Thursday, February 22, 2007

I Know Whose Side I'm On: Thoughts on Marvel's Civil War

Gentle Reader, I actually enjoyed the Civil War series, despite its flaws and delays. And while I'm not as familiar with the Marvel Universe as I am the DC Universe, I felt that the characters were handled with care and, surprisingly, a lot of joy. I felt that the writers enjoyed working through these events, the same as I feel the writers of 52 are really having a blast playing with these characters and plotlines. If they're not, Friends, please, please, don't tell me! Let me live in My Fantasy World a bit longer.

But here's the thing: Marvel kept asking me the same question, over and over, in every issue I opened. Whose side are you on? My side, as it were, was never in doubt. I was, from issue 1, on the side of the Secret Avengers, or the Rebels, or merely those Anti-Registration. Why? Because the logic of Registration is, for me, deeply, deeply flawed.

Why, you ask, Gentle Reader? Or perhaps, you don't ask, but merely nod your head and agree that indeed, Registration is many things: anti-hero, anti-American, anti-freedom. Yes, all of those things are true, but even more so, I read the Registration Initiative as the early stages of Forced Removal, or Ghettoization, or other such government initiatives to forcibly remove--or mark--certain racial, religious, etc. groups from the general public. First, they mark them, those superheroes. Then, when they refuse to be marked, they are imprisoned. When they do register, they are forced to work for the government, regardless if they want to or not, or are even relocated away from their homes and families. All in secret, mind you. But even when Prison Number 42 is revealed to the public, as it is in #7, Reed Richards remarks that the public met the Negative Zone Prison with resounding applause and support.

This argument, that people must be locked up not only for the good of the citizens, but for their own good, as well, has deep roots in Humanity's deepest pits of racism, hatred, xenophobia, anti-specific-religious sentiment, sexism, the list goes on and on. But that's not all. The *roots* of the Civil War, the New Warriors' tragic accident that killed hundreds of people, including children, scared the World At Large. Suddenly, those with powers were too scary to exist side-by-side those without powers. Those-with-powers, that is, refused to let themselves become public. "But they are dangerous!" the populace screams. "They can Kill Us All! Look, there's evidence. They killed children, indiscriminately."

You see it, don't you, Gentle Reader? The same argument that has perpetuated some of the worst racism in America? The "ones" who play the game-—live their lives according to the dominant status quo—-are okay. They are "just like us." But the "ones" who don't? They're deemed *dangerous*. Even worse, the idea that because a black/white/red/green person committed a crime against someone's family, then *all* black/white/red/green persons are Evil Incarnate continues. Then *all* black/white/red/green persons must be locked up, for "their own good," for the Good Of The World.

I don't mean to be so deeply sarcastic, Friends. I believe in a reformative prison system. I believe that, given enough money and caring, the majority of criminals can be reformed. I believe that, intentionally or unintentionally, Speedball committed a crime and therefore should receive a Trial Of His Peers. I do *not*, however, believe that everyone who looks/thinks/acts/breathes the same as Speedball should suffer the same. Not because it's "anti-American," or "unconstitutional," but because it's *wrong*.

Gentle Reader, because a small group of people who look and/or act similarly commit a crime, that does not mean that all the people who look and/or act the same should suffer the consequences, as well. We are seeing reverberations of this kind of thought across the world at the moment, as we have seen it since The Dawn Of Time. "Witches" were burned at the stake, Jews were expelled from every European Country, Africans and Caribbeans were plucked from their homelands and forced into slavery, Women were denied control of property, money, their children, even their very bodies, American Indians had bounties placed on their heads, racism against the Romany, or Gypsies, is still publicly acceptable, the list goes on and on. We did not begin the cycle, but we still suffer under it, as I'm sure our children, and our children's children, will, so very unfortunately, suffer under similar cycles, as well.

