The biggest cheers at Wondercon weren't for killer robots, but for allegories about government conspiracies, endless wars and terrorism. Much of the weekend felt like a poli-sci seminar, except with nuclear holocausts and mutated alien bugs instead of textbooks. If you needed proof that the shadow of 9/11 keeps falling over our formerly escapist narratives, then you only needed to sit in on any one of the con's jam-packed panels.
The formerly comics-focused Wondercon was much more about movies and TV this year, especially with DC being tight-lipped, Marvel skipping it and Image canceling at the last minute. And many of the most popular narratives had to do with war and political upheaval.
Conspiracy theories: Anti-establishment paranoia is back, and X-Files 2 is its harbinger. We still don't have a clear sense of what the new X-Files movie will be about, but writer/director Chris Carter said the show's conspiracy-mania had gone out of fashion after 9/11, but now it was making a comeback. We already know the movie won't be about the show's overarching "mythos," but that doesn't mean it won't feature government cover-ups and conspiracies. After all, it'll be competing with the new Indiana Jones movie, which apparently is about Area 51 and Roswell. Cover-ups are cool!
And then there was the Jericho panel, where producer Carol Barbee said the show's writers "don't talk politics" — and then proceeded to talk about politics for an hour. Besides the way Jericho's evil government contractor Ravenwood was a direct metaphor for Halliburton and Blackwater in Iraq, Barbee also talked about the ripped-from-the-headlines terrorism plots and Homeland Security paranoia on her show.
The war machine: And meanwhile, the direct-to-DVD Starship Troopers 3 turned out to be a satirical war movie, in which weird government propaganda for super-bombs jostled with Fleet recruiting ads, in a war that's gone on too long and lost public support. (Sound like anything in real life to you?) And speaking of war movies, the new Iron Man film keeps the comics' backstory about Tony Stark being a high-tech weapons merchant who has a crisis of conscience after he's taken prisoner. And Iron Man is serving as a metaphor for the military-industrial complex in the comics as well, according to Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics. Wolk dropped some science about how World War Hulk and Civil War are metaphors for the backlash against the government crackdown after 9/11.
So where were the right-wing narratives, about evil terrorists, weak left-wing governments and cultural elites repressing everybody else? We didn't run across them as much. My guess is, wait until year two or three of an Obama or Clinton presidency, and suddenly you'll have all the conservative space fantasies that you could ever want, from the likes of Frank Miller. We can't wait!