A Superhero's Soft Power Falls Flat (and Wastes an Opportunity)

03/25/2013 08:31 am ET | Updated May 25, 2013

One of the authors of this blog grew up in 1960s Europe, with the humorous, fascinating, mysterious and thrilling DC comics of Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, Flash and the Elastic Man. These American heroes were his champions of good against evil, his introduction to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Right or wrong, true or not, the comic book culture was amazingly influential. As the precursor to the rock and roll movement, comic books prepared a generation to be swept off its feet, and continue a powerful pop culture presence today as the bridge between the generation gap of these two authors.

When assessing America's power toolbox, comic book culture is rarely discussed as an effective instrument, but likely stands as one of the most globally influential. Culturally and artistically it grew out of the massive transformation of American society between the wars and continued its ascent in the aftermath of WWII. It was a natural and organic development, bringing about enjoyment and inspiring generations. Tampering with the art form by amateurs is dangerous and can lead to terrible results.

That is exactly what happened in the case of the EU's online comic, Captain Euro (www.captaineuro.com). It seeks to entertain by portraying its nonviolent crusader as the protector of democratic peace. Launched in 1999 on the eve of the Euro's adoption, Twelve Stars Corporate Vision Strategists sought to create a comic popular with adolescents. The final product emerged as a modern twist on traditional superheroes. Captain Euro represents the EU's soft power as the global leader of democratic values; however, the offensive characters and tiresome plots leave the true comic fan searching for more pizzazz and purpose.

To protect his supranational state, Captain Euro employs "the most practical and sophisticated tools ever" including the world's fastest eco-car (the Eurocar) and the deepest diving submarine called the Eurosub (fueled solely by sea water.) This ecologically advanced armory reflects the EU's soft power leadership, however, the normative focus on environmental issues leaves our favorite champion meek and boring in the wake of Batman and friends. This is because Captain Euro has no weapons. In fact, the Eurostunner, shaped like a gun, is used to merely paralyze a culprit or laser cut Captain Euro's way in or out of a sticky situation. The dovish yet cunning Captain Euro reflects the wrong instincts of Europe. Specifically, the Europe the mainstream EU seeks to project upon the world, where normative leadership exists as a sufficient superpower.

Most interesting in this theme of soft power projection is the juxtaposition of the traditional good versus evil. The comic portrays the Captain Euro Team as the Aryan saviors of the European heritage and "baddies" as the dark internal force threatening to destroy harmony. The good guys consist of sporty Caucasians capable of multiple intellectual talents who stand against the use of force. As the lone non-Aryan member of the good side, Marcus represents Europeans of African decent but only appears on the first issue's introductory page. Together, Captain Euro's team represents the EU's ideal population as these homogeneous and peaceful citizens vow to defend the EU's normative leadership role without direct force.

Leading the criminals is Dr. D. Vider (pronounced intentionally as 'divider'); a financially successful businessman who hoards European works of art and citizens' money in his attempt to bring down the EU. One can only presume that Dr. D.Vider is drawn to resemble the stereotype of Shylock, the merchant of Venice, demonstrating a clear anti-Semitic undertone. Sporting a "hooked nose, dark hair and a pointed dark beard" and coveting "especially the star of Europe," Dr. Vider unfortunately evokes painful and historical stereotypes of Europe's persecuted Jewish population. The trend of offensive representations continues as Dr. D. Vider's "baddies" are social misfits belonging to the "Global Touring Circus," or depictions of the historically subjugated and today surely discriminated European Roma. Captain Euro's portrayal of its normative leaders as "good" and the attackers of democratic peace as "bad" breeds further bigotry towards its own internal diversity.

Luckily, few people have ever heard of Captain Euro. However, a real crisis has attacked the European project in the last decade, seriously challenging the EU's soft power. The economic recovery of the Old Continent is in question. Now, more than ever, Europe needs a superhero. Captain Euro's feeble attempt to protect the twelve stars of democracy falls completely flat in addressing the true menaces to European normative power: explaining how the Euro will survive, how Europe will regain sustainable growth, and how the EU will reject intolerance, prejudice and discrimination.

Instead of an impotent superhero in spandex lacking legitimate powers or weapons, Europe might call up the likes of Batman and Robin, Green Lantern or Flash to protect its prized democratic peace. So... keep the Euro, fire the Captain.