That is to say, what Marvel's Civil War does is thumb its nose at people who say Comics Are Just Comics, or Books Are Just Books, or TV Is Just TV. Well, no, they're not. Civil War used a glossy, colorful medium to offer the repercussions of racism, sexism, homophobia, meta-ism, etc. to The Reading Public. Because Speedball committed a crime, accidentally, the viewing public sees his face in the face of every potential powered person. Suddenly, everyone is A Secret Red. That is, A Potential Superhero. Neighbor turned on Neighbor, Friend turned on Friend, and even, in the case of She-Hulk, Alter-Ego turned on Alter-Ego (or at least disagreed with).

Looking at the complexity of these thoughts sprung out of Civil War, how is it possible that there are still people in the world who believe that That Which Entertains Us can never, not even in its wildest imaginations, Challenge Us? That Which Entertains Us challenges us, every day. The Victorians used the wacky new medium, the novel, to write about the travesties of social issues—-child labor, The Woman Question, racism, anti-Semitism, even homophobia. Jane Eyre is a blast to read (for This Humble Author, anyways!), but further, it talks about deep, dark issues like slavery, the Woman Question, and children's rights. Civil War was a blast to read, but further, it talked about the deepest –isms under which our society suffers.

I think I'll call it "not-us-ism."

Not-us-ism is perhaps the broadest –ism we can think of, and it encompasses every –ism in the world. Because in the end, isn't that what racism, sexism, classism, etc. is all about? Sexism—-"I'm not a man or a woman, so I can't believe that men or women need or want these things." Racism—-"I'm not black, green, purple, brown, white, or red, so therefore I can't believe that black, green, et al persons need or want the same things I do." Even further, "because I'm not black, green, et al, that is, because I'm Not Them, and They're Not Me, I don't think they *deserve* the things I have."

I'm not denying that a very real tragedy was committed in Civil War by accident, or by accident brought on by arrogance. But how many times has very real tragedy been committed in the world? In Marvel's Universe? Why now? Why demand Superhero Registration now? There is Something Else Going On, Gentle Reader. Something scary. Something like A Plan.

Perhaps? Perhaps not? Well, we shall see, Friends, the continuation of Civil War throughout the Marvel Universe. I am upset with Cap, but I understand why he did what he did. I understand the need for peace, for the end of violence. But I can say, with Great Certainty, that as of now, Tony Stark scares me more than any other person, hero or villain, on the comic book stage today. I don't trust him, and moreover, I don't think this is over.

Not by a long shot.

So thank you, Mr. Millar, for a great read, a thoughtful read, one that reminded me of one of my favorite DC books, Superman: Red Son. You made This DC Girl like even more Marvel, and that's saying a lot.

12 comments:

1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Come on. Yes the art and story were great for the most part. However, would Captain America really just quit? What if he had this attitude in World War II.

Richard
http://1rightopinion-comics.blogspot.com/

Amy Reads said...

Hi Richard,
Come on. Yes the art and story were great for the most part. However, would Captain America really just quit? What if he had this attitude in World War II.

I agree with what he did, in principle. I do think the battle became about who can outlast whom, rather than fighting for any superior purpose. I am very, very upset with him, though. I understand the thinking behind it, but don't necessarily agree with the execution.
But overall, I thought it a very interesting end for a rather interesting storyline. I didn't expect Tony to "win" (as someone has to "win" and someone has to "lose" in this story, yes?), because I expected the story to end the way I wanted it to end: with the Registration Act gone. Ending the story with Cap's surrender was quite an interesting plot development, I think.
Ciao,
Amy

Amy Reads said...

Hi Richard,
PS
I said, Ending the story with Cap's surrender was quite an interesting plot development, I think.

And I do mean "plot development," because there will be several stories arcing out of the end of Civil War. I find the potential of those stories, rather than a return to status quo, to be the more intriguing of the two choices.
Ciao,
Amy

Loren said...

