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Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Pulp is the anti-Fascist Western We Need Right Now

“Shoot to win can feel so bittersweet. But you can take what you can get ’cause there ain’t no glory in the west.”

-from “No Glory in the West” by Orville Peck
PULP is the next OGN from Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips - The Beat

Thanks to their work on titles like Criminal, The Fade Out, Kill or Be Killed, and many others, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Philips’ collaborations have been some of my favorite comics to seek out on the stands. And their new Image Comics graphic novella, Pulp, is no exception. Set in New York in 1939 with occasional flashbacks to the turn of the 20th century, Pulp chronicles the last days of Max Winters, an Old West gun fighter and outlaw turned writer of pulp Westerns for the fictional magazine Six Gun Western. Brubaker and Phillips with amazing spot reds from colorist Jacob Phillips blur fact and fiction and show and steadily build up that Winters’ character, the Red River Kid, is a barely fictionalized version of his younger self.

While Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips riff on crime fiction tropes in their usual manner and add a dollop of the “one last job” story, I would consider Pulp to be a straight Western even though it’s predominantly set in New York. This mostly comes from the way Max behaves, especially in crime settings. (Car chases are definitely more stressful than horse ones.) However, Brubaker and Phillips aren’t merely content to do their take on this classic American staple of the Western, but instead recontextualize the genre to be about resistance against those who would exploit others (Basically, class warfare.), especially Nazis and fascists.

Image from Pulp

They lay the breadcrumbs for this early on as Max stands up for a young Jewish man at the subway station even though it leads to him getting his ass kicked, having a heart attack, and being robbed of his entire freelance paycheck that he was squirreling away to buy a house in Queens for him and his partner, Rosa. This scene sets up Max as a champion of the marginalized as Phillips and Phillips’ visuals convey the righteous fury in his soul as he stands up for what’s right even if no one helps him out when he takes a beating. The fury extends to the salty frankness of his dialogue as he tells the young anti-Semite, stating “Everyone here’s had enough of your crap”. Max is like if Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven had a social conscience, and this informs all of his actions in the narrative, especially in the second half of the book when he decides to fall in with an old foe. And not just any old enemy: a Pinkerton.

Even though they had semi-heroic beginnings as bodyguards for President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, Pinkertons become synonymous with strike-breaking and cloak and dagger operations to uphold the status quo. Historically, they tracked down the Jesse James Gang and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid so they’re a good fit for baddies in a Western and are still doing private security to this day as part of the firm, Securitas AB. So, basically, Brubaker and Phillips set up the former Pinkerton, Goldman, who catches Max trying to do a robbery in broad daylight as an untrustworthy fellow with a bit of a bitter edge. Sean Phillips never draws Max and Goldman as buddy buddy arranging them in opposition to each other with Goldman as a savvy operator and Max as a cowboy stuck in city alleys instead of the open plains of Wyoming or another Western state.

This visual depiction extends to Ed Brubaker’s plot as what Max thinks is just good old-fashioned stage coach robbery (But with Nazis instead of cattle barons.) turns into something a little more complex as Goldman wants to hit at the names and accounts of Nazis, not just their cash. Of course, Max thinks this is all nonsense, and his captions the 1939 Old West gun fighter version of ACAB. (“Why would I trust a Pinkerton?”) However, Brubaker and Phillips drop in Goldman’s backstory that he had a good job doing accounting work for Henry and was laid off because he was Jewish, which makes him more of a sympathetic figure, and also sets up Max’s final showdown where he takes guns a-blazing vengeance against the fascists and on behalf of his Jewish partner, who was wrongfully murdered, even though he (and we) know that this will end in his demise. But he has that house in Queens for Rosa so he has nothing left to lose.

Image from Pulp

For better or worse, Max’s actions in both the Western past and New York present of Pulp are consistent. He always fights on behalf of folks that are exploited by those who have the power in society whether that’s settlers and robber barons or Jewish people and Nazis. He even advocates for ownership of his character Red River Kid (Pretty much self-ownership.) and going in a new creative direction with the character instead of retreading the same plots, but as anyone who has read about the history of comics that’s a futile battle. There’s a real Martin Goodman/Stan Lee vibe from Max’s editor Mort and his nephew Sidney, who’s a fan of Max’s Westerns and will do his job for a much cheaper rate. These scenes and Max’s sense of justice lead to more anger and chest pains and is what leads to him to picking up gun again and becoming an outlaw.

