Rob Schmidt, Stan Lee, Mort Weisinger—Three of comics' most brilliant, talented plagiarists.
Shocking, I know. But true. I have evidence. And, as both a scholar and fan of comic books, I feel obligated to expose the most egregious and recent manifestation of this literary trend: Peace Party.
It begins, as best as I can trace it, in 1941—not with any Axis power, but rather with More Fun Comics #73. In it, we learn the story of Aquaman, sixty-year member of DC Comics' pantheon of heroes. Attributed to Mort Weisinger, the story recounts the genesis of Aquaman's powers, his ability to breathe underwater and communicate with marine life. And while his origins will be altered dramatically over the next three scores, all will center on one crucial detail: Atlantis. However, scholarship done since Weisinger's time has pointed to the rather condemning conclusion—that Atlantis already existed in obscure Greek legend long before its mention in the comic book.
Stan Lee, arguably the forefather of Marvel Comics, is guilty of a similar transgression in 1962. For Journey Into Mystery #83, Lee introduced a new hero into his family of heroes, the mighty Thor, God of Thunder. Along with Thor came the nigh-omnipotent all-father Odin, Baldur the Brave, Heimdall, Sif, and the threat of Ragnarok. But, lo and behold, these elements did not originate from the mind of Mr. Lee; they are the products of Norse mythology. Check the credits, though. Lee is by no means Nordic nor forthright. For shame on Mr. Lee.
Today we have the inheritor of this disgraceful legacy, Rob Schmidt with Peace Party. Weisinger and Lee, at least, robbed from the past. Schmidt steals from a culture—albeit one obscured by popular media—in there here and now. On its surface, Peace Party is your customary superhero fare. Good versus evil? Yes. Amazing powers? Yes. Fictional? Yes…but only to a point. Whereas Siegel & Shuster were kind enough to dream up Krypton for Superman or Wolfman & Claremont invented adamantium for Wolverine, Schmidt mercilessly mines the Native American traditions for his characters' background. He pulls something from real life and has the audacity to plug it into a comic book. The crime is only made worse by the cunning of the deed. Popular society at large is not knowledgeable about true Native American culture, the conventions and customs not refracted through Hollywood's prism. He can lace his stories with authentic language, authentic customs, and authentic characters and pass it off, rather convincingly, as his own compelling narrative. How could Schmidt commit such an atrocity—to dare inject genuine Native American life into a comic book?
This, of course, is satire. I have nothing but admiration for the work Rob is doing with Peace Party. Comic books are largely a medium with untapped plasticity and applicability. Some creators have attempted to take it further, however. At first it was solely the underground, the comix of the 60s and 70s; in time, larger publishers would make advances with titles like From Hell, Strangers In Paradise, and MAUS. Peace Party, in my view, is part of this maturing tradition. And, with tongue finally out of my cheek, it also continues the tradition of the pioneers I already mentioned. Creators like Lee and Weisinger had the insight to imbue their popular, fantastic stories with a foundation in mythic lore. Now if only as many readers knew about the Navajo and the Hopi as Valhalla and Asgard…
I have heard it said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Unfortunately, since my talent does not lie there, I cannot imitate Rob's art. But it would be a benefit to comic book readership and a tribute to Peace Party if more creators did seek to flatter to him this way. All I can do is shroud compliment in criticism and accolades in agita. Peace Party is doing things, folks—things which I'm sure Weisinger, Lee, Simon, Shuster et al. would heartily approve.
A. David Lewis
Comic book scholar and PopMatters.com comic section editor
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