Those who complain that mainstream comic books are too political nowadays may be lacking some historical perspective; in truth, superhero comics have been making antifascist statements since Captain America was punching Hitler and Superman was smashing the Klan back in the '40s. And it makes sense, too. After all, superheroes are meant to be the personification of humanity's best qualities; why not have them tackle the very worst of society every now and then?
Marvel and DC characters taking a direct hand in social justice goes well beyond the time-honored tradition of superheroes punching Nazis. Over the decades, caped crusaders have found reasons and opportunities to strike back against racism, intolerance, and hatred in all its forms - though they still usually do it with their fists.
Captain America Was Punching Hitler Before The USA Even Joined WWIIPhoto: Marvel Comics
The United States did not officially enter WWII until December 1941, but one of their greatest fictional heroes got a headstart on striking back against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis a full year earlier - Captain America!
The landmark Captain America #1, the cover of which featured Steve Rogers socking the Fuhrer right in the jaw, might look like an all-around good time in the modern era, but it was considered a bold political statement at the time by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, two Jewish comic book creators.
During an era in which factions within the United States were still debating the merits of neutrality, Captain America demonstrated the best way to combat fascism - with a righteous fist.
Superman Smashed The Klan In Two GenerationsPhoto: DC Comics
Back in 1946, a multi-episode arc of the Adventures of Superman radio serial entitled "Clan of the Fiery Cross" hit the airwaves. Prompted by the Anti-Defamation League, the writers of the show crafted a tale in which Clark Kent took on a surprisingly accurate depiction of the Ku Klux Klan. The episode was reported to be so effective at depicting the simultaneously evil and ridiculous Klan that their membership actually declined in the immediate aftermath.
DC adapted the story in 2019 as Superman Smashes the Klan, updating the plot and transferring it to the modern era. Unfortunately, its central message is just as necessary - and still rings just as true - today.
Green Arrow Helped Green Lantern Check His Privilege, Sparking A Social Justice Road Trip For The AgesPhoto: DC Comics
1970’s Green Lantern #76, written by Denny O’Neil, was so ahead of its time that it remains relevant well into the modern day. The issue's plot consisted of the eponymous hero attempting to save a wealthy man from what he assumes is a group of thugs - only to be forced to check his privilege and his prejudice after an intervention by the Green Arrow.
As Oliver Queen points out, the man Hal Jordan was trying to protect is a racist slumlord, and the crowd going after him are tenants he was attempting to convict. When an elderly gentleman tells Green Lantern that he's done considerable good for those with blue, orange, and purple skin, but never bothered to help people with black skin, all Jordan can do is hang his head in shame.
Fortunately, the story doesn't end there. Instead, Green Lantern and Green Arrow hit the road for the next several issues on a countrywide social justice tour, flummoxing plenty of other prejudiced foes along the way.
As Captain America, Sam Wilson Shut Down A Group Targeting ImmigrantsPhoto: Marvel Comics
Sam Wilson taking over for Steve Rogers as Captain America was a big moment for diversity in comics in general, but Wilson wasted no time offering aid to other marginalized groups the second he stepped into the role. As told in the first few issues of Captain America: Sam Wilson, the former Falcon took on a case involving missing would-be immigrants soon after picking up the shield - and ended up tangling with the Sons of the Serpent.
As one of Marvel Comics' leading hate organizations, the Sons of the Serpent have been hunting migrant workers in the Sonoran Desert and abducting them for sinister purposes. That is until the new Captain America arrives on the scene and starts swinging - eventually taking down their entire operation single-handedly.