’s also on a sensitive subject. If you’re not interested in this line of discussion, feel free to just ignore this thread.

I started out thinking, sometime around Thursday or Friday: How would President Luthor react to the WTC destruction? But then I thought—the DCU is dealing with an interstellar war. Buildings in the DCU are routinely destroyed. A major American city was wiped off the face of the Earth (Coast City, during Reign of the Supermen), killing several million people in one attack. The Capitol building was destroyed during a Deathstroke the Terminator storyline. Going global, Cheshire and Vandal Savage recently nuked Qurac (a fictional middle-eastern nation, during an earlier Deathstroke story) and Montevideo (the real capital of Uruguay, during DC 1 Million), and Australia had most of their cities razed to the ground a few years ago in the Invasion! series.

For the real world, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, murdering thousands of people, have stunned the world and irrevocably changed America. We’ve lost our sense of security. Our economy has been massively disrupted. Many are screaming for vengeance, others are lashing out at anyone who even looks middle eastern, our President has declared a long, drawn-out war on terrorism that could easily last years or even span decades, Congress is debating what freedoms should be taken away to make it easier to catch terrorists (the Senate has already decided to allow email surveillance without a warrant)—we’re talking major changes in the social, economic, and political landscape of the country.

Ordinarily, art and entertainment adjust easily to society. Anything that takes place in a different time period or completely alternate universe has no problem, of course, but the vast majority of material that is supposed to take place in the “real world” or a mirror of it—everything from sitcoms to the X-Files—has two choices: ignore the change and risk becoming irrelevant, or adjust to it. Now I’m not saying every show or comic book should have a character who knew someone who was there. But comics tend to be based in something that is near enough the “real world” in which people have the same attitudes as they do in reality, despite the alien invasions and super villains.

In order for the political and social climate of the DC Universe to match our own, its population will need to react to the events of September 11 in the same way that we have in the real world. But think about it: there are two reasons why we’re so devastated by this attack. 1. We thought we were invulnerable to outside attacks of this kind. When the cold war ended we stopped worrying about nuclear armageddon. We haven’t had such a massive attack on our soil in almost 60 years, and even that (Pearl Harbor) was a military target and during wartime (not to mention around half the number of casualties). If I remember correctly, we haven’t been invaded since the War of 1812! (Unless you count the Civil War, but we were invading ourselves then.) This kind of attack is not only unprecedented against us, but for the vast majority of our population, it came out of nowhere. 2. The sheer scale still boggles the mind. Four passenger airplanes hijacked within an hour of each other and turned into weapons, destroying two of the tallest buildings in the world (weren’t the towers something like #5 and #6?), killing several thousand people and throwing our largest city into chaos.

Stack either of those against just the destruction of Coast City, and try to explain why that didn’t change our nation’s outlook, but this did. It’s going to be tough, unless they go the route they did with the election—ignore what happened in the real world, maybe explain that the WTC was a casualty of OWAW, and keep things as they are.

Maybe this line of thought is trivial. It probably is. Many people aren’t here to think about it, and many people are grieving for someone they have lost. For the rest of us, it’s far more important to help out with rescue efforts by donating effort, money, or blood. It’s definitely more important to worry about how we’ll respond, and how that response can avoid harming innocent bystanders (or, more likely, hit as few bystanders as possible) and deter future terrorists instead of creating permanent enemies. It’s also more important to decide which freedoms we’re willing to sacrifice to prevent terrorism, and which we refuse to give up (hint: write your congresspeople, ASAP!)

But amidst all the sadness, all the anger, all the frustration, we still have to go about our business from day to day. We still have to do the laundry, buy the groceries, go to work or to school. We still want to spend time with family and friends, and as we start to recover from the shock, we’ll still want to watch TV, go to the movies, and read comics. Many parts of our lives will be altered, but they should not be destroyed… and I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about how this tragedy is going to alter them.

Originally posted September 17, 2001 on the Ride the Lightning mailing list.

One thought on “Terrorism in Comics

  1. It’s amazing how accurate your predictions were.

    As far as the impact of 9/11 affecting the comic book universes the way it affects those of us who reside in the real world…

    The best I’ve been able to come up with was that “regular Joe’s” see “Invasion”-type stuff as the super-hero world the lives just above and within our own, whereas non-super-powered terrorists are “regular Joe’s” f’ing up other “regular Joe’s.”

    I guess it’s kinda analogous to living in are area where crime is rampant, but you’re still blown-away if/when a member of your own FAMILY commits a crime against you.

    As far as the super-villains’ reactions are concerned… Well, those shouldn’t be carbon-copied from one bad guy to the next. Doom would not shed a tear for 9/11’s victims. He would simply see it as further proof of how much this world needs HIM to rule it.

    Magneto’s personality is all over the place, but the worst depictions of him (a la the Ultimate universe) ought to have him interpret 9/11 as proof of how unworthy humans are to continue to live on this planet.
    The more sympathetic and, in my opinion, realistic and relatable version of Magneto could absolutely be touched by 9/11… but I don’t know how much.

    I could see a “When will they learn” reaction from either Doom or Magneto. They should save the tears, though. Waid already proved that Doom has no humanity left (or only the absolute tiniest shreds).

    Hmm… This comment’s getting longer and longer, but it just occurred to me that 9/11 could, maybe, be used to turn some street-level villains good (by not wanting to have the “terrorist” label applied to them, as well – y’know?) and maybe turning some heroes “bad” because they disagree about how to respond (kinda like “Civil War”).

    Nice post.

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