Image from Pulp

In Pulp, Brubaker and Phillips create a strong through-line between the exploitation of capitalists and fascists whose actions are insulated by people “just following orders”. Max is very aware of the banality of evil, and that’s why his final showdown is at German Bund beer hall and not against a veiled stand-in for Adolf Hitler atop a zeppelin. He has put his affairs in order, has set up his partner Rosa for life, just wants to avenge the death of his unlikely friend, Goldman, and put some goddamn Nazis six feet under. Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips up the intensity of the visuals in these final pages with plenty of guns, red, and abstraction while Ed Brubaker’s narration sums up what Max thinks of himself before his death, namely, “We weren’t heroes. We were killers.” Even though Max has good values, it was his quick trigger finger that kept him alive in the Old West, and it’s deteriorating heart that gets him in the end in a bar in New York surrounded by swastikas. But, at least, he went down shooting.

Pulp is a fantastic transposition of the Western to the big, modern city as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips apply outlaw-turned-pulp-writer code of fighting for the downtrodden to championing Jewish people against fascism even before the United States declared war on Nazi Germany. Max’s actions and ideals strike a chord in 2020 where the President of the United States himself called Nazis and white supremacists “very fine people”, and they run rampant both in the street and online. With his vulnerability, tenacity, soft spot for Rosa, and heart for justice, Max Winters is definitely the character find of 2020, and Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Jacob Phillips do a wonderful job making a Western story both exciting and socially relevant.

Hold Fast: The Marauders and the Anti-Fascist Model

Pyro in the Marauders
Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

Resistance, Reclamation, and the Red-Queen of Anti-fascism

What does it mean for marginalized communities to resist oppression and protect themselves and their kin when the governments of the world leave them behind? [A totally theoretical question, in no way relevant to the world we live in] Marauders asks this question, consistently expanding on the complexities of Krakoa’s role on the world’s political stage.

Having spent years working in multiple above and below ground anti-fascist/anti-racist organizations and affinity-groups, I love X-Books like Marauders, that acknowledge the complexities of revolutionary struggle, telling a story of an autonomous cell of mutants, using tactical violence and property damage, to carry out direct-action operations to defend their community. For this reason, Marauders can help readers approach the stigmatized political ethos of anti-fascism. I don’t expect you to walk away with a full understanding of the history and strategies of anti-fascism. For a more holistic account of the history and political validity of anti-fascism, I suggest Mark Bray’s, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist and Robert Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism.

Anti-fascism or autonomous anti-fascism [as it’s known outside the US, where political discourse can sustain a multifaceted definition of anti-fascism] is an illiberal politics of cultural self-defense, necessitated by the inaction of a corrupt state-apparatus, utilizing historic & emergent methods of protest and direct-action. It’s a single aspect of larger strategies of resistance to white supremacy, not a discrete political ideology. Anti-fascists organize in autonomous cells, collectives, or affinity groups without traceable ties to larger organizations of the left. They reject the liberal formula for opposing fascism; debating fascists in the “marketplace of ideas” or trusting the police to counteract fascist violence. History shows that parliamentary government is not a barrier to fascism, in fact, it’s historically a red carpet. Police, who historically began as slave-patrollers, often share membership with white-supremacist groups and have given birth to reactionary movements like “Blue Lives Matter”. Not to mention they are constantly emboldened by our president’s calls for increased levels of violence.

The series/team’s title is a reference to a group of mercenaries, who Sinister hired to wipe out the Morlocks. Kate chose this name to distance what they’re doing from the X-Men but It’s also an act of reclamation, as Callisto herself notes in Marauders #7. They take a name tied to their own pain and use it in the fight against their oppressors. There are numerous leftist organizations whose names are reclamations, like Trigger Warning, Philly’s Dyke March, the SHARPs, and Redneck Revolt come to mind. This is also seen in revolutionary aesthetics like the pink/purple triangle, used by Nazis to identify queer people, which was reclaimed in the 1980s & 90s by many organizations working in AIDS & HIV advocacy and is used by queer anti-fascist affinity groups to this day. It’s worth noting, that there is a meta-complexity in “reclamation” in comic books. Because these characters are not autonomous and self-aware, they themselves can’t reclaim certain things in the way we in the real world can [ which is still an intense and complex path to navigate]. What I think works here, is that everything is textual. Kate isn’t reclaiming a slur from our world, like naming a non-binary character Snowflake and their twin Safe-Space. Kate is a character, within a constructed world, reclaiming a term specifically located within the confines and context of that constructed world.

