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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

38 Comments

  1. Tom B
    September 11, 2017 @ 8:22 pm

    Given product placement in comics nowadays, with ads featuring the heroes with the products, I half expected Secret Empire to end with the heroes getting Hydra Cap to eat a Snickers bar, which changes him back to the good Captain America, followed by the tagline “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” Unfortunately, it turned out that this would have been a far better ending than what we actually got.

    Reply

    • Froborr
      September 12, 2017 @ 3:27 pm

      “Given product placement in comics nowadays, with ads featuring the heroes with the products”

      Nowadays? Have you never heard of Hostess Fruit Pies?

      Reply

      • SpaceSquid
        September 13, 2017 @ 9:03 am

        Have you, in fact, got milk?

        Reply

  2. Ken R
    September 11, 2017 @ 8:34 pm

    Excellent post! So the way to fight fascism in the Marvel Universe is to wait for a single worthy strong leader to rise up and do it alone? So fight fascism with fascism that pretends it’s not fascism. Ok.

    One small note on Thor’s Hammer. The last issue implies that it was hydra/cosmic cube magic that changed the inscription on Mjolnir so that Evil Cap could lift it. I think the intended message was that fascism wins through deceit, but putting the original lifting of the hammer in the FCBD issue was perverse. It ensured that thousands more people would see and read the original “fascism is worthy” message when only the 60-70K people who bought issue ten months later would see the resolution. There are thousands of kids out there who, because of free comic book day, have only read the issue of this comic where fascism is most worthy.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      September 12, 2017 @ 9:13 am

      I wonder if perhaps we’re reading too much into the hammer lifting moment. Clearly the initial idea for this crossover was “fascism is evil”. So at the very beginning of the story, before Spencer starts to warp this message into something sinister, the reader should be operating on the basic pop culture assumptions about fascism. Fascism is bad, Captain America is good, and so evil!Cap lifting the hammer is clearly a “world-gone-wrong” moment.

      Or at least that’s what I would assume during that scene. The hammer declares A Bad Man worthy of wielding it; there must be some evil magic at work because this situation is just wrong.

      Reply

  3. fourthings
    September 11, 2017 @ 9:39 pm

    Re: the Bombshells and “your silent acquiescence is what empowers abusers and the culture of hate”: This, but unironically.

    This is such a good engagement with political media that it annoys me, because I don’t give a shit about anything Marvel is putting out with the exception of Squirrel Girl. Your writing simultaneously interests me in Captain America and makes it clear that these stories mostly aren’t worth reading, and puts forth a damn good case that superheroes in general are reactionary by default and past their time at best. At least when we’re talking about garbage-fire episodes of Doctor Who, I know I’m invested in it either way, for better or worse.

    Oh god, are we going to get Doctor Who and the Antifa Menace? Please, Chris Chibnall, I don’t expect a whole lot from you, but in the name of all that’s good, please let Thin Ice be the last word on that front.

    Reply

  4. CJM
    September 11, 2017 @ 10:37 pm

    I’d never seen that SAM WILSON double-page spread before. It’s amazing that a single page manages to combine both an economic-essentialism and a view of Great Man History together essentially turning the argument into one for the existence of capitalist aristocracies.

    It doesn’t understand anything. Does Spenser think that if Rupert Murdoch was arrested tomorrow, half-the-world’s news would cease to exist; that corporations are entirely dependent on the people who run them; that they run the economy, not the systems they manage? And if he does, who does he think will forclose the houses, the bankers who are all in jail? It’s terrible politics from the sort of man who was a George Bush Jr Republican.

    Reply

    • Daibhid C
      September 12, 2017 @ 7:11 pm

      I had seen in before – in Marvel Legends, which at this point I’m basically buying for Jane!Thor – and yeesh. Spencer seems to be going for “Hey, the world’s complicated and there are no easy solutions”, only he decides that’s the “mature politics” approach in advance and doesn’t stop to wonder if maybe there are solutions.

      Reply

      • maia
        July 25, 2020 @ 1:31 pm

        what’s Marvel Legends?

