Foggy Ruins of Time – The Defenders and the Refuseniks
This is the latest in a series giving you the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the “foggy ruins of time.” To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of Seinfeld will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal). Here is an archive of all the Foggy Ruins of Time installments so far.
Today, based on a suggestion by Omar Karindu, we’ll take a look at Steve Gerber’s depiction of the refusenik movement in the pages of the Defenders.
Really, it’s quite remarkable how Steve Gerber worked these politically charged topics into the pages of his comics. As Omar Karindu noted to me in his suggestion, one of the ways that it seemed as though Gerber did it was to take really hot political topics and feature them a few years after they were REALLY hot, so that it wasn’t so obvious as to what he was talking about.
That’s pretty much what he did in Defenders #40. Gerber had recently introduced a new female Red Guardian and she moved to the United States and joined the Defenders.
In 1976’s Defenders #40, the Defenders get some threats over her joining the team…
And then later she is accosted by a group…
Notice how sly Gerber is – if you didn’t know what he was talking about, you really wouldn’t miss anything, but if you know, then it is a nice topical reference.
The reference is to an issue that is luckily no longer an issue. This was the “Refusenik” movement. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the USSR severely curtailed the rights of its citizens to leave the country. Perhaps the most vocal in their opposition to this were Jews within the Soviet Union who wanted to emigrate due to what they found to be rampant antisemitism in the USSR during the Cold War. They found it extremely difficult to leave, though, as the Soviets continued to refuse their attempts to emigrate (hence “Refuseniks”). The Soviet Jewish community protested like crazy. In 1970, a small group even tried to sort of kind of hijack a plane to get out of the country (their plan was to book a small plane for a fake wedding and then kick the pilot out right before take off). When they were all arrested, the Soviet government planned to kill the two ringleaders. The rest of the world freaked out and the Soviets eventually backed off. As the 1970s went on, more and more Jews were allowed to leave the country. By the time Gorbachev became the head of the government in the 1980s, it was becoming much and much less of an issue. And obviously when the USSR collapsed it became an official non-issue, which is why it is has fell to the foggy ruins of time.
Thanks to Omar Karindu for the suggestion! If YOU have a suggestion for a future edition of Foggy Ruins of Time, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org