X-Men #4, January 01, 2020, by Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, & Sunny Gho

The Marauders play a vital role in the safety of mutants of the 616, providing an alternate model of resistance to anti-mutant oppression, a model of resistance that larger structures of mutant governance cannot engage in. In X-Men #4 we see what happens when the X-Men do participate in larger institutions of economic and political governance, specifically the Davos World Economic Forum; the theme, “Globalization for a New Age: How to Secure and Maintain a Cohesive & Sustainable World.” It’s important to remember that by this time, there’s already been one successful attempt on Xavier’s life. Although they toast to peace, yet another assassination attempt unfolds. It’s easily dealt with, but one of the first attempts Krakoa made to participate in global politics is still met with violence. It’s clear that Krakoa cannot trust human structures of governance to achieve justice and equity.

Marauders #1 establishes the team’s two objectives. The first, to bring Krakoan drugs to countries without “legitimate” trade agreements with Krakoa, prioritizing Nations who need it most. In Marauders #2 we see Kate liberating a shipment that Shaw diverted from a nation in Africa who can’t take Krakoa’s deal publicly as it may start a civil war. The second objective is to liberate mutants being held against their will.

To an extent, the Marauders travel by sea because Kate Pryde can’t use Krakoa’s gates, but as Emma Frost states in Marauders #1 this is “…an opportunity”. In House of X, it’s observed that Krakoa’s gates have a military capability to move forces any distance instantaneously. Humanity implicitly sees the gates as a threat. This is why in some places they’re policed, making it difficult to utilize them to support mutants refugees. That’s where the Marauders come in, operating within the gaps between larger Krakoa’s politics and the rest of the world, through which the most vulnerable of mutants will fall. Revolutionary struggle is complex; at times necessitating open conflict, such as the ongoing Hong Kong Protests, the Ferguson Riots, the J20 Protests, the Warsaw rebellion, the Battle of Cable Street. Revolutionary struggle can also be immensely complex though, requiring less overt forms of resistance. In the new paradigm, mutants have the upper hand, but only the mutants living there and on the world’s political stage, Krakoa can only do so much to help them.

Building Power in the Gaps

There’s certainly a complexity to the various political parallels to navigate on Krakoa. X-Force, a covert-ops/CIA analog, establishes its own surveillance state within Krakoa. We’re spoon-fed that reading by the text itself and marketing. In X-Force #7 we learn Beast is investigating methods of surveillance with Forge, using sound-absorbent stone and placing objects made of this substance around the globe. This is certainly one way to read their actions. Although it’s easy to pass judgment on some of Beast’s recent actions, I would politely challenge that interpretation along with anti-fascist framing. Sometimes resistance is ugly; sometimes when they go low and you go high, they take out your legs from beneath you. Beast’s actions throughout X-Force, have been in the grey, but that is much of what it feels like to be involved in anti-fascist organizing. Sometimes protecting your community isn’t squeaky clean. While this is not me condoning some of Beast’s more questionable choices, this is me saying it should take much more for us to condemn them.

onepeoplesproject.com

But surveillance doesn’t always just serve the state. Surveillance & data-collection can be used to protect marginalized communities. In my years of “organizing”, I’ve encountered and partnered with multiple organizations that did just that, dedicated to observation, surveillance, and consolidation of data regarding the personnel, operations, and whereabouts of known fascists, neo-nazis, and abusers. Sometimes organizations come along, like the One People’s Project, [ founded in 2000 ] by Daryl Lamont Jenkins, whose sole mission is to prove “ hate has consequences”. Through OPP’s “Community Watch” project, they’ve created regional databases of known fascist organizations and personalities, to ensure they cannot use anonymity or opacity as tools in their rampage against marginalized communities. Countless times the information provided by these groups is used to make split-second safety decisions regarding the presence of known instigators and agitators, violent abusers within the community, and to anticipate and intervene in potentially dangerous fascist actions.