        Reply

  5. Przemek
    September 12, 2017 @ 8:58 am

    Wow. This crossover… I can’t even find the words to describe how gobsmackingly bad (and evil) it sounds. Thankfully you tore it down so thoroughly that there’s nothing more to add. Bravo.

    Given the fascist roots of the idea of superheroes it seems to me that the only solutions they can ultimately gravitate towards are war and/or dictatorship. It’s a wonder there aren’t more superhero storylines where the good guys decide that they need to start a war to boost the economy or get rid of all evil or something. Or maybe there are and I’ve just been lucky enough not to encounter them.

    Perhaps the best way to put the genre to rest would be a story in which all grand cosmic villains are finally defeated and our heroes, left with no one to fight, finally realize that right now they are the biggest threat to humanity left. And so they lay down their weapons and leave, never to return. Shame it will never happen.

    Reply

    • Kacper Przysiężny
      October 27, 2017 @ 7:38 pm

      Don’t listen To this Guy. This post a one pile of Bullcrap. Secret Empire was well done event with problems being set durning toxic political climate. And last Panel is Anti Joy. It should NEVER HAPPEN!

      Reply

  6. Przemek
    September 12, 2017 @ 10:46 am

    One more stray thought: this analysis of “Secret Empire” reminded me of “Ice”, an important Polish SF book by Jacek Dukaj. (Massive spoilers follow, although the book is still not available in English, so…). A world where history “froze” around 1908, when the eternal winter started. It’s 1926 and there was no October Revolution, no World War I, no massive social upheavals. Main characters spend the majority of the book struggling to “unfreeze” history. But when it finally happens, it turns out that the world is now a mess of civil wars, broken economies and social unrest. So of course the protagonist decides that the best course of action is to freeze the world again – this time with himself at the top as the ultimate benevolent dictator.

    This is pretty much presented as a happy ending.

    Reply

    • CJM
      September 12, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

      It’s the straight-forward nihlism of that sort of premise combined with an unrealised belief in the eternity of the status quo that I just can’t understand.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        September 13, 2017 @ 8:43 am

        Well, this book feels more like a power fantasy of someone who is painfully aware that progress cannot be stopped in real life. “If only I had the power to stop any and all change… Look how great life would be!”. And even then there’s the undercurrent of horror in that story. The main character knows he could easily become a monster. It’s a shame he ultimately decides “nah, I’ll be fine”.

        The same guy wrote another book where the perfect symmetry of the cosmos gets broken, which in turn causes the invasion of curious otherworldly beings of pure chaos. It’s not that difficult to spot a theme, eh?

        (Fortunately he seems to have gotten over it in later works).

        Reply

  7. phuzz
    September 12, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

    I assume the point of these big events is to get people reading some of the tie-in comics in order to get the whole plot.
    Thing is, personally I see these big events start and think “I can’t be bothered to buy issues of half a dozen different comics, most of which I won’t really enjoy, just to follow a plot”. Especially when I know that at the end of the ‘event’ everything will be back to normal pretty much (there might be a couple of differences, but there’ll probably be footnotes to explain them in future issues).
    The whole idea behind these ‘events’ seems to be based on an old idea of who comics fans are, and ignoring a lot of people who might otherwise buy the odd book.
    And Captain America being a Nazi? Who cares when you know it’ll all be swept under the rug? Anything that happens will be ignored by the larger continuity.

    Reply

    • CJM
      September 12, 2017 @ 4:03 pm

      Cynical advertising drives these events, especially when the event has to be understandable as a chain-of-events in the main book so it can be sold as a trade paperback later, which really means all they are trying to do is interrupt the stories of the other comics to sell another one.

      It’s funny really, just how blatantly commercial the comic book and video game industries are. It’s almost like geek culture has never actually been able to see as a whole the exploitation of labour because of the toys. Considering what’s going down with PewDIePie at the moment, I’m convinced that’s the case.

