The picture below might seem to speak for itself, but after you've had a chance to gaze on it for a second, stick with me:

What we have here is an image that's bound to wind up on the Daily Show and become the butt of many jokes about how the US Government is turning to costumed super heroes to fight the war on terror. In reality, what this image represents is a little more insidious than that, I think.

I'm not one for flag waving as I think it's too simplistic of a gesture that is too easily misinterpreted as "love it or leave it." That sort of ultimatum usually assumes that you love it unconditionally, that you don't question or subvert or try to improve "it," and as should be apparent, I'm not down with that. So what we have here is a company (Marvel Comics) using the DoD's "America Supports You" campaign to get a little press and spread some rah-rah patriotism to the troops. I don't have a problem with that. Comics have been given out to troops going all the way back to WWII, and comics have often dealt with wars and current events in real time, whether it was Captain America fighting Nazis or Spider-Man reacting to the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center. Keeping comics topical is a good thing.

What disappoints me and ultimately makes this a lose-win situation is that Marvel is using it for publicity, and so the motives become tainted. Marvel is, after all, a corporation that's out to make a profit. Hell, I have a share of Marvel stock framed up on my wall (it was a gift), and the dividends on the splits in the stock are well on their way to paying for the framing! The thing is, I'd like to see companies like Marvel doing this without being asked, without turning it into a photo op, and without making any money from the deal. Marvel isn't selling these books to troops, but they are no doubt reaping a reward for having Captain America's picture taken with Rumsfeld. Parents will see this, educators will see this, and kids will see this, and all of them are being bombarded by Marvel Comics from a hundred different directions. Since comics are still aimed largely at kids (though that rarely seems to be who buys them,) this whole thing gets very confusing and troublesome.

Is a picture of Captain America and Spider-Man with Rumsfeld an endorsement of the current administration's practices? Even though a lot of the Marvel books lean pretty far left, that's what the photo op will become. By associating a beloved figure like Spider-Man with Rumsfeld, the whole thing winds up being a spit and polish job for a man who's entirely undeserving of it. Not only that, but the book itself is all chest-thumping patriotism with a huge American flag on the cover that even Wolverine (a Canadian) is saluting! It all looks very petty, even if some of it is rooted in a noble idea.