If you hear about comic books in the news today, chances are it's because a comic has made a progressive step. Comics make headlines not because another famous character has died, but because major publishers take surprisingly inclusive or forward-thinking steps, tackling social issues or increasing the diversity of flagship titles.
You might not believe it, but there was a time when being socially progressive in the pages of comics was considered controversial, a time when standing up for a cause or even portraying a female or person of color character in a position of authority was a big no-no. Even then, though, comic books were progressive. These are instances when comic books were ahead of their time, addressing serious issues - racism, for example, including real-life figures who embodied it - in subversive and inspirational ways.
When Wasp Lead And Corrected The AvengersPhoto: Marvel Comics
The Wasp pulled herself out of a verbally and physically abusive relationship with her ex-husband Ant-Man, then turned around and told the Avengers that their current vision was lacking and their leadership was failing. Then she nominated herself as the new leader of the Avengers, a position which she won in a majority vote. During her time as leader she assembled reserve Avengers to take on the Masters of Evil and rescue the mansion. That takes stepping up to a whole new level.
When Medusa Considered Whether To Keep A PregnancyPhoto: Marvel Comics
In 2015, the U.S senate voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Since they're attempting to set the clock back on reproductive rights why not go back all the way to 1988 when Ann Nocenti first penned and released the Inhumans graphic novel By Right of Birth, which was largely about a pregnant Medusa and her struggle over whether or not to have an abortion. A book almost 30 years ahead of its time and more relevant today than ever before.
When Lord Fanny DebutedPhoto: Vertigo
Lord Fanny was a transgender character from the comic book Invisibles. Fanny was a fully realized character, not a stereotype, a prop, or the butt of a joke. She talked frankly about gender and gender normality while acting as the resident witch of the team and fending off mystical villains from various dimensions. She also functioned as a mentor of sorts to the character Jack Frost.
All of this was going on back in 1994 when Ace Ventura and Hollywood at large were casting trans characters as villains and clowns.
When Zephyr Stood Up For Body PositivityPhoto: Valiant Entertainment, LLC
Before there was Tumblr, body positivity, or Meghan Trainor's love letter to "that bass," there was Zephyr, the plus-sized member of Harbinger with the ability to fly. In 1992 the enigmatic Jim Shooter set out to create an all new, all different cast of heroes for his startup comic book company Valiant.
An iconoclast at heart, Shooter wanted to avoid cliches and ignore existing tropes, so Zephyr is a character who stands in stark contrast to the ridiculously idealized female bodies so often depicted in comics. Zephyr (real name Faith Herbert) is quite proud of her body, preceding the body-positive movement by decades.