Spider-Man and the 9/11 Attacks: How Popular Fiction Can Show Who The REAL Heroes Are
Normally, the historyguy.com site shies away from pop culture history in our main blog (we do have a comic book history section), but on this, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we feel that looking at the horrible events of that day through the lens of a popular comic-book of the day is appropriate, as pop culture often effectively serves as a mirror to the events of our times.
In the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, Marvel Comics published what is for me, and for many comics fans, the most emotional comic book ever. If you read only one comic book in your life, this is the one you should read. This is considered one of the most important, and, one of the most controversial comics of the 21st century.
Several weeks after the attacks, in the pages of the regular Spider-Man series, writer J. Michael Straczynski crafted a moving tribute to the heroes and the victims of 9/11: the men and women of the FDNY, NYPD, and the ordinary citizens who put themselves at risk to rescue and recover the fallen. He intersperses Marvel characters in a way that makes it clear who the real heroes are: the real people of New York. Interestingly, both the writer and the artist are New York and New Jersey natives. This was their hometown being attacked. The writing is heartfelt, and the images will make you sad, angry, and proud.
When this issue came out a couple months after the attacks, some people responded with outrage, feeling that to depict such real-life tragedy in a comic book was inappropriate. I disagree with that feeling. Pop culture, whether in the form of music, books, TV, film, or, yes, comic books, can serve as a mirror to the real world, as a means to show in fictional form, what we feel, or want to say, or do in real life. Yes, the comic book shows fictional superheroes at Ground Zero, but it also makes the very strident point that the REAL heroes were the REAL people who rushed to the site of the attacks to help. Good literature and good fictional writing can, in many cases highlight real-world problems, tragedies, and heroism in a different light than non-fiction prose. For example, Star Trek, (whose 50th anniversary is also this month), presented itself as a “Wagon-Train to the stars,” but instead delved headfirst into many social issues of the day. Trek creator Gene Roddenberry sold his show to the network as a sci-fi version of a popular western show of the day, but inserted biting social commentary on race, war, and diversity in his fictional starship show. And, by and large, he got away with it because the real-world issues he put on TV every week were hidden (sometimes not too subtly) inside an entertaining action show set in space. The Amazing Spider-Man #36 that was published after 9/11 serves in much that same way by showing real-world issues in the context of a fictional work.
This link takes you to the imgur site, where this comic was uploaded. About halfway through it, you will find a button that says “Load next 13 images.” If you do that, you can read the whole issue.
By the way, if the writer’s name sounds familiar, you may know him as the creator and writer for the TV shows Babylon 5 and Sense8, and the movies World War Z, and the first Thor movie.