How life imitates art -- or graphic art, at least. In DC Comics' new series, Justice League International, governments are going bankrupt, the masses are out in the street protesting, terrorists are blowing up state institutions, and the United Nations' credibility is in tatters.
Sound familiar? It's only natural that comic strips reflect the real world, or at least our worst fears about it. This comic version of life at Turtle Bay provides a glimpse of a future where the world's declining superpower, the United States, appears to have lost its seat on the Security Council and a triumvirate headed by Britain, China, and Russia are calling the shots -- but the rest of the world isn't listening.
Even the superheroes follow a moral compass that routinely swerves off course. "People have lost faith in their own governments, and by extension, us," Andre Briggs, the comic strip head of U.N. intelligence, tells the Global Security group -- a three-person Security Council headed by Chinese, Russian, and British officials.
"Confidence in every level of authority is at an all-time low. Every government, and by extension, every law enforcement agency and security forces, is woefully under-funded and lacking resources," says Briggs. "We believe it's time for the United Nations to assemble its own team, representing select nations, uniquely equipped to overcome those issues."
The United Nations has had a long, though intermittent, history in the world of action heroes, providing comic book artists with a symbol for breaking with the propagandistic and nationalist themes that marked the Golden Age of war comics during World War II, says Laura Hudson, the editor in chief of ComicsAlliance, a major online magazine on comic culture. "Modern comic book writers tend to be a progressive lot, and less inclined to infuse superhero books with the idea of American exceptionalism."
The U.N. formed a backdrop for many of the themes of nuclear holocaust at the height of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry and the post-Cold War proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the late 1980s, the Batman's nemesis, the Joker, acquired a nuclear weapon and sold it to Arab terrorists. He then established contact with the Ayatollah Khomeini, who appointed him as his U.N. envoy, granting him diplomatic immunity for his crimes. "He subsequently gives a speech to the General Assembly about how the world fails to show enough respect for Iran while filling the room with toxic laughing gas," said Hudson. "His plan is foiled by Superman and Batman, and he later disappears. I am making none of this up."
But it was The Justice League International, which got its start in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the Justice League -- the latter led by All-American superheroes like Superman (though he was born on Krypton), Batman, and Wonder Woman -- that placed the U.N. at the center of the action. Acting under the auspices of the United Nations, a new multinational corps of superheroes tapped into the possibilities for international cooperation unleashed by the demise of the Soviet Union. It even included a Soviet superhero, Rocket Red.