“What if everything the right thought about the left was real?” That’s the driving premise behind The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook, the latest from The Nib’s own Matt Lubchansky. To be honest, the premise puzzled me a little at first. On the one hand, I’m automatically a bit wary of anything that might end up being touted as “proof” of the type of conspiracy theories popularized by Alex Jones or QAnon. But on the other hand, they do say some pretty wild stuff that’s hard not to laugh about, so I could also see this comic being extremely funny. Ultimately, I’m a fan of Lubchansky’s satirical work and I had a feeling they would tackle this with the right balance of humor and reality and nonsense. And I was absolutely right—The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook is cutting, relatable at times, and most of all, completely hilarious.
The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook
Matt Lubchansky (writer/illustrator)
April 13, 2021
The central conflict of the story, naturally, is between a group of protesters who meet at their local union hall and the local police department. There is one main character from each side—Max Marx, an antifa operative who was recently accepted into the lucrative “super soldier” program, and Paul O’Shea, a good ol’ boy cop who was recently promoted to Sergeant. This conflict comes to a head when Adonis Asproulis, “the bad boy of online” who appears to be a parody of Milo Yiannopoulos, comes to speak on a local college campus. Naturally, antifa wants to deplatform him and the police department are… suddenly really big “uh, defenders of free speech,” once they hear antifa wants to deplatform him.
But to be honest, the extremely badass, highly organized operation that the antifa group is running is even more central to the crux of the book than the plot. There’s an underground base with a war room, a chemical lab, and a “psychological warfare division, where most Hollywood movies and television shows are made.” They have throngs of people in matching antifa uniforms and an actual helicopter. They use chemtrails to mind control college students into thinking their way, really hitting all the conspiracy theory bases. The titular “super soldier” program includes features like an eye camera that can doctor fake footage on the fly, a concrete dispenser for dispensing into milkshakes, and wrist rockets that make you hit the ground faster to frame cops for pushing you, among others.
As a legal observer who’s extremely active in my local protest scene, this story really spoke to my experience. That’s a joke, because of course “antifa” isn’t an organized group in that way and of course we don’t have underground bases, chemical labs, or helicopters. But in several other ways, it’s not exactly a joke. The language Lubchansky uses and the scenarios they present do actually speak to my experience—from little things like using “actions” instead of “protests” and highlighting the fact that someone was livestreaming, to bigger things like cops showing up with equipment I’ve seen used on the ground, like APCs and LRADs. There is a scene that made me laugh out loud where Sgt. O’Shea’s boss congratulates him on making a mass arrest, including “the worst of the worst—press members and legal observers.” Having been specifically targeted by cops at actions, and called a “terrorist” by screaming alt-right counter-protesters… this is funny, but also distressingly relatable.
And speaking of alt-right counter-protesters, the premise itself of The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook is distressingly relatable, as I’ve personally experienced people who really do believe all those jokey-sounding things about antifa are true. Anti-fascism is an ideology, not an organization, of course—but I often see people speculating about the “leaders of Antifa” and I’ve been asked if I’m a paid protester with semi-regularity since as early as 2010. Most of the “super-soldier” powers are also references to real life events, like Andy Ngo’s unsubstantiated claim that he was attacked with cement milkshakes at a Proud Boys rally in Portland and the numerous officers who have falsely claimed they’ve been poisoned by shakes or frappuccinos or, in one particularly viral video, an Egg McMuffin. For me, the wrist rockets hit particularly close to home: I was present at the action where Buffalo police shoved 75-year-old accident Martin Gugino to the ground, causing a brain injury—so I definitely remember having to listen to all the right-wingers who claimed the incident was staged, that he “fell harder than he was pushed” (a quote from former President Trump), and that he only made it look like he was bleeding with concealed blood packets. So while the shadowy antifa organization in the comic is nonsense, it’s nonsense that has been carefully curated to match the real life nonsense being touted by the real life alt-right.
Narratively, the use of Max and O’Shea as equivalent opposing forces in their respective organizations really does work for the story. They’ve both been recently promoted and are hungry to prove themselves. I like the way this reflects the reality that both sides of this conflict genuinely feel like they’re the good guys, which is a recurring theme in this book. It’s also interesting how both sides feel like they “won” after the first skirmish—antifa because they successfully tore down the statue of a slaveowner, and the police because they made 30 arrests. (There have absolutely been times where I suspected both the protesters and the counter-protesters were heading home from an action feeling like they got a win, although my folks would never be celebrating if 30 of our friends got arrested as an unintended side effect.)
This narrative choice is also skillfully backed up artistically, with the Antifa characters depicted using mainly red and black colors in their panels, and the police clearly associated with blue and grey. Even their gadgets, which both sides have, follow this color scheme—the sound waves that come out of the LRAD (long range acoustic device) are a neon blue, while the super-soldier’s super hearing device is shown as a red overlay. The book is in Lubchansky’s signature art style, which fans will certainly recognize, and it’s great stylistically for this type of story. The art is simple but expressive, and the various antifa gadgets look cool but also sufficiently silly.
The only thing about this overall framing that bothers me is the way it characterizes both sides as equally powerful. The individual resources that the antifa group has in this story are ridiculous and clearly satire, but the general vibe that they’re a worthy opponent to a militarized police force is, I think, a bit harmful. In my experience, “antifa” is mainly just disenfranchised folks who care about their neighborhoods enough to want to protect them from bigotry and police violence. Right-wing media desperately wants you to see antifa as a dangerous force, so it feels less outrageous when you see cops tear gassing and shooting at them. Even though I know it’s satire, I can’t really condone framing it as a fair fight, rather than oppressors versus the oppressed.
An insult my local chuds love to wield is “dollar store antifa,” making fun of folks for the mismatched protective gear they patched together using whatever they had, to try to feel safer at actions that were becoming increasingly threatening, and I think there’s so much to unpack about this phrase. First, it reveals the deeply contradictory way the alt-right thinks about those who oppose them. I’ve heard the phrase “dollar store antifa” used in tirades about how protesters are dangerous terrorists, destroying the fabric of our society. Well, which is it? Are we jokes, not to be taken seriously, or are we dangerous terrorists, powerful enough to destroy society? Plus, “dollar store antifa” only makes sense as an insult if it’s backed up by this belief that somewhere exists the fabled “brand name” antifa that has the good, organized equipment. We’re all just doing the best we can for our community with what we have; we are all dollar store antifa.
But overall, even though the underlying issue isn’t really a joking matter, I do actually think there’s value in taking some time to make some jokes about it. Fascists hate being made fun of. That’s why neo-nazis are more offended by The Producers, which makes nazis look ridiculous, than American History X, which says that nazis are bad but still makes them look like cool badasses in the process. I believe it’s our moral responsibility to make fun of fascists and publicly laugh about the stupid things they believe. I want to make fascists look ridiculous. I want to make fascists feel ridiculous.
And Lubchansky does a great job making the alt-right look ridiculous. It’s a masterful balancing act of farcical satire without ever making me feel like they’re making too light of a serious issue, particularly since it’s interspersed with little nuggets of truth throughout. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert on policing to pick out some of the truth—the very last page basically says, “this story was fiction, except for the parts that weren’t” and shares some very informative sources about police militarization and qualified immunity, which I appreciate a lot. While The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook might feel to me like a funny inside joke for people involved in the fight against police brutality, it never forgets that it’s also scathing social commentary that anyone who’s paying attention can appreciate, and better yet, learn from.