Hey, Amy

As usual, a fascinating read. And, this was great food for thought. I liked your thoughts on Tony Stark, being scarier than any villain or hero. That is so true. But, I have to admit that I was completely underwhelmed and depressed at the end of Civil War. I felt that any hope in the world evaporated and that my faith in heroes is totally gone. Mr. Fantastic was one of my favorite heroes and, now, after all that's gone down, I don't think I could ever like him again. I think part of the reason why this all depresses me is that most of my favorite heroes are now in the "underground." And, while I could see Captain America surrendering because of all the damage he saw was being caused...if we didn't have six issues before that where we saw Captain America in the middle of similar destruction without batting an eye. Captain America was fighting for an ideal -- the ideal of freedom. He knew the stakes and we respected him for that. But, it really just seemed like he gave up suddenly. I'll have to read it again, but, it felt to me that Marvel tried to make the anti-Infinite Crisis...only Infinite Crisis gave me hope while Civil War just gives me despair.

Amy Reads said...

Hi Loren,
As usual, a fascinating read. And, this was great food for thought. I liked your thoughts on Tony Stark, being scarier than any villain or hero. That is so true.

I've been frightened of Tony Stark for Some Time Now--but perhaps that's because I read The Ultimates, which is, above all else, A Scary Book.

But, I have to admit that I was completely underwhelmed and depressed at the end of Civil War.

Oh, no doubt, Friend! While I'm not underwhelmed, I am depressed. I'm certainly not *happy* about the decisions made at the end, but I appreciate the direction it's going in.

I felt that any hope in the world evaporated and that my faith in heroes is totally gone. Mr. Fantastic was one of my favorite heroes and, now, after all that's gone down, I don't think I could ever like him again. I think part of the reason why this all depresses me is that most of my favorite heroes are now in the "underground."

Again, I agree absolutely with what you're saying, but I still must admit that I find it all a very interesting development. I think part of my fascination stems from the fact that I'm not that attached to Marvel characters. That is to say, I'm attached to a few (mainly, the Runaways, because I've read the series in single issues since its beginning), but not the way I am to DC's characters. When everyone turned against Wonder Woman after the Max Lord event, I wouldn't touch comics for several days. I was, to put it mildly, seething with rage at everyone who turned their back on Wonder Woman.
Too attached by far!

And, while I could see Captain America surrendering because of all the damage he saw was being caused...if we didn't have six issues before that where we saw Captain America in the middle of similar destruction without batting an eye. Captain America was fighting for an ideal -- the ideal of freedom. He knew the stakes and we respected him for that. But, it really just seemed like he gave up suddenly.

I don't think he gave up. I didn't read it that way. I read it as a Sacrifice. Because ultimately, Captain America in prison, as the symbol of repressed freedom, will gain more battle ground that Cap fighting Iron Man on television.
In other words, I don't think we've seen anything yet.

I'll have to read it again, but, it felt to me that Marvel tried to make the anti-Infinite Crisis...only Infinite Crisis gave me hope while Civil War just gives me despair.

No, it's true. I like Infinite Crisis more than I like Civil War, but I can't help but be fascinated by it.
Let me know if you do read it again, and if your thoughts change! Or, well, stay the same. I'm interested in what you have to say, always! :)
Ciao,
Amy

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

amy - really good stuff. I've linked out to it from my blog, as well as putting up a post on cap that the aftermath of civil war as well.

I think that it usually takes someone who is "not us" to understand the slight difference in social situations that exists between the "us" and "not us". Whether its being black, asian, jewish or gay, you can feel the microfractures that exists in the communication. Good call on that being an underlying thread.

I wonder how Ellen's comment at the Oscars last night about "there not being movies without gays, jews and blacks" went over in middle america?

The Mutt said...

"I wonder how Ellen's comment at the Oscars last night about "there not being movies without gays, jews and blacks" went over in middle america?"

I'm more curious as to how it went over at Mel Brooks house, considering that it's his joke from To Be or Not To Be.

And you know, what Marvel actually kept asking us was "Who's side are you on?" Yes, it's still right there on their website, after how many months? Nice job, Marvel editors. In a way, I think it sums up the whole business quite well.

Amy Reads said...

