How Comic Universes Can Address The COVID-19 Pandemic

by Benjamin Hall

Trigger warning due to talk of the COVID-19 Pandemic and a mention of 9/11/2001.

Spoiler warning for Starman (1994-2001, 2010), and certain other comics such as The Amazing Spider-Man #36 (2001).

Marvel has the distinction of being the only major comic book universe that actually has a display of their super heroes and villains reacting to the horrific event of 9/11/2001 (The Amazing Spider-Man #36), however, that is a single day’s event, minus the aftermath days. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it being more than simply a month or two, something will have to be said either through action or narrative by each comic book company. One way to handle this is DC, Valiant, and to an extent Marvel go even more towards fiction than reality much like how DC and Marvel are known for doing during World War 2. Key examples of this more fictional approach include: Captain America and his partner Bucky Barnes storming an Axis death camp with impossible ease; plus the mere existence of Jim Corrigan alias The Spectre being powerful enough to end WW2 and not doing so (Captain America Comics #2 [1941] and More Fun Comics #52 [1942] respectively). Yet this is not the only possible solution.

However, unlike most companies, Marvel will have to address this pandemic in a much clearer way due to New York City being the main location of its heroes. Yet, Marvel could conceivably lose some readers due to the idea that characters like Mr. Fantastic could possibly stem some of the deaths. Thus, Marvel would have to address problems like this by having certain characters off-world during whatever story or stories it cooks up, or say that the characters are giving assistance with the remedy, much like how DC’s Ted Knight a.k.a. Starman is said to be part of the Manhattan Project in Starman. Though in Marvel’s case, it will have to make decisions sooner than other companies in order for its universe to continue to be grounded in something resembling our reality.

As for DC, it could do a time skip using one of its upcoming initiatives. Yet, if it does so too early then it may find itself in a pickle regarding correctly reflecting any and all societal changes. Valiant on the other hand creates a bit of a conundrum due to series such as Armor Hunters (2014) leaving long lasting fictional devastation in parts of California and Mexico. Thus one could see it avoiding mention of the pandemic by saying in some form of statement that a fictional version of patient zero died before COVID-19 could happen. However, that would probably be reckless to do due to the many affects this pandemic is having to our world’s populace. Also Valiant and DC still have some grounding in reality due to having references to real world political figures such as Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Former First Lady of the United States of America Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton in their comics (Doomsday Clock [2017-2019] and Faith #5 [2016]). Therefore DC and Valiant are still grounded enough to our reality that an addressing of the pandemic most likely still needs to happen.

The pandemic has also caused deaths globally so some creatives will be having that on their minds (even subconsciously). Companies will therefore need to decide how far they are willing to stay current with events and how grounded they can be. Thus I propose they do some flashback pre-origin and origin stories, as well as future and period piece type tales while the respective companies figure things out. Not to mention that maybe in the case of companies like Marvel, one or two stories could be done addressing the quarantine affecting super heroes and villains. While Archie Comics and certain other companies with smaller fictional universes (Such as in the series Savage Dragon [1993-present]) can simply address this with a special or a PSA. In conclusion, no matter when this horrible pandemic ends, societies around the world will change in various ways. Yet, comics can help lead the way for other media to reflect said changes by implementing some kind of publishing plan.

The Amazing Spider-Man #36 (2001) Cover lettering by letterer Richard Starkings, letterer Wes Abbott, & lettering company Comicraft.

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