Saturday, March 17, 2007

Civil War Thoughts, Part the First: Pro-registration- dead on arrival?

This post deals with Civil War #1-7, the supporting tie-in books and the aftermath. There are some spoilers below if you have not read Civil War #7, Captain America #25, or Amazing Spider-Man #538. You have been warned. That's more than you got from CNN.

Mr. Speed (and other people) have wondered why so few comics fans have fallen onto the pro-registration side of things in the wake of Marvel's Civil War event.

That's a good question, and some of the answers are part of my bigger problems with Civil War and Marvel's current editorial position in general, but for this post, I'll focus on why the Pro-Reg arguement never had a chance.

1. History.

Ever since the ground-breaking "Days of Future Past" story in X-Men #141-142, the realization of a mutant registration act has been one of the signs of impending doom for mutants at the least, other superhumans and normal humans in the more apocalyptic possible futures. Rachael Grey, Cable and Bishop all come from different possible futures where the Mutant Registration Act became law, and the persecution of mutants and development of the Sentinel program all but doomed humanity. Convincing comic fans that this very same Act, applied not only to mutants, but all superheroes, is suddenly a good thing is a nigh-impossible task.

2. Plausibility.

Marvel's effort to apply the X-Men's "sworn to protect a world that fears and hates them" shtick to all superheroes in the wake of M-Day isn't a bad idea, but presents a great many logistical problems. How do you make heroes like the Avengers, or the Fantastic Four, who have saved the entire world/universe multiple times, and have been publicly acknowledged as doing so, hated and feared by the common man?

Marvel's answer: kill some kids.

Stamford was a tragedy, sure. But far worse things have happened in recent memory. An entire country was wiped out in New X-Men #115 and superheroes failed to stop it. I'm fairly sure there was more than one school's worth of kids in Genosha. Where was the outcry then? Kang the Conquerer nuked Washington D.C. in 2001 (Avengers #41-55, The Kang Dynasty) killing millions of people, as well as taking over the world. Did people blame heroes for that? Was there vitriol spewed at the Avengers when they finally beat back the menace? No. they were treated, quite rightly, as heroes.

So you can see my confusion when minor collateral damage, relatively speaking, sparks a witch hunt in the Marvel U. In the end, why did this particular event turn public opinion against heroes? Because the writers wanted it to. You'll be seeing that motivation a lot in Civil War.

3. Privacy

Everyone knows that we have little privacy left these days. In the wake of 9/11, it's accepted that the NSA is recording phone calls, particularly cell phones, and anyone saying jihad, bomb, Allah, or a variety of other keywords can expect some attention paid to them. It's safe to assume that the US government in the Marvel U already had most of the secret IDs they were asking people to register. Certainly S.H.I.E.L.D. did. So why the furor about registering?

Just like mutant registration, the problem was never having the information, but what governing bodies chose to do with it. In "Days of Future Past", it was the Sentinels, in Civil War, it's the Thunderbolts.

The Thunderbolts was a superteam created by the incredibly talented Kurt Busiek. It was a new team that stepped in to fill the void caused when the Avengers and other heroes vanished in the aftermath of Onslaught. Or so the world thought. In reality, they were the Masters of Evil in new costumes. Except once they got going, the team realized they liked being heroes, and stayed that way. Since then, and until Civil War, the book has been all about redemption, and one of the better tales told by Marvel.

In Civil War, the Thunderbolts were co-opted by the government and captured supervillains were added to the team. These were not villains who wished to atone for their actions or redeem themselves. These were unrepentant psychopaths, soulless killers like Venom and Bullseye. They were fitted with shock collars and mind control nanites in their blood. These incredibly dangerous individuals were then used like hunting hounds to subdue and capture unregistered heroes.

On one hand, I'm appalled that Kurt Busiek's inspiring tale of redemption and true heroics has been perverted into yet another Warren Ellis snuff comic. This is the writer who recently had the Punisher shoot Stilt-Man in the crotch with a rocket launcher. Stilt-Man! How could a man on stilts possibly be enough of a threat to merit that kind of overkill?

On the other hand, I'm even more appalled by the people who support the Registration Act turning a blind eye to this. Killers or not, supervillains or not, Bullseye, Venom, Green Goblin and the rest are human beings. They have basic rights, and being tortured and subjected to behavior-modifying technology is barely different from the lobotomy trend of the fifties. and we know how well that turned out. The actions taken regarding the Thunderbolts are exactly the reason that people fear registration.

4. Writing.

According to interviews with Marvel editors, Civil War and its tie-in issues of other comics were supposed to show a balanced field of opinion. About the same number of titles were to be from the anti-registration side as were from the pro-registration side.

Due to the many complications and delays Marvel experienced during Civil War's publication, this did not happen. Far from it. Nearly every comic printed showed the Anti-Reg forces fighting the good fight, standing by their principles, and losing ground. They were in the right, they were the underdogs, they were clearly the side the writers wanted the readers siding with.
Even in his own title, Tony Stark was portrayed as an amoral, emotionless, logical bastard whose best arguement for supporting the law was: "I can see the shape of the future! This was inevitable!", but we are shown him manipulating his friends and war profiteering. We are not shown a human perspective on Tony until Civil War: the Confession, when he tells Cap's body that it wasn't worth it.

Reed Richards is shown comparing the Registration Act to McCarthyism, and acting as if that was a plus! He states that breaking the law has consequences, even if it's just telling powerful men to go to hell. Excuse me? Here I thought that was covered under freedom of speech. Reed is also shown to have created a new form of math, capable of mapping the whole of human behavior. This is the man who a few years ago (in the Marvel Knights series 4), could not predict the stock market well enough to make a living at it. So the stock market is super complex and outside the reach of the Smartest Man on Earth, but a behavior model of the human race is something he developed in his teens!

5. Change.

The single biggest hurdle that the Pro-Reg arguement had to face was the stubborn nature of their fans. Comic fans tend to be conservative, if not in politics, at least in entertainment. They don't like change.

And Civil War changes a lot. Every superhuman in the Marvel is now either a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent/operative or an outlaw. Captain America is dead, Captain Marvel isn't. Tony Stark is the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The mutants are off doing... something. The archetype of the inexperienced vigilante is officially dead in Marvel Comics. Spider-Man is Back in Black for no apparent or explained reason. Aunt May got shot.

A lot of changes, and while some are for the better, or at least could be, very few were handled all that well.

But that's fodder for a whole different column. Till then, keep reading comics!


1 comment:

Laura said...

Nice summation of the problems. I think a sixth issue was that of the people we saw changing sides, the most sympathetic and important ones were all proreg -> antireg. Peter Parker pretty much *is* the human focus of the MU, Sue Richards is an important moral center, etc. The only ones who went antireg -> proreg were really minor characters who mostly seemed to be just afraid.