Krakoa itself is a unique composite of various modes of social-governance. On the one hand, there’s a radicality of Krakoa that stretches beyond a socialist model, leaning into an almost anarcho-syndicalist model. I see this mostly in the way that Krakoa’s exports of various drugs become a foothold for further economic and political power. These drugs become economic leverage on the global scale, much in the way that anarcho-syndicalist models utilize the power of the worker. There are also parallels to the way that mutant identity itself, rooted in Krakoa, becomes surrogate for the role of the union as a sort of consolidation and point of focus for work-power. Krakoan also represents a semi-liberal state apparatus, though without even a symbolic democratic element given the nature of the Quiet Council’s structure and formation. Krakoa is best understood as a combination of Monarchy and Oligarchy. The Monarch [Charles] establishes a puppet Oligarchy [The Quiet Council], which he assumes a major role on. Charles often makes major choices unilaterally, without consulting the council. This council was not elected and contains members such as Sinister, responsible for the genocide of the Morlocks and Sebastian Shaw a serial abuser.

Marauders #1, October 23, 2020 by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, & Federico Blee

The Marauders embody the anti-fascist slogan “outside and within”; both a part of these larger structures of power and yet operating entirely outside of them at times, both with and without the blessing of Krakoa’s elites. Anti-fascism isn’t all about bandanas and brick-throwing, so I’d like to return to the first mission of The Marauders, to distribute Krakoan drugs to vulnerable communities. This idea of “outside and within” is not just how The Marauders engage in acts of resistance, it also impacts how they provide radical forms of aid to others.

When it comes to providing much-needed material aid to vulnerable communities, there many examples of such work within anti-fascist organizing for us to turn to. And this aspect of anti-fascist organizing is very similar to the first objective of the Marauders that we’ve discussed, and that is to provide Krakoan medications to vulnerable communities. An example that many on the left may already be familiar with is the “Food not Bombs” movement, popularized by many anarchist and anti-fascist communities. The goal of which is to consistently host soup kitchens, food drives, and community potlucks within under-resourced communities. While not all members of FnB also do anti-fascist work, there is a significant overlap between the two. There are many other organizations dedicated to this type of work. Much like the Marauders, anti-fascists serve as both swords and shields to the communities they place themselves within.

Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

In issues #5, #6, & #7 it becomes clear that Sebastian Shaw has formed alliances with Verendi. Like many anti-fascist organizations, the Marauders deal with the never-ending struggle of sectarian in-fighting. While it never gets as heated as Democratic-Socialists drowning members of anarcho-communist affinity groups in the ocean, a sizeable amount of time and energy is spent vying for new footholds of power when the focus should be on fighting oppression. Shaw’s plot to kill Kate, his choices of who he appoints as Black Bishop and Black Knights, and his constant attempts to undermine Emma, are all very similar to how some organizations on the left squabble and feud over things like, membership, titles, and power.

From  Jackboots to Pinstripes

We’re introduced to a group named “Homines Verendi”. “Homines” translates from Latin into “ people/mankind”, in this context, it means human. “Verendi” is the masculine, vocative & nominative conjugation of the Latin, “verendum”, meaning “awe-inspiring”. The title alone paints Verendi as a human-supremacist organization, evocative of many “pinstripe fascist” white-supremacist groups, like the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys have over time made them the darlings of the established right, unlike many groups of the alt-right. In fact, the Proud Boys’ notable assault [2018] on counter-protestors in Manhattan, happened at all because of an invitation of members of the Metropolitan Republican Club, a mainstream Republican organization.

Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

Verendi and Proud Boys share aesthetics of class, building a “legitimate” image that contrasts the “messy” aesthetics of the left. Like famously punchable Nazi, Richard Spencer they present themselves as well-groomed, and well-dressed “intellectuals”, endearing themselves to far-right elites. As Emily Gorcenski states in her profile on the fascist group,Compared to the white supremacists they march alongside, Proud Boys enjoy comfortable proximity to the Conservative Mainstream”. Even at protests, they appear in collared shirts, cufflinks, and styled hair. They fit right in, rubbing shoulders with politicians and billionaires, masking their continued reactionary violence. According to their own official publications, two of four spokes of membership to the group require acts of violence. Their founder Gavin McInnes has openly referred to his group as “gang” on multiple occasions, defending members’ senseless violence. In March 2017, Proud Boy Kyle Chapman was photographed beating a counter-protester over the head with a 2×4, earning him a role in the alt-right mythology, “Based Stickman”. He went on to form the “Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights”, which McInnes refers to as the “military wing” of the Proud Boys on his twitter.