      Reply

    • .
      September 14, 2017 @ 9:49 pm

      the comic industry would much rather press the hard core ~40k of fans they have for a sales boost once every few months than ever dream of mass appeal again.

      Reply

  8. Robby Karol
    September 12, 2017 @ 6:17 pm

    Since I’d only been reading USAvengers, it’s hilarious how the SE tie-in in USAvengers takes the exact opposite tack. It’s a nice touch that even the characters who believe in a non-lethal approach to superheroing, like Excalibur (Faiza Hussein), Squirrel Girl and Outlaw have no compunction about fighting Hydra by smashing up equipment or robots, or using non-violent crowd control weapons. It’s not an ideologically thoughtful story, but it seems to understand better what readers want in this day and age.

    Reply

    • Daibhid C
      September 12, 2017 @ 7:18 pm

      That doesn’t surprise me – whatever Avenger title it was Abnett was writing during AXIS came very close to getting that concept to work, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.

      Reply

  9. David Mann
    September 13, 2017 @ 5:56 am

    I followed it second-hand, and your reminder that this was conceived in a pre-November 2016 world sheds a pretty starkly revealing light on the finale: Cap’s reemergence, which was crucially an inevitability due to what the villains were doing – in fact, the heroes’ resistance was not only irrelevant, but actively hampering this conclusion, and had the Nazi Cap been killed presumably the real version never would have been restored – represents a revelation of America naturally beating back the emergence of fascism in its midst and restoring the status quo, through the time-honored cyclical process of a superhero emerging to beat the shit out of it.

    In other words: stop complaining so much about Trump, rocking the boat is just making it worse, just wait for Clinton to be elected because that’s what’s obviously going to happen, and the Real America will therefore essentially reassert itself as everything automatically goes back to what it must be. It’s an active, if likely semi-unwitting argument for disengagement with the political process outside of voting in presidential elections, and in that regard it’s obviously from word one a failure even on its own dubious terms as a metaphor for having lived through 2016, nevermind what it’s actually become outside its original intended context.

    Reply

  10. Alex Boyd
    September 13, 2017 @ 6:47 pm

    Hi Phil, hope all is well with you. Can’t find an email for you on your site, but curious to ask when I can pick up more Tardis Eruditorum on Kobo. Sly McCoy is next, no? Regards, Alex

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 13, 2017 @ 6:54 pm

      Early next year.

      Reply

      • Alex Boyd
        October 9, 2017 @ 2:25 am

        I guess a curt reply is at least a reply.

        Reply

  11. Relugus
    September 14, 2017 @ 5:00 am

    Spencer clearly likes writing villains (like Poor Man’s Antman Black Ant and Poor Man”s Death’s Head Taskmaster) more than heroes.

    The biggest problem is that Spencer does not understand allegory. In fact, none of Marvel’s current dim-witted roster of awful writers do.

    The current Attack on Titan manga arc has a Nazi allegory, but Isayama uses aspects and parallels, because good writers make the reader figure out the allegory. Same with JMS’s Vorlon and Shadows in Babylon 5; you’re required to figure it out. The allegory should never be in your face, as Spencer does.

    Let’s not solely focus on Spencer’s stupidity.
    We can thank Jason Aaron for the Mjolnir nonsense; he had diluted the meaning of it long before this with the “Gor was Right bollocks”.

    Aaron’s neutering of mystic Marvel is continued by Spencer, who turns Chthon into Cuckthon, aa the most dangerous of the Elder Gods, possesses Wanda (again), and then proceeds to do…absolutely nothing.
    Even when Odinson is in his presence he does not even roast the Asgardian even once, not even a sly “nephew”. We get a nasty rape joke from Woke Waid, though.

    Eliza is supposedly Chthon’s Waifu, yet she dies in an explosion , despite supposedly being an Elder God herself. She also seems more interested in HydraCap than poor Cuckthon.

    Chthon’s motives remain a mystery still, after the event. At least, unlike Wanda, he got some dialogue, and even a little bit of agency.

    Elsewhere, Miles beats HydraCap with stupid ease, and everyone goes round in circles for months.

