Way back in the year 2000, I was snooping around the DC Comics message boards and came across a debate over who the various members of the Justice League at the time would vote for in the 2000 Presidential election One particularly memorable individual insisted that all the various Leaguers would have obviously voted for George W. Bush except for that “treehugger” Aquaman.
There is one problem with this assumption: Aquaman at the time couldn’t really vote in an American election. He was the king of Atlantis. You know, foreign citizen. And given the way he was being written in his solo title at the time, it probably didn’t matter much to him who the president was. Plus, there aren’t many trees to hug on the bottom of the sea. Oh, and he’s a fictional character.
By the way, out of that League’s line-up, neither Wonder Woman nor the Martian Manhunter could vote for the same lack of citizenship. J’onn could if he were dishonest and went in disguise (and many, many times too if he’s being really dishonest). Plastic Man might have had some trouble depending on whether or not he counted as a convicted felon, and quite frankly, he’s probably the guy who either forgets to vote or votes for whomever Howard Stern told him to. But considering one of these characters is a telepathic shapeshifter from a very different society, one who could really get to know candidates in the way that none of the other Leaguers could, who knows what sort of political priorities J’onn J’onzz might actually have.
I bring this up because this line of thinking is actually rather fascinating to me. I remember reading a commentary on French politics, and the article said that, for the French, universal, government-provided healthcare is actually a conservative idea, because they’ve had that for decades. Not so here in America.
I don’t really want to get into real-world politics for a number of reasons. But the idea I do want to touch on is how a fictional character’s political ideology should be different depending on where and when the character hails from. Aquaman should care very much about ocean dumping. He, along with his people, breathes through gills. Whether Aquaman gives a flying fig newton about the rain forests is another matter.
This is an important thing people need to keep in mind when creating outsiders to “normal” society. Depending on the medium, there may or may not be room for really in-depth exploration of these differences. Aquaman may be the butt of many a joke, and not just here, but the character is a king of an underwater kingdom. He has armies, and not just of the fish variety. Atlantis should probably be the economic powerhouse of the world considering how much territory it covers and what resources it has access to.
Sadly, most creators seems to have a hard time getting Aquaman right. Many fans do, too. They think the guy in the orange shirt who talks to fish isn’t very useful and make the guy a punchline. Even the New 52 relaunch of the guy, done by generally-dependable character relauncher Geoff Johns, treated the fact most people think the guy’s a joke as a running theme. Grant Morrison got the guy right when he was writing JLA. His Aquaman brought armies to fights, didn’t suffer fools, and was all-business. Peter David did some good work with the guy, too. I recall one issue where he went to Japan to demand the turn-over of a fellow who killed the dolphin who raised him. During the meeting, he tells the Japanese delegation that they all look alike to him. After they accuse him of racism against Japanese people, Aquaman clarifies his statement by saying he thinks that of all surface-dwellers. And the Bruce Timm-produced Justice League cartoon went with the idea he was an underwater Conan the Barbarian, a guy who had his own reasons for doing things, reasons that made him look like a violent lunatic to Green Lantern John Stewart, but which totally worked when the viewer remembered Aquaman is a king, not a superhero!
There are many examples of this phenomenon working out, at least to my satisfaction. The current Marvel series New Avengers uses this with the Illuminati, an often-superfluous group, by showing that the decision-making process is different for the three kings on the team, Black Bolt, Black Panther, and Namor. Black Bolt’s brother Maximus makes this point explicitly clear when he states that these men are kings, nor heroes, and they do things differently. Politics played a good role in Christopher Priest’s run on the Black Panther, with the Panther being depicted as a hero to African Americans, something he neither sought, nor cared for, plus the revelation he originally joined the Avengers so he could take them down from the inside if need be to protect his kingdom. I thought the TV series Babylon 5 got it right with the more prominent of the alien cultures, and the contrast between the humans and the Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica helped really make that series. One could even make an argument for some of the alien races on Star Trek, especially the Klingons, though most Trek aliens seem to possess one defining characteristic as a race and that characteristic is often everything their society has, which seems to be the case with the Vulcans, despite Leonard Nemoy’s best efforts.
One character that could really benefit from this sort of examination may be the Thanagarian Wingman version of Hawkman. He came from a planet ruled by an emperor, but embraced the U.S. Constitution. As much as Green Arrow rags on the guy for being a rightwinger (no pun intended…he has two wings), doesn’t that really make Kator Hol a flaming radical by the standards of his own people? It’s like if a Roman Centurion advocated for modern democracy. Something like that would be unheard of in ancient Rome, and it should be unheard of on Thanagar.
A good deal of fiction that could deal with this examination generally doesn’t. That may be due to the forum being inappropriate, or the fact that it really doesn’t fit in too well with the established story a creator wants to tell. But a clash of cultures over unintended misunderstandings, or the slow discovery of differences between people, can often lead to rewarding stories for the audience as well as the creator.