Gavin McInnes and members of the Proud Boys, Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith, Getty Images

More recently, fascists like the Proud Boys, Richard Spencer, Baked Alaska, Gavin McInnes, Jason Kessler, and their ilk have attempted to rebrand referring to themselves as the “alt-right“. It’s a clever bit of branding for sure, “violence fringe fascists” doesn’t quite seem too palatable. The alt-right, on the other hand, sounds like a contingent of principled youngsters who land a little further to the right of most party republicans. It’s a name that washes over their hate, their violence, and the overtly fascist goals they hold.

A common misunderstanding of fascism, as Robert Paxton points out, is the neo-liberal Western interpretation of fascism as a form of extreme “evil”, forced onto societies by a single evil individual. Fascist power comes from their ability to co-opt, manipulate, and navigate established institutions of power, while still assaulting marginalized communities at the street-level. Respectability politics allows them to systematically acquire and consolidate power, through entirely “legitimate” means. Mussolini’s march on Rome was a mere spectacle legitimizing his prior invitation to form a government. Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 failed miserably; it was only when President Hindenburg appointed him chancellor that he was able to seize and consolidate power, along with parliaments Enabling Act that granted him complete power. The US elected flavor-blasted garbage pile Donald Trump, and we may do it again.

“Wear a sheet get beat!”

Black Lives Matter Organizer in ” black bloc”, Photo Credit: It’s Going Down

The Marauders’ first mission is reactionary, much like a lot of anti-fascist organizing. This is not to say that anti-fascist politics are reactionary, but that they quite literally react to fascists. When a threat emerges, they rise to meet it, popularized in the Antifa slogan “ Anywhere they go, we go!”. In issue #1 Iceman discovers that on the other side of a less active gate, the Russian military has established a blockade around the gateway, which may be evocative of continued travel bans instated by the flavor-blasted bowl of bird shit, Donald Trump. Kate, Iceman, and Storm see vulnerable mutant refugees being policed and their rights denied, so they intervene. Their violence is never an escalation, but always proportionate. They fight to disarm and de-escalate. The Russian military is the one who escalates. The Marauders’ use of violence is tactical, measured, and defensive. We see a mission like this again in Marauders #4, when the team liberates a group of younger mutants trapped by their country’s naval forces. By issue #5, the Marauders have brought many dozens of mutants refugees home to Krakoa. Have real-world anti-fascists ever gone to bat for refugees?

The Syrian Civil War [2011] catalyzed the largest influx of refugees that Europe has seen since the displacement caused by WW II. In 2015, 1.3 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere fled to Europe, in 2016, another 350,000. At least 4,812 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2016 alone. With this influx came a rise in nationalism & xenophobia. Despite the fact that economic experts stated firmly that the refugees had not caused a notable increase in poverty or crime, nationalism fomented into violence. As Georg Pazderski of the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland himself admitted, “perception is reality,…our citizens feel unwell and insecure“. This is another way that fascism solidifies power, providing easy answers to the anxieties of the middle and lower classes, jettisoning their explicitly racist trappings for dog-whistles about “scarcity” and “security”.

In the following October, nationalists attempted to burn down a refugee camp near Bostock. By July 2015, matters escalated further forcing anti-fascists mobilized to defend a refugee tent city from neo-nazi attacks in Dresden. One month later, the conflict reached a breaking point. On the evening of August 20, 2015, an attempt was made to burn down the refugee center. The next day, buses carrying 250 refugees into Heidenau (outside of Dresden ) were blocked by a thousand members of the neo-nazi National Democratic Party and anti-immigrant locals. Several hundred anti-fascists responded to a call to defend the refugees in what had quickly become a matter of life and death. Dressed in black and black bloc, they waited out in front of the tent city to defend the refugee populations from “nationalists” with bricks, bottles, firecrackers. A large number of refugees even join the black-bloc to defend the encampment.