    It’s clear that Spencer, before higher ups intervened, wanted to use this event to make Sam the default Cap. Elevating a character by denigrating another is cheap, lazy, and spiteful writing, but it’s become the norm ever since Bendis made it acceptable with hus misogynistic spectacular, Avengers: Disassembled.

    But above all, let’s thank Ike Perlmutter, the man who made this possible by sacking a ton of editorial staff in 2011.

    Reply

  12. Dr. O
    September 15, 2017 @ 4:56 pm

    Thanks for this great post.

    I had been considering writing something similar for my blog, entitled something like “SECRET EMPIRE FAILED IN EVERY WAY BUT ONE (Nazi Cap Makes Total Sense),” but having read this, it feels like you basically did that already.

    I wrote a couple of things about the Captain America: Sam Wilson series that looked at with a bit of a generous eye, but as the series went on, it got more difficult to retain any generosity, and I even have a forthcoming chapter in an anthology called “False Masks: Whiteness and the American Superhero” that calls the Sam Wilson book an inadvertent exercise in Afro-Pessimism.

    Anyway, you can read the two posts at the links below

    The Captain White America Needs

    The Captain Black America Needs

    Reply

  13. Daniel
    September 15, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

    I don’t find fault with your assessment of Spencer’s Cap work but I do find “superheroes are violent fascists upholding the status quo and preventing change” to be completely unnuanced and as boring as “why doesn’t Batman use his fortune to help the community instead of beating up poor people.” It smacks of contempt.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 15, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

      Well, three things.

      1) I don’t actually say that. I say that the idea inherently flirts with fascism, and I stand by that, but “superheroes are violent fascists” is a simplification.

      2) I do have contempt for the genre at this point.

      3) While I see the flaws in that commentary on Batman, it’s sound to point out that there are some pretty messed up assumptions about the nature and causes of crime embedded in Batman as a concept.

      Reply

      • Gilly
        September 18, 2017 @ 8:59 pm

        “I do have contempt for the genre at this point.”

        This.

        When you get down to it: I want to like Ms Marvel, I want to like Harley Quinn, I want to like Squirrel Girl. And on a good day… I do.

        But… How long is until Marvel/DC does something to cock it up? How long until their writers/artists have to take a break from making good stories and start polishing the proverbial turd for their tie-ins for next years version of Secret Empire? And will Marvel/DC ever actually appreciate the hardwork done to keep them alive, or just see something that they can defang and flatten into being a film that the original creators won’t get a penny for?

        As it stands, as good as those stories can be, they exist within the context of a genre dominated by two companies that deserve to burn, both on the strictly gnon level of “if you cock up big enough then no amount of genius or whatever will save you from the grave you’ve dug for yourself” and on the moral level of “how can you treat the people who you owe everything to so badly”

        I’m reluctant to admit it, super heroes having been a part of my life since I was 5 and flicking through my Mum’s old X-Men comics, but yes, I think I have contempt for the genre at this point. I wish I didn’t, but I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t.

        Reply

  14. Eve
    September 17, 2017 @ 1:44 am

    I have long been dissatisfied with the concept of Superheroes because of the flaw inherent in their concept: they have all this power and they don’t do anything with it but uphold the status quo. Even Reed Richards, who invents wondrous things that would change the face of the earth, barely lets any of his technology out into the world. Superman’s Metropolis, which appears to be a genuine city of tomorrow that benefits from the work of S.T.A.R. labs, does not let any of its technology do anything to improve the crime-ridden shadowy hell of Gotham.

    There was a storyline after “No Man’s Land” where Gotham was GOING to be rebuilt as a modern metropolis, but it turned out that Lex Luthor was involved with the lands as part of some scheme, so the whole thing had to be nixed and Gotham became what it had been. No Man’s Land had exposed the flaws inherent in Gotham’s system, someone was promising to remake the whole place, and the writers set the whole thing up to make sure that Batman said no. What a waste of time.

