Monday, February 26, 2007

What's Wrong With Civil War?

Short answer? Everything!

Fiiiine, I guess I'll do the "Long Answer" as well.

(As one might guess, this post will be filled with Mighty Marvel Spoilers.)

So, for those of you who've stumbled onto this blog by sheer chance (or to leave nasty comments), and don't know what Civil War is, here's the rundown:

  • Speedball, of all people, gets a bunch of little kids killed when his team tosses a human bomb into a school.
  • Iron Man, and those on his side, see this as a reason to start registering all the super-heroes... because if the government knew Speedball's real name, then that would have stopped him from being an idiot? He does this by working with the government to restrict civil liberties! Yay!*
  • Captain America, who was busting his hump in trenches fighting Nazis for our civil liberties when Tony Stark was still a sparkle in his father's vodka-soaked eye, is against this. He demonstrates his dissent in the most patriotic way I can imagine - taking down an entire S.H.E.I.L.D. hellicarier.
  • Everyone punches each other.
  • Spider-Man generally acts pretty stupid during the whole thing.
Now, this setup has very real potential: a very grey area politically and morally which pits super-hero against super-hero.

While there are many, many problems with the WAY the story is told - What the hell are Captain Marvel and The Sentry doing during this fight? Are they busy taking down the Thanos level threat of Iron Fist dressed as Daredevil? Aren't they so mind-bogglingly powerful that they'd essentially END the fight on a whim? - my real problem is the moral of the story.

Yes, morals. At their best, I think superhero comics are a highly exaggerated morality plays - Spider-Man is the best example I can think of. Here's a man given extraordinary means, and when he chooses to use those means for selfish ends, he's punished for it by the loss of his uncle. This is a very clear lesson, one that every comic book fan learns - with great power comes great responsibility. A truer version of that sentence would be "With great power comes great responsibility to do good." Spider-Man becomes a hero through good actions (going beyond the law to capture criminals) towards a greater good (protecting the powerless).

Civil War could have been a great testing ground for which of those is the most important - the ends (protecting the powerless), or the means (going beyond the law to capture criminals)? Ask 100 people that question and you'll no doubt come back with a healthy mix of answers, with no clear winner. What could be a better way to have an audience root for either Captain America or Iron Man without either of them being clearly "evil?"

The problem in Civil War is that, in the end, Iron Man achieves something that is (I believe to be) fundamentally immoral. A government should not restrict the civil liberties of any of it's citizens for the theoretical protection of other citizens. But even if you accept that this is "okay," the means employed by Iron Man and his crew are so beyond what could be justified by this end that it boggles the mind. Let's run it down, shall we:
  • Hiring a Russian super villain to attack Washington D.C. to prove his point.
  • Cloning Thor for use as a weapon.
  • This directly leads to the murder of Bill Foster - Black Goliath.**
  • Letting Taskmaster, Lady Shiva, Venom, and BULLSEYE out of jail and onto the streets as a government black ops squad, the new Thunderbolts.
  • Detaining American Citizens in an off-site prison, without due process, for an unspecified amount of time.
  • The actual prison was the Negative Zone, for god's sake, described in Amazing Spider-Man as a place that literally saps the will of the occupants.
  • Which, I do believe, counts as torture.
  • Unleashing the DEADLY Thor Clone upon Manhattan a second time!
So now the war is over, and Iron Man has done all these things, the repercussions for which are... what? They're non-existant. Iron Man's side wins the war, and anyone with abilities beyond that of mortal man are forced to register with the government for the protection of the people. And what's more, Tony Stark is made the head of S.H.E.I.L.D. The most powerful spy organization on the planet.

I want to reiterate that.

The man who deemed it was okay to circumvent protections guaranteed people in the constitution has now been put in charge of the largest espionage organization on the planet. This, to me, is wholly terrifying and horrible. Yet in the book, it's treated as if Tony's getting the reward he's worked so hard for, and claims he has even more "ideas." Civil War ends with Tony looking off into the sun-set, inspired by the "Good" he's done.

So I ask you this - What moral does this teach? That abuse of power begets more power? That if you abuse the people to protect them, you'll be given a greater opportunity to do both? And most importantly, in this situation, what separates someone like Iron Man from someone like Doctor Doom? They've both employed force and fascist tactics to protect their respective countries, only one does it for the people, other for the literal country. And is that really a difference at all?

I think the most graceful part of this book was potentially unintentional - I've read an interview with Mark Millar suggesting that what I'm about to describe was simply to allow their to be two winners in this battle.

If the world of the Marvel Universe is now one where the ends justify the means, no matter the moral or ethical standards of either, then I can think of no better metaphor than Captain America, the symbol of liberty, freedom, and, "What's right," in Marvel Comics, surrendering and being locked away to rot.


*Hey, didn't they do this story in Powers? Man, the writer of that comic must b- Wait, what? ...oh.
** A character killed essentially because he was black. That's a whole other kettle of fish.


Bob said...

I've got my issues with "Civil War," and agreed that the ending is a MASSIVE downer, but I don't think it's terribly likely that we're supposed to take that final few pages as a 100% positive "this is a good thing" message. Yeah, the characters who're doing the talking think it is... they won. And the "other" side is either on the run or in prison, so we've really yet to hear how they feel about the New World Order.

This is, lets remember, Mark Millar. He's not known for subtlety, especially when he gets to tie something to politics. and for all his quotes about how sincere Stark is and how in the real world he'd be Pro-Reg, his interview also included this admission: "Obviously, there's a certain amount of political allegory in a story where a guy wrapped in the American flag is in chains as the people swap freedom for security, but I really made an effort to just make that stuff the gravy." If they didn't mean for us to sympathize even just in a "poor cowboys don't realize the Wild West is over" idealistic way with the "Rebels," their leader wouldn't be the guy wearing the American Flag.

(and lets not forget, we glean most the very "last five minutes of Attack of The Clones" info on the New Order in the form of letter from Reed which begins with one of his now-characteristic "my, but I can be a douchebag" quotes about how rough it is being sooo much smarter than everyone else, not exactly a ringing endorsement.)

I think like any other crossover event, the measure of the thing will be what comes after. The end of CW is, from where I stand, pretty grim, but it leaves the Marvel Universe in a pretty fresh place: Half the "good guys" are federal agents who see the others as renegades, the other half are more-underground-than-ever vigilantes who see the others as selling out to The Man. To me, that's some really good, fertile ground.. but it's up to the writers to DO something interesting with it.

Sam said...

Civil War was a huge disservice to the fans and to the comic industry as a whole. It was poorly written and poorly plotted and it told old fans that stood by Marvel after all these years that they were obsolete in their beliefs and values.

Its a sad day to be a comic fan.

Casey Malone said...

Hey Sam,

Welcome to Earth 2!

I agree especially with the last part of your comment, about the whole Marvel heroes belief system.

My one hope is that the fact that Marvel's two flag-ship characters (Spider-Man and Wolverine) are both part of an Underground resistance in New Avengers.

Lily said...

don't forget tony stark basically telling maria hill, 'get back in the kitchen, bitch!' SO charming.

Leonard said... you mean all comic storyarchs don't end with a happy bunny farting a rainbow laced with puppied into a giant pool of golden sunshine?

Stark did a bunch of pretty evil shit to get his way, and he hasn't been punished for it. Yet. Whatever - bad shit happens sometimes, and sometimes the badguy should win. It just so happens that the badguy flavor of the week is Iron Man.