America is powerful, right? America is the hero, the superpower of superpowers. Despite the truth of that statement, it is more than likely that as an American the general thought is that America is a great country. This is what many movies, video games, and comic books want us to believe.
In political theory, there is a subject known as Critical Geopolitics. Professor of Geography and Political Science at Rowan University, with a PhD in Geography, Katrinka Somdahl-Sands explains that in this section of geopolitics, “geopolitics is actually about our geographic imagination and how what we think about other places change what we think should happen to other places, in a political sense. How is power understood across the globe, and how that then changes what one government or group of people would do because of that.”
Within this section of geopolitics, there are three parts: Formal, Practical, and Popular Geopolitics. The most important of the three right now, for this discussion, is Popular Geopolitics. Somdahl-Sands explains, Popular geopolitics is about how we understand he world, but it’s looking at how popular culture in particular is training the masses in how to think about the world spatially and politically.”
This is where comic books come into the mix. Comic books have a long propagandist history, which dates back to the beginning of comic book publication with the promotion of the American Way during World War II. Somdahl-Sands explains, “you would be thinking about comic books because it would be thinking about ‘how are we priming children or young adults to think about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, what does it mean to be American’ AKA Captain America.”
To give an example of this, in his 2012 article, Superhero Comics: Artifacts of the U.S. Experience, Dr. Julian C. Chambliss details a moment out of Iron Man’s history:
In a story entitled “Long Time Gone,” Iron Man pondered the implications of war. Sitting in his office, Tony Stark remembered an incident where he witnessed Stark Industries weapons laying waste to a village in Vietnam, killing enemies and innocent people alike. He asked himself, “What right had we to be there in the first place?” The story ended with Iron Man pledging to “avenge those whose lives have been lost through the ignorance of men like the man I once was!” Such sentiments reflect the loss of traditional authority that grew from failed Vietnam policy and the distrust created by government scandal.
This storyline, which is reminiscent of the 2008 Iron Man movie, asks the question of what it means to an American to be in war, what it means to be in an unjust war, and how we should feel towards the loss of innocent life among the enemy.