This Is Where We Should Feel Good, Right?
Superhero comics were going through a bit of a crisis when I started reading them in the late 80’s and early 90’s. For the previous 30 years, comics had mostly consisted of heroes in brightly colored spandex fighting villains bent on personal enrichment at all costs. Each issue was a modernized variation on an old Western, with each side wearing white or black.
Eventually, the kids had read those comics started growing up, and they demanded that their comics grow up with them. By this time the stories started to reflect real world that doesn’t dress protagonists up in bright colors to make it easy to tell one side from the other.
As a superpower, the US had been acting like an 80’s comic book hero. We were often dragged into impossible situations. Our actions were ambiguous. Actions that many in the US see as good, or at least as defensible (especially by those in the largely white, upper-middle class power structure that controls both political parties) were seen around the world as bullying at best. It was hard to say that that we were every doing right simply because it was the right thing to do.
For the last decade, though, we had one yardstick to measure ourselves against. Osama Bin Laden was something truly rare: an unambiguous bad guy. He was practically a cartoon supervillain. For once, and unfortunately at a terrible cost, the US held the moral high ground by any measure. We should have realized that the true test to was get as far away from him, morally, as possible. We had the chance to prove ourselves his opposite.
And we blew it. For the past decade we have taken what could have been a an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to being a force of good in the world and have instead allowed our nation to become a funhouse mirror version of itself. And every one of us is responsible. We’ve turned on each other by allowing our civil liberties to be eroded. We’ve turned on others by claiming the right to invade other countries and treat their citizens as non-entities.
I don’t have much to say about the death of Osama Bin Laden. I wish that he had been taken alive to answer for his crimes, but we all knew it couldn’t end that way. What I do know is comic books. And in comics, once the bad guy is killed, everything goes back to the way it used to be. I hope that is true. I hope that, now that this chapter in US History is over, we can stop being afraid of the bad guy for a bit, and start worrying about our soul.