In issues #5 & #6, a major clash plays out between Verendi and the Marauders, which reveals the synergy between various fascist organizations & mobilizations. Verendi has conspired to incite violence in the streets of Madripoor. Verendi has invaded “legitimate” political structures and demonstrated their flexibility to work outside of them. In issue #6, we learn that the Russian ambassador from House of X has a deal with Verendi, to exchange the intel gathered by the “yellowjacket” probe, for her supply of power-dampening technology, both in the suits that we saw in earlier issues and future generations of weapons. In issue #6, we also learn that they’ve made an arrangement made with the ambassador of Madripoor, Donald Pierce while simultaneously working outside of governmental structures, hiring fringe fascists like the Hate-Monger and the X-Cutioner to kill Kate and the Marauders, characters with long histories of ant-mutant violence. Their designs alone evoke explicitly fascist images like Klu Klux Klan hoods, which is even more vile when you consider the origin of Hate-Monger as a clone of Hitler himself. X-Cutioner, on the other hand, is a “former fed”, drawing on the familiar trend of ranking government officials having ties to the Klan and other white-supremacist organizations.

Marauders #6, January 22, 2020, by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Mario Del Pennino, & Erick Arciniega

For a bisexual, Jewish woman to face these two is an intense challenge, one many anti-fascists and activists from marginalized groups face; putting your body on the line, in direct opposition with those who wish you harm. In the context of the comic, they’ve been hired to kill Kate. In real life, it gets much blurrier, but at times members of marginalized groups have been injured and killed during protests or actions where they stand against their oppressors. This is why even though Donald Pierce and Chen Zhao claim diplomatic immunity, Kate doesn’t get hung up on bureaucratic international diplomacy. Kate recognizes them as oppressors, intending to harm her and her community. She doesn’t take this to the floor of the UN or try to beat Hate-Monger in the “marketplace of ideas”. She fights them where they can’t hide behind the shield of civility politics, and that’s exactly what anti-fascists do.

On the night of February 1, 2017, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous, was set to speak at UC Berkeley. He’d become a major celebrity of the `alt-right, using his identity as a gay immigrant to mitigate his racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, transphobia, and promotion of rape culture. Students demanded the lecture be canceled when Berkeley officials announced that Yiannopoulos planned to “publicly name undocumented students,” much as he outed trans students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who were then harassed and assaulted. Shortly before Yiannopoulos’s speech, anti-fascists arrived at the demonstration and launched a quick but intense escalation effort. What weeks of advocacy, petitions, and “reasoned debate” couldn’t accomplish was achieved in 15 minutes. The event was canceled. Undocumented students stated that lives had been saved, as far-right students had made threats on social media regarding the students to be exposed.

Clashes like this catapulted Antifa into the spotlight. Despite a complete lack of historical or theoretical knowledge or awareness, pundits incorrectly concluded that anti-fascism was a greater threat to free speech than fascism itself because they refuse to provide an unchallenged platform for hate-speech. Pinstripe fascists leverage “free speech” to appeal to a mainstream sense of decorum—which they capitalize on to spread their hate. That position incorrectly asserts that anti-fascism is the only threat to an otherwise pristine state of free speech, safe-guarded by the government. The government already restricts speech. It restricts false advertisements, libel, and advertisements for tobacco products and alcohol. The government prosecutes incitement of violence, protects copyrights, and limits where pornographic images can be shown.

Journalists are regularly arrested and assault by police at protests. Trump’s White House restricts access to oppositional reporters. This is why the US only ranked #43 on the World Press Freedom Ranking in 2017 and fell to #48 in 2019. It’s why witnesses in critical trials against the police end up dead, an improbable distance from their home for some weed. It’s why the man who filmed police murder Eric Garner was the one who ended up in jail, while the killer cops remained free. In the 1960-70s J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI created COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) to shut down social movements through the spread of disinformation, bad-jacketing, infiltration, and even killing prominent members of the Black Panther Party, such as Fred Hampton. Which you can read about in the appropriately titled Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. 

