Monday, August 07, 2006

A War With No Winner

Ok, I have a confession to make here.
When I was younger, I was a HUGE comic book collector. I admit it. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Green Lantern. All of them were a part of my week. New comics would come out every Wednesday. My mother would give me a ride to the place I bought from (ironically called: My Mother Threw Mine Away) and I would spend hours pouring of the artwork and words.
I can even remember the first comic book I was ever given. My father bought me Flash 1 in 1987. That was my first comic. I was hooked right away. I started buying Spider-Man, Action Comics, and more.
There was always something about the comic book world when I was kid. Before the true modern day comics, the good guys always won. The Flash would save the girl and beat the bad guy. So would Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and more. You could count on Captain America to fight for America and stay on the right side of the law (more on that later).
My favorite comic books, though I am slightly embarrased to admit it, were The Punisher and Batman.
The Punisher. Frank Castle. He was a New York cop whose family was murdered by mobsters, so he took the law into his own hands in order to avenge his wife, Maria, and children. The Punisher had no powers. He couldn't regenerate like Wolverine, he couldn't stick to walls like Spiderman, and he didn't have hyper senses like Daredevil. He was just a slightly above normal guy (ex-marine and cop) with access to weapons. He had standards about the men he killed and the way he did it. No women, unless truly necessary, and no children. In the end, however, he fought for the little guy, took on the very worst of mankind, and did it in the name of justice.
Batman. Bruce Wayne. A man whose parents were killed in front of him. Again, here is a man without powers. He uses his brains and training to take down the bad guys. What was always interesting to me about Batman was the fact that the rogues he faced were all psychologically created:
Joker: Crazy, yet brilliant.
Two-Face: Multiple personality disorder
Catwoman: Classic dominatrix
I could go on and on.
Both Batman and the Punisher were the closest you could get to regular people in the super-powered world.
Of course in the modern world Batman created ways to destory his teammates, and the Punisher committed suicide and then came back and operated outside the rest of the marvel universe.
Now, a little history before I get to the real point of this post. DC Comics (the home of Batman, Superman, et al) has fictional cities. Gotham City (Batman) and Metropolis (Superman) are actually the East and West Sides of New York. Flash operated out of Keystone City, while Green Lantern was in Coast City. You get the idea. Though the cities represented real life cities, they were not the same (though recently DC has put heroes in Seattle, New York, and Detroit).
Marvel, on the other hand, has always, according to former leader Stan Lee, been based in the real world. Many of the heroes live in New York, though some base themselves in Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. There are heroes who are gay, Jewish, Muslim, and more. Marvel has made it clear that they live in our world, so the President of the United States in the comic books is George Bush. War is happening in the Middle East. There are made up nations, of course. Doctor Doom leads Latveria, The Black Panther is king of Wakanda in Africa. Off the coast of Africa is Genosha, an island made for mutants.
The reason it is important to note that Marvel's characters live in our world is because of their current storyline:
Civil War, which has asked a simple question. A short synopsis:
A group of c-list heroes on a reality tv show attack some bad guys. One of the bad guys is named Nitro and has the power to explode. He is being attacked and crashes against a bus at a school. Fed up, he explodes, killing children, teachers, and parents. The government decides that superheroes are to dangerous to let run around anymore (as one guy puts it, "They're living WMDs). Thus they propose the Superhero Registration Act. This act would require the heroes to reveal their identities, list themselves in a database, and then get government training and work through a federal agency. Some heroes are all for it, while others feel it is not up to government to decide who the heroes fight.
It's a brilliant idea, but the heroes you would think would be on a side aren't. What do I mean?
Ok, Spider-Man. Here is a man whose girlfriend at the time (Gwen Stacy) was killed when his then nemesis (the Green Goblin) learned his true identity. He has his wife (Mary Jane) and his aunt (May) who have been put in jeopardy in the past when others (such as Eddie Brock, the man who became Venom) learned how Peter Parker (Spider-Man's real name) was the hero. Even though, for over forty years, Spider-Man has been extremely private about his real identity, Marvel has made a major turn and had him expose his identity to the world. That's right. Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, called a press conference to show how some heroes are backing the Registration Act. Spider-Man, to show his allegiance,