    The world of superheroes is way too creatively sterile. The only two settings I have seen that imply technology is moving forward are Astro City and “All Star Superman”. As for the rest? The superheroes Save The World but they don’t change the world and they don’t even let the technology of vast alien empires change the world.

    As for why the genre gets written this way, I think the plot of The Incredibles reveals the terrible secret when Syndrome says “When everyone is super no one will be.” The audience is supposed to think that’s bad. The story is set up to think that it’s bad. Hell, I thought it was bad. I thought it was a terrible, evil, dastardly thing for Syndrome to take away the Specialness of the superheroes. Almost as bad as unleashing an uncontrollable machine upon a crowded city. A metal monster does violence to a city, but Syndrome’s true purpose did violence to the heart of the genre itself. Syndrome’s purpose was…to introduce the possibility of merit and equality into an inherently unequal genre.

    Superheroes have to be Super, not just heroes. They have to be so far above the power of the common people that the only way to reach that level is to be touched by the hand of a higher power, be it in the form of cosmic rays, lucky genes, or a lightning bolt. If they are just heroes, well, Anyone can be THAT. A real superhero has to have something fantastic no mere mortal could ever hope to have. If he has no powers of his own, like Nick Fury or Tony Stark, well then, give him some absolutely fantastic bit of technology, like a flying aircraft carrier or a suit of flying armor. Even the heroes closest to the common man, like Peter Parker or the Runaways, have something Special that they did not earn, but were given by lady luck.

    In the case of Captain America, he was given superstrong muscles and an unbreakable shield, and both of these things are impossible to replicate. There will never be another supersoldier; there will never be another vibranium shield. Captain America is the only one of his kind, along with his shield. The impossible-to-replicate power-granting miracle is the overwhelming majority of origin stories.

    Fascism, at the very least, pretends to give dignity to the common man while duping him into joining its armies. Facism is a movement that depends on a vicious and desperate popular will. Superheroes, what the hell do they need with the common people? Only to save their lives, never to change things in a way that would reduce the need to do so in the first place.

    Now, it’s possible to create a world in which superheroes HAVE changed things for the better all around, and humanity is living a golden age. But you still have to preserve the Super concept to have a superhero story. You could go the Astro City route, and put ordinary people living ordinary lives amidst wondrous technology that they KNOW about but don’t make much use of. Or you could write a story where the civilization is highly advanced and the ordinary people are at a power level above our own, but then to preserve the Super concept you’d have to make your hero even MORE special than them. It can be done, but it’s difficult, and most superhero writers have preferred to keep their heroes closer to earth. It’s become a feature of the genre, by now, that Superhero stories are centered around Earth, around America, around New York, around the places the writers know.

    Reed Richards hasn’t managed to get humanity to Alpha Centauri yet because his genre is earth-centric and his writers are chicken.

    Now, you can call the superhero concept fascistic, and it’s true the whole thing developed out of exploring the Ubermensch concept in the same era where the Nazis were turning the Ubermensch into a violent figure, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s first Superman was explicitly an evil, fascist figure. But as for the execution over eighty years, it’s eight decades in which the Super Heroes have done jack shit to even live up to their fascist concept, because Fascists, at the very least, are for some kind of change, and these jerks don’t even let THAT happen.

    The whole “super” concept by now feels aristocratic. With a fascist society the common man can pretend he has an important part in it. In aristocracy? Forget it, peon, you’re a peasant and I will always have more power than you. Don’t try to change anything except by my say-so.

    (The “Villain” is the one who tries to change things without the say-so of the superhero. In French it just means “peasant”. Funny how that works.)

    In short, calling Superheroes fascist implies an instinct for change and an ability to pretend that their leadership is an expression of the popular will. Superheroes are almost never written with these traits.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      September 18, 2017 @ 10:06 am

      An interesting and well-explained point of view. Thank you.

      I wonder if the main extradiegetic reason why superheroes uphold the status quo is the fact that in the real world, people who can do much more than others (the rich, the connected, the influential) are usually only interested in protecting their own power. Telling stories about worlds where these ‘super’ people decided to help others, as superheroes do, already feels utopian. To have them actually change the world for the better would be pure wish fulfillment.