C2E2 2017: Secret Empire is Footloose and Context Free

 

Thanks to the clutchness of my former podcast co-host and current Comicosity writer, Terrence Sage, I got a front row seat to the Secret Empire panel at C2E2 on Saturday where editors Christina Harrington, Nick Lowe, and Wil Moss discussed Marvel‘s summer event with writers Nick Spencer and Margaret Stohl in addition to PR guy, Chris D’Lando. The panel solidified my idea that Secret Empire is a series that will be filled with twists, turns, and various summer blockbuster flourishes, but is unaware of the context or larger world around. Throughout the panel, Spencer stressed the fact that Secret Empire is apolitical even though it is clearly about the secret rise of fascism in the Marvel Universe with references to the Axis Powers starting on page one of issue zero. This is pretty painful because both Captain America’s co-creator Jack Kirby fought in World War II and the cover of Captain America Comics #1 famously featured Cap punching Adolf Hitler although the United States was still neutral.

But the panel wasn’t all negatives. Thanks to Steve McNiven and Andrea SorrentinoSecret Empire is going to have some glorious artwork. On the tie-in front, there was talk about the rise of the Blue team of X-Men and Matthew Rosenberg and Javier Garron’s Secret Warriors as the de facto antifa resistance. Mighty Captain Marvel writer Margaret Stohl was the hero of the panel as she redeems Carol Danvers from being an authoritarian herself in Civil War Ii and back to being one of the Marvel Universe’s greatest soldiers in the upcoming “Band of Sisters” storyline. In keeping with its name, this storyline was inspired by watching documentary footage of World War II, including the Battle of Midway and the D-Day landing.

Andrea Sorrentino art from Secret Empire #3.

The panel kicked off with Chris D’Lando and Nick Spencer doing a two man PR spiel for Secret Empire and its core tie-ins, Captain America Sam Wilson and Captain America Steve Rogers. Spencer stressed that this story was his own idea that he came up with in early 2015. Secret Empire didn’t come out of Marvel editorial retreat, and Spencer pitched it personally to Tom Brevoort. I can definitely respect Secret Empire coming organically from Nick Spencer’s work on the Captain America titles and Avengers: Standoff. However, he use our favorite magical MacGuffin, the Cosmic Cube quite a lot. This reality warping thingamabob could offer an instant reset with its cosmic abilities although Spencer stressed to fans that he wouldn’t “walk back” anything in this storyline.

Divorced from any kind of historical or sociopolitical context, Secret Empire has some cool things going for it with a two front war with Captain Marvel, Alpha Flight, and the Guardians of the Galaxy taking on the Chitauri,  heroes like the Defenders, Dr. Strange, and Cloak and Dagger, battling in the Dark Dimension, and the rest of the heroes fighting HYDRA in Washington DC. Secret Empire #2 will contain the reveal that Steve Rogers is evil in the form of a beautiful mosaic double page spread from Andrea Sorrentino while issue 3 will take place in space. It’s the big heroes vs villain event that many fans have been looking for, but the biggest villain of them all happens to be the former moral center of the Marvel Universe. Oh, and there’s going to be mini Cosmic Cubes to promote the event that look kind of cute and are better than comic book store employees dressing up like mythological creature themed Nazis.

Spencer, D’Lando, and Marvel executive editor Nick Lowe teased some of the tie-ins too. Captain America Steve

Captain America Steve Rogers #18 Cover

Rogers will focus on Cap as basically dictator of the United States and feature guest appearances from the journalists of Civil War: Frontline and Namor. Two of those three things are excellent, and the friendship between Namor and Steve as members of the Invaders in World War II has always fascinated me. Doctor Strange #21 marks the debut of a new creative team of Dennis Hopeless and Nico Henrichon, artist of Pride of Baghdad as well as lots of monsters in the Dark Dimension. I haven’t followed the new Doctor Strange series, but the combination of excellent art and guest appearances by cast members from the late, great Spider-Woman means I’ll give the new run a shot.

Lowe also mentioned Amazing Spider-Man #29, which stars the Superior Octopus, or Dr. Octopus in a new body working for HYDRA. It looked like Richard Spencer’s ultimate wet dream as drawn by the talented Stuart Immonen. There will also be an anthology series called Secret Empire: Brave New World starring obscure, yet insanely awesome Marvel characters, like Blade, Domino, and of course, Bob, Agent of HYDRA from Deadpool. Some highlights of Brave New World‘s creative team included Ethan Sacks (Formerly of the New York Daily News) writing a story from the POV of the Daily Bugle and Kim and Kim creator Magdalene Visaggio doing a Starbrand one.

