In this column I will dive into times, throughout superhero history, that comics got political. There seems to be a constant debate if political discussion has a place in the medium. I hope to show that politics and superhero comics go together. This time we look at Spider-Man getting political in the 90s
Spider-Man’s Journey to the Savage Land
This comic comes immediately after the Clone Saga wrapped up. Peter Parker is back to being Spider-Man and the long and confusing multi-year previous arc is in the rearview mirror. 90s comics are mostly known for their popcorn action mass attempts at mass appeal, and not really known for their political messages. I would even argue that Spider-Man for most of the decade was some of the most boring and needlessly convoluted comics I have ever read. So it surprised me to come across a Spidey issue that actually had something worthwhile to say. Peter Parker is assigned to head to the Savage Land as a Daily Bugle employee. The Savage Land is located in Antarctica and is somehow tropical and home to both humans and dinosaurs. It is a silly comic book idea but one that has come up regularly in Marvel comics. Due to global warming and the melting glaciers, there is now a chance that The Savage Land will become flooded. Both Roxxon and SHIELD join in on this mission to help protect and possibly evacuate the endangered people and species. Eventually, Peter Parker finds out that Roxxon is not there to help but is trying to melt the glaciers faster. If the Savage Land floods the land will no longer be protected and they can now drill for oil. Thankfully everyone teams up (Hulk shows up) and they expose and take out Roxxon’s evil plan. And then no one speaks of the actual problem of global warming and the Savage land again…
Addressing the Savage Land
Before I get into what is good in this comic I would be remiss if I didn’t address The Savage Land. I understand the concept is silly, and it is a fun pulp callback to have an undiscovered piece of land on Earth. However, there are a number of problematic elements with this idea that seemingly never get addressed by the larger comic reading audience. The name directly uses the word “Savage.” This has been used as a slur and a way to dehumanize indigenous people worldwide. Colonization was justified by saying that the land was only occupied by savages. Of course, this was just another way for people to validate their genocidal behavior and xenophobia. Regardless, the word “savage” still stings to many people and I am unsure why it is something that is still used. Having it called “The Savage Land” links it to the romanticism of colonization.
Political Themes in the Comic
Uncomfortable elements aside this story does focus more on some real-world allegories that do teach the reader some important lessons. A corporation coming into land that does not belong to them and still tries to plunder its resources is something that still goes on today. Roxxon’s quest for oil can be shown in the constant debate in the expansion of oil exploration in Alaska, and the pipeline debates in both the USA and Canada (to name a few that hit closer to home). Thankfully the story does take the side of the indigenous people and shows how corporate greed affects lives. Roxxon is shown as not caring about the death and destruction of an entire ecosystem and culture. There is also the issue of climate change which is treated as fact in the book (something that still has its deniers today) but sadly the comic drops that issue like a hot potato. It is a modern-day colonization story where the colonizers are the villains, and we need more of that today. Often indigenous issues are ignored in comics even though native people face some of the worst prejudice, abuse by the government, and blatant racism from the public. It is something we need to talk about more in any way we can, and maybe we can do it beyond a comic written in the 90s featuring white natives.