Yesterday, friend of this blog Calamity Jon tweeted an intriguing thesis that he's letting me borrow. Here it is, in his own words:
This struck a chord with me, identifying part of why I was equally unimpressed with government-owned (or controlled) superheroes, and superhero teams in particular. There have been characters and teams like this since the early days of the genre of course - that's what Captain America is - but they haven't been the norm until a trend I guess started with the Ultimates(?). Marvel pioneered it with the Avengers Initiative and heroes working for SHIELD, and now it's making big bucks on movie screens, so no surprise DC's Marvelized New52 is overusing the trope. When the first wave of books hit the stands, I was among those complaining that there were way too many different government agencies in the new DC Universe, each one heading a superhero team.
And whether we're talking about powers or membership cards, I do agree with Jon that this obsession with shadow organizations running the superheroic show is representative of something in the comic book culture. Whether it's how editorial have come to think of themselves (where mandated) or how writers perceive company-owned creations (where pitched), these government agencies stand in for the heroes' "owners". In truth, all these agencies should be corporations, but that would be too obvious. The concept has, in fact, been conflated with the general distrust in government, or interest in special ops, which has been with us since the Bush years. They seem a product of the time, and remind us of things we don't really want to be reminded of (losing a measure of their "escapism"). At this point, there are too many people simply attempting to reproduce a certain formula, they don't even realize they're commenting on creators' rights anymore. Characters are slaves to the State/Company as a matter of course, which is seen as neither good nor bad. It just is.
Or are we reading too much into it?