Editor Christina Harrington cheered up some of the X-Men fans in the room by teasing X-Men Blue #7 and the first look at #8 and #9, which will focus on the return of Emma Frost and Polaris. In the Q and A, she said that Emma will be “back in white” and hinted at her having her diamond form too and also hinted at other guest stars in the run. Nothing was mentioned about Holocaust survivor Magneto’s role in the fight against HYDRA, and hopefully as the secret team leader of the X-Men’s Blue team, he will be beating them up with magnetic things.

Wil Moss followed up with Secret Warriors #1, which will be written by Matthew Rosenberg, drawn by Javier Garron, and have one of the most stacked non-Avengers/X-Men team lineups, including Quake, Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl, Devil Dinosaur, Karnak, and Inferno. It has a fun, yet highly problematic premise of the Secret Warriors traveling across the US and liberating Inhumans from internment camps that are scarily like the ones in Chechnya for gay men. (I discuss this troubling fact with Matthew Rosenberg in an upcoming interview.)  Rosenberg has shown a knack for comedy with Rocket Raccoon and We Can Never Go Home was a great road trip story so I have high hopes for this series, which could make fetch, er, Inhumans happen. Also, the X-Men are popping up in Secret Warriors #3

The highlight of the Secret Empire panel was Margaret Stohl’s enthusiasm for Captain Marvel, and hopefully she has a long run with the character like Kelly Sue DeConnick. Stohl that the upcoming arc of Mighty Captain Marvel would get back to what Carol does best “kick ass in space” and set her up as the ultimate soldier of the Marvel Universe like Steve Rogers used to be. But the book won’t just be rah rah and punching as she will also focus on young people’s first experience in combat through the Alpha Flight cadets, including the Wakandan Aki and Dante, who appeared in the YA novel Black Widow: Forever Red that Stohl also wrote. Margaret Stohl’s take on Secret Empire seems more grounded than Nick Spencer’s with her focus on things like the horrors of war and resisting authoritarianism instead of sensationalism and retconning iconic characters.

Usually, the Q&A sessions of most panels are filled with stuttering and long self-serving fan monologues, but the one for the Secret Empire was quite amusing. I did a Storify of my live tweets of it here, but some of the highlights were Nick Spencer’s edgy love Carol Danvers’ idea for a surveillance state, saying that tearing down an iconic character is a “redemption story” and a kid (Possibly a Marvel plant) ripping off a Superman t-shirt so he could read an early copy of Secret Empire #1.

On a more serious note, I was kind of saddened when a veteran told Spencer and the panel that Secret Empire had angered some veterans who look up to Captain America and his service as a soldier. Let’s just say there was much back pedaling involved in Spencer’s response to her showing that Spencer uses the trappings of fascism in his loud, quippy action driven stories like Michael Bay uses American nationalism in his. At least, Spencer has jokes as evidenced by Superior Foes, The Fix, and the Guardians of the Galaxy’s dialogue in Secret Empire #0.

My main takeaways from Secret Empire is that it has some exciting elements, including mass superhero battles, Carol Danvers being a hero again, and Andrea Sorrentino artwork, but it seems divorced from any kind of nuance and real-world relevance. This is troubling when the bad guys are Neo-Nazis and not just “for the evulz” supervillains. But Mighty Captain Marvel, Secret Warriors, and Secret Empire: Brave New World should be fun reads.

(Plot twist: I hadn’t even read Secret Empire #0 when I attended this panel…)

Physical proof that I was at this panel, and this isn’t fake news.

Choice Quotes


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Avengers vs. Atlas #1

Japanese fisherman – We are in compliance with the international whaling commission!  By boarding this ship you are in violation of our laws!

Captain America #602

Teabagger – And don’t forget your briefcase Obama!

Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth #7

Lady Deadpool – You’re supporting a government that’s appointed itself big brother, stripping away liberties, creating a fascist state “for our own good.”

DMZ #49

From LES: “By removing the nuke and instead using the idea of it as a weapon, Parco’s both commented on the nature of preemption while evoking the legendary ‘missing WMDs’ of wars gone by.”