Hi Ink,
amy - really good stuff. I've linked out to it from my blog, as well as putting up a post on cap that the aftermath of civil war as well.

Thanks! I look forward to reading your thoughts.

I think that it usually takes someone who is "not us" to understand the slight difference in social situations that exists between the "us" and "not us". Whether its being black, asian, jewish or gay, you can feel the microfractures that exists in the communication. Good call on that being an underlying thread.

Again, thanks, Friend. I think it's really true--the person not part of the group, whether that is a racial group, a religious one, a clique, etc., can often read the group better than the group can ever read itself. It's a classic storyline, and has been for some time. It takes an Outsider, or an Other, or simply an unexpected someone to point to inherent differences.

I wonder how Ellen's comment at the Oscars last night about "there not being movies without gays, jews and blacks" went over in middle america?

Unfortunately, I didn't watch the Oscars, so I missed the comment :\ (it was Battlestar Galactica night, you realize). I'll try to catch it on YouTube, and give you my thoughts!
Ciao,
Amy

Amy Reads said...

Hi The Mutt,
re: joke, I'm more curious as to how it went over at Mel Brooks house, considering that it's his joke from To Be or Not To Be.

Eek! I don't think I've ever seen it! But I was thinking History of the World, Part I, and the "Hey, Torquemada, whaddya say?" scene, and that led me to this thought:
I just recently saw a book that was censored during the Spanish Inquisition. As in, I saw the actual book, with the original censoring. That was neat.

Sometimes my brain takes me strange places.

It's a thing.

And you know, what Marvel actually kept asking us was "Who's side are you on?" Yes, it's still right there on their website, after how many months? Nice job, Marvel editors. In a way, I think it sums up the whole business quite well.

Oh no! Who's/whose is a particularly unhappy confusion, but at least it wasn't it's/its. That drives me completely batty. But you're right. It's still there.
Ciao,
Amy

Loren said...

Amy,

I definitely will let you know if I read it again. Your entry definitely was great food for thought!

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

just to add - How interesting is it that the Tony Stark from the Civil War/standard marvel universe scares me waaaaaaaay more than the Tony Stark from the Ultimates/Tougher Marvel Universe?

Also to add, from your comment on my blog, I totally understand the indignation on the DC Universe turning their backs on WW after the Maxwell Lord incident. Since DC wasn't my childhood, I simply thought: "wow, thats poor writing. the others have such history with diana that they wouldn't do that." On the other hand, the post I put up when I saw that they brought back the '70's captain marvell was all about real anger for me.

And, yes, its comic books, but we love these characters, all the while knowing that they're properties of a corporation and, thus, beyond our ability to save.

Amy Reads said...

Hi Ink,
just to add - How interesting is it that the Tony Stark from the Civil War/standard marvel universe scares me waaaaaaaay more than the Tony Stark from the Ultimates/Tougher Marvel Universe?

Me, too! Evil, crazy people I can stomach. People "doing right" for me, for "my own good"? *shudder*

Also to add, from your comment on my blog, I totally understand the indignation on the DC Universe turning their backs on WW after the Maxwell Lord incident. Since DC wasn't my childhood, I simply thought: "wow, thats poor writing. the others have such history with diana that they wouldn't do that." On the other hand, the post I put up when I saw that they brought back the '70's captain marvell was all about real anger for me.

I didn't know about this, and I asked Mr. Reads, who was apparently going to post a rare comment to my blog, but the internet went down or something. What angered you about bringing him back?

And, yes, its comic books, but we love these characters, all the while knowing that they're properties of a corporation and, thus, beyond our ability to save.

You don't have to say "it's comic books" with me! I think that comics are a viable medium in which to discuss important social issues. Nothing reflects what a society as a whole cares about or is concerned about than its popular culture; we can thank My Beloved Victorians for that! I actually get upset when people argue against reading into comic books because "they're just comic books." We love them, no? We read them, we discuss them, these things are important to us. So we should say so :)
Ciao,
Amy