took off his mask on International TV. The results? Well, his family is now in danger as his rogues gallery knows who he is, he is being sued by J. Jonah Jameson for all the money he made for taking pictures of himself while working at the Daily Bugle, and many of the other super heroes he called friends now hate him.
My biggest gripe is that you don't have someone who acts so private suddenly be ok with outing himself. Think of JD Salinger, who has avoided the public for years, suddenly coming out and saying, "Please...ask me questions about the work I have done and where I have been."
It betrays the character. It would be like Superman turning on America when he promises to uphold, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
Even more interesting to me is Captain America. Ole Cap is actually leading the resistance against the Act. That's right, the man who has upheld America's image, no matter what, is now standing against the very country he fought with for so many years. When asked to help the government, Captain America shouts back, "Don't play politics with me! Super heroes need to stay above that stuff or Washington starts telling us who the super-villains are." It's a viable argument about where federal power ends and creating a system of national ID (which we're discussing with the whole immigration thing). And, just like in real life with the Iraq war, many countries in the Marvel universe are not going along with America's plans.
The reason I call this a war with no winner is for a few reasons:
1. Marvel's head writers have stated that the outcome of this war will have ramifications for years to come and it won't have a happy ending. Unlike your typical comic book where the bad guy is defeated, here the heroes are both good and bad. No black and white, all grey.
2. The real world is starting to take sides...sort of. For example, when Fox News ran a piece about the story arc, they phrased it like this:
Marvel's superheroes are split into two opposing factions. One side, championed by heroes such as Spider-Man, is in favour of the new law. The other side, however, which has Captain America and his sort, refusing to turn their identities over to the government.
Ouch. When you use words like "championed" and "sort" in a piece, the reader or listener is automatically supposed to know who the right and who the wrong are.
However, NPR has a different spin:
A group led by Iron Man embraces the government's demand that they register as living weapons of mass destruction and reveal their secret identities while attempting to force others to do as they want. On the opposing side, Captain America and his allies refuse in order to protect civil liberties and private freedom.
Now this version of it makes it seem as if Captain America is right, while the other side is wrong. That's why this story line is so interesting. It takes the whole, "how much and whose freedom would you give up," idea and takes it to another level.
In a recent discussion between the Fantastic Four's Thing and Invisible Woman, he asks, "What should we be doing? You wanna take up arms against our own government?"
Her reply? "Disagreement isn't disloyalty. Sometimes, the most patriotic thing you can do in a democracy is disagree.''
That's a long way away from, "Stop, villain. Your end is at hand!"
If you want an interesting article about the storyline, read
this from the Miami Herald.
The story is only three issues in with the fourth to be coming out very soon. It's unclear right now which side will win, but the Superhero Registration Act has passed in the world of Marvel, so the heroes will now have to deal with the fallout.
As for the outcome being happy. Well, that's really up to you, dear reader. If the world is all for the SPA, will you cheer or jeer? As one guy put it, "If the readers agree with the Act, then everything Stan Lee and his colleagues built since day one will be betrayed.
So far more people seem to be for Captain America's side than Iron Man's. The ACLU chapter in Florida actually put out a statement agreeing with the character. Joe Quesada, the editor-in-chief at Marvel, has stated that he has had real politicians contact him about the Act. Some of them have, "said they agree with the [SPA], while others have voiced that they feel strongly against it."
The interesting part is that many people are reading the book who aren't normally comic book readers. I recommend you pick it up and read it. It's an interesting look at the way America is today.
Of course what do I know? I'm just some nerd who reads comic books. I could be wrong.

1 comment:

Robb said...


It's been a while since I sat down wth a good comic book. I believe I shall run out and get some "Civil War" related comics right now.