Comic Fodder

Another Comic Book Victim: The U.S. Military

The first part of this series focused on the cross-pollination of comics and television, and how the medium of comics has affected things just by being mentioned so often as an intrinsic part of everyone’s dialogue. Let’s leave the realm of entertainment entirely for a few moments and see what the military is up to… and why you’ll find that comic books have taken over our armed forces, as well.

There was recently an in-depth article about the current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on wired.com. They mention in passing that he "watches trashy movies-Transformers and Wolverine were recent favorites." Setting aside the old connotations of "trashy," the writer is trying to say that the guy can relax and watch some fun popcorn-munching movies. No matter if you still object to defining those films as trashy, my point is that the SECDEF of the United States is fully aware who characters like Wolverine are: it doesn't get more mainstream than that.

It’s important to note that the reporters at Wired aren’t trying to appear cool by injecting these references. These are the answers they get when they ask questions. A soldier brings up another pop culture reference when talking about trying to procure items: "You ever read Superman comic books?" asks Eric Edelman, the former Pentagon policy chief. "Well, acquisitions is like the Bizarro universe. Everything is reversed; the world is square, not round."

The writer then references the Bizarro analogy is towards the end of the article again. Bizarro is a 50-year old+ reference, but one that still has a presence almost exclusively in comic book format (although the Super Friends cartoon might have a lot to do with its lingering presence in the world's group consciousness). These aren't hip youngsters making these references. Edelman was born in 1951, but that was the way he thought to explain the beast that has become the acquisition process of the military-industrial complex. He was confident enough in the idea that others would recognize his reference that he did not waste more time elaborating on the Bizarro concept itself; instead, he used it to better relate something in the real world that can seem indescribably convoluted to an outsider.

It’s not just the generals and the rank-and-file that are watching super-hero movies and using the jargon on a daily basis. The military has been doing a ton of research into non-lethal weapons for years, but based on stuff that has been in comics forever. Most people are familiar with the story of the scientist who saw something neat on Star Trek and decided he would try to invent it; there are actually several stories out there of different devices that we have today, and easily half of the inventors say Star Trek inspired them (the Star Trek references alone might take an entire column in and of itself!) Stay tuned for a superhero-themed column that covers all of the research into non-lethal aids, millions of dollars the military spent/still spends on these funny-book concepts, to varying degrees of success.

Okay, now let’s leave the military and go back to the rest of the world. Here’s a quick round-up of comic-related stuff I saw or heard of within a twelve-hour period when I bothered to keep track this week:

  1. A story about ‘Superboy’ being an “Online Smash,” talking about a kid in Romania performing incredible feats of strength, at only five years of age (had to put his name in YouTube to find him, though, just typing in ‘Superboy’ didn’t work).
  2. I suffered through a couple minutes of Clark Howard’s money coach segment on CNN, and spotted his comic-type introduction flash by the screen, invoking the super-heroic concept. You can see part of it on the top banner his CNN-related page, behind his big head.
  3. On So You Think You Can Dance, Mary Murphy told one of the dancers, Jacob, "You're the new Superman of dance!" after seeing him do some impressive high-flying leaps.
  4. One of the stars of the new comedy Community was dressed up as Batman in the commercial for their upcoming Halloween episode.

The real proof for me that comic books are insidious consciousness invaders is my personal, successful indoctrination of… my girlfriend. Here we have a self-professed non-reader. Even when she found a regular book at my house that she actually picked up on her own and said she liked, she never finished it. The closest I could get her to my universe was Archie Comics.

However, when we would be out and about, whether in town or on a trip to some other place, I would point out any super-hero reference we came across. T-shirts and action figures, explaining which movie previews showed concepts based on a comic, etc. I started wearing her defenses down, getting the Archie wedding comics for her and watching as she picked up the Twilight novels (until she automatically grabs the book on the way out the door, waiting for any millisecond break in her day to open it and read a few more pages). She’s reading now! When we have a choice of pre-recorded shows to watch, she always chooses the premiere geek celebration show, Big Bang Theory, first.

It's close to three years since I met her, and last month she beat me to the punch and pointed out a super-hero thing while we were walking.

She spotted it before I did. And pointed it out to me without even thinking about it.

Mission accomplished.


Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.