      Reply

      • Eve
        September 19, 2017 @ 4:27 pm

        I think it has more to do with the limitations of the format. Superhero comics, for most of their history, have existed without continuity because they were distributed via news stand. There’s no way to guarantee a repeat audience for an ongoing story with that sort of distribution channel, so a story has to begin and end within 12 pages. Without continuity there’s no easy way to move the story setting forward.

        Even when you make it possible by establishing continuity, you run into the question of what happens when you DO move things forward. Is there a goal? Is there a conclusion? Do you WANT a conclusion? Games Workshop has avoided moving Warhammer 40K out of its current stasis for this precise reason. They don’t want a conclusion to a genre that is meant for an endless set of stories; likely as not, DC and Marvel don’t want a conclusion either. Their foundations are a group of characters who aren’t supposed to end.

        It’s the same as with any other genre that relies on serial storytelling — if you want to keep The Adventures of Spaceman Spliff going eternally then the setting itself has to be eternal.

        Reply

        • Przemek
          September 20, 2017 @ 8:24 am

          You’re probably right. The deadly power of conclusions is also what kills many TV shows, especially those heavily based on character interactions.

          Reply

  15. Dave
    September 18, 2017 @ 1:34 pm

    Um…Siegal and Schuster’s Superman is pretty left leaning in his first few issues. He grabs a war profiteer and shows him the effects of his weapons sales in his first story, imprisons a bunch of socialite dilettantes down a coal mine in the third story so they can experience the working conditions of the downtrodden miners, saves wrongly convicted felons and the like. Sure, once the newspaper strip starts and we get the world of Krypton it gets a bit more white male Utopian, but to claim that Siegel and Schuster were fascist ? The clues are in their names, Eve.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 18, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

      Eve is referring to “The Reign of the Superman,” an illustrated short story Siegel and Shuster did for a fanzine in 1933.

      Reply

      • Eve
        September 19, 2017 @ 4:42 pm

        He loomed over Metropolis! He snarled at the innocent citizens below! That was the last we saw of him because Siegel tossed everything but the cover into a fire. What a pity, but the character wasn’t Clark Kent anyway. He looked like the Ultra-Humanite and he sounded like Ayn Rand.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          September 20, 2017 @ 11:36 am

          I could be remembering wrong, but I’m pretty sure special collections at the University of Florida holds the complete story.

          Reply

  16. Kacper
    October 27, 2017 @ 8:13 pm

    Oh My GOD this Article is stupid. First of all. If bought up somebody twitter, you’re losing me automatically. I don’t care about people political leanings until they are harmful or racist. Twitter is a garbage anyway. I care about things like Frank Miller openly saying racist things durning Comic Con. You’re literally person who this book tries to satirize. Cool Armor? Oh Yeah. I would totally go with goverment that have Ernim Zola, or Gorgon in it’s ranks. And No Nick Spencer is not a Bad Writer. Bad Writers don’t write masterpieces like Superior Foes of Spider Man or his run on Ant Man. You are so narcissistic that you don’t get a Theme of a Story. ,,Those who play with the devil’s toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.” Stevil is presented as normal Steve Rogers. And that’s the point! What if a person that is a paragon of good was given too much power, or revealed that he is not really as people think. Landscape after Civil War II was really anti-heroes, they just keep fighting each other instead of a Villains. Here comes Steve Rogers and promises to fix everything. And people buy this. That is another theme. ,,Question Everything”. In SE Omega, Stevil says that people will eventually go back to people wanting to get him back. Steve says that he wanted save a Childr Child was scared of him. And Steve says that is very good news. He was always anti centralized authority. He started first Civl War because of this reasons. And hopes that maybe, just maybe people will finally learn a lesson.

    Reply

  17. FB Downloader
    June 5, 2019 @ 4:02 am

    Really amazing Piece of content loved the way you are writing nd sharing your views shared this with our community
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    Reply

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