“When a cosmic entity threatens to destroy the world, you do something about it. Shape-shifting aliens invade your planet, you take a stand.  But what do you do when the water supply of a town is contaminated?  When the rights of the poor and the powerless are ignored because…well…they’re poor and powerless…How do you fight that?”

– Clint Barton aka Hawkeye

I casually began reading Marvel and David F. Walker’s debut issue of Occupy Avengers the morning of Thanksgiving before beginning the the journey to share the day with family.  Thanksgiving this year presented many challenges as well as possible opportunities for people as evident from the countless articles proclaiming to be guides on how to best discuss and/or disagree over election results and politics with extended family members.  Many went into the holiday with the mindset of starting and engaging in challenging conversations, others wanted to take a break from the tough subjects and enjoy the company of family and friends simply just to be with them.  However, a consistent undercurrent throughout all of this has been the sad irony of the treatment of the Native American protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Project.  While we celebrate a holiday meant to reflect on unity and thankfulness that many of our ancestors shared with the ancestors of these very people, they are fighting an increasingly brutal battle to preserve their land and heritage.

It is with this in mind that I dove into Occupy Avengers’ opening issue.  Walker’s story sees former Avenger, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, traveling the country still grappling with his actions during the events of Marvel’s recent event series, Civil War II.  As we open on Barton’s story, we find him stopped at a diner in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.  From there, Barton interacts with citizens of of Santa Rosa – many of whom feel disenfranchised by the heroes populating the Marvel universe who are “running around in their silly costumes, shooting laser beams out of their eyes or turning into a giant bug.”  It’s clear these people see heroes such as Tony Stark’s Iron Man as heroes for the elite, and feel forgotten in their own struggles and plights.  Clint quickly allies himself with Red Wolf, who has been serving as a Deputy for the town, to investigate why the local water supply has been contaminated.

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Throughout this first issue, we see the effect that the polluted water supply has had on Santa Rosa and more so, the nearby reservation that is forced to increasingly rely on diminishing supplies of bottled water.  As evident from Barton’s quote above, this is the first time he has caught a glimpse of the true scope of poverty and the sense of helplessness that those who live with it continuously feel.  The realization forces him to wrestle with his initial perception of the world around him, and what he now finds to be the truth for the Native Americans populating this reservation.  “This place…” Clint says to Red Wolf at one point, “It’s not supposed to be like this in America.”

There is a fair dosage of comic book-ness thrown in as well – Hawkeye gets opportunities to shoot some arrows, fights ensue, and a Marvel super villain ultimately shows up – but thematically and tonally, I believe this book will resonate much more for its timely commentary and aspects of realism.

As expected, this book has seen its fair share of “keep politics out of comics!” comments already – but what these people fail to realize is that comics have been political since the get go.  Comics, like the speculative fiction genre as a whole, present unique opportunities to look at the world’s issues – from the global to the local and grassroots – from different angles and lenses that may give us a new perspective from which to consider.  As for David F. Walker’s Occupy Avengers, it challenges us to think about poverty, specifically in Native American and rural communities, and it challenges us to think about the protests and the struggles currently going on at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

For those who may not know about the protests, the Dakota Access Pipeline project is a plan to carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.  A section of the pipeline would travel under Lake Oahe, which is about a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.  According to the tribe, the pipeline threatens their drinking water, sacred sites, overall way of life, and infringes on past treaty agreements.  While authorities who have clashed with protesters claim the pipeline would not cause harm, an earlier proposal had the pipeline crossing the Missouri River north of Bismarck, but those plans were changed over concerns of the risk to the capital’s water supply (source: Pipeline route plan first called for crossing north of Bismarck – Bismarck Tribune).  Simply put, the change in and of itself is sadly telling of our priorities as a nation and the privilege that many of us have over others.

As with any issue, it is important to educate yourself.  Occupy Avengers is a fantastic read and can serve as a great starting point to learning about these issues, but ultimately the problem Hawkeye and Red Wolf face is allegorical and based within the world in which they (no pun intended) occupy.  To learn more about the DAPL protests and the real world ramifications, check out Gail Ablow’s  What You Need to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest in Common Dreams, Joseph Erbentraut’s Here’s What You Should Know About The Dakota Pipeline Protest in the Huffington Post, Robinson Meyer’s The Legal Case for Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline in The Atlantic, or any number of pieces that have been written.

If you’ve read enough and want to help, check out the suggestions in The Huffington Post’s How You Can Help The Standing Rock Sioux Fight The Dakota Access Pipeline.

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