Sunday, July 02, 2006

Civil Crisis of the Infinite War

So. Comics.

Between the X-Men and Superman movies, and the big events like Infinity Crisis and Civil War, comics have been getting a lot more attention, and some of the articles take the form of compare/contrast of the big two companies - DC and Marvel. The Washington Post declares that DC is the comfortable one, while Marvel is edgey. On the other side, Hypnoray makes an excellent case that Marvel embraces Modernism while DC has gone Postmodern.

For my part, I see the similarities between the companies styles and stories more than the differences. In particular, I'm looking at both DC's recent Brave New World, and Marvel's sprawling Civil War event.

Brave New World first. It is a dollar comic, 80 pages long, which hypes six new series coming up from DC. It is taglined "In the Wake of Infinite Crisis" showing that there is still mileage to be had from its last super-event. I could argue that only three of the series come out of Infinite Crisis, and one in addition found its origin in the earlier Identity Crisis, but, regardless, if you're looking for "try-out book", this is a good thing.

What struck me as odd, however, is that it seems like one of the infinite earths folded back into the world was the mainline Marvel Earth (also called Earth 616). The Martian Manhuner has gotten grimmer and grittier, has pitched his harness for a full deep X-man style battle suit, and is suddenly sporting a Skrull-like set of chin ridges, which may be the ET version of the soul patch. Similarly, the Monitor is back, watching the Earth, but is really a whole race, similar to the Watcher up in the Blue Area of Marvel's Moon. And the new Atom, though involving and having double set of kicks at the end, had Byrne art that gave the scientific gloss on the tale the vibe of Byrne's time on the Fantastic Four.

In general, though, the book didn't push me in any direction for the various releases. I like the idea of the Creeper being a left-wing pundit with his own show (hey, its a fictional universe - they had Lex Luthor as president), and that the Shazam family has re-formulated itself as a "fighting evil D&D creatures" sort of gig (the big red cheese now has a Rogue-like skunk stripe on his forehead). I've been in a cut-back mode in buying comics for a while (the Flash and Aquaman relaunches both left me cold). So it didn't work for me. On the other hand, I've had enough comments from other fans, both live and on the net, to say that this was a good attempt to bring new people in. But part of the attraction is that it is more Marvel in nature.

Over in the Marvel Universe, on the other hand, they are in the grips of their Civil War. A tragedy in a superhero-versus-supervillain fight kills a lot of innocents, and there are demands for registration of all superheroes. The superhero community is split down the middle, with Iron Man being the strong pro-registration guy and Captain America standing for individual freedoms. Spider-Man has of this writing sided with Iron Man, to the point of revealing his identity on national TV. The law passes, Captain America is forced underground, where he is recruiting other anti-registration types.

Now, this in turn feels like the old DC universe, where humanity would turn on Superman with startling regularity. You know, it looks like Supes killed a kitten, and within three panels everyone hates him and throws tomatoes at him and forces him to leave earth, and then its revealed that the kitten was in reality an alien robot, and Superman leaving was part of the plan to make the aliens reveal themselves. Similarly, this seems to be moving with a speed where we have moved from tragedy to legality to open warfare with astounding ease.

What the heck is in this registration act anyway? Originally it starts with the idea that heroes must register with the government (which brings up security issues in a world where laptops are regularly lost). Then it becomes that the heroes have to publicly reveal their identities. THEN it becomes they are obligated to hunt down those who refuse. And THEN the guys doing the hunting suddenly have "Capekilling Armor"? Even Iron Man, on day after the act is passed, uses the phrase "before the dying starts tomorrow." This is an embodiment of the "slippery slope" where you start with a relatively sound idea (Heroes are responsible for their actions) and move quickly into totalitarian enforcement.

And while we're on the subject, where is the wisdom in making Iron Man the poster boy for his side of the conflict? Ignoring the fact that he has had alcholism problems and a tendency for his armor to be controlled by others and/or gain its own sentience, at one point he was replaced by his younger self from an alternate earth and he already has gone rogue to hunt down misuse of his own technology (the "Armor Wars"). Having him spout off "Burn the village in order to save it" lines (along with "I have a list of 137 heroic secret identities") doesn't really advance the idea of presenting a balanced view of the proceedings.

If it really turns out that Marvel is going becoming more like DC, then Tony Stark will turn out to really be Loki in disguise, or the Space Phantom (harking back to early Avengers) or something, and Odin will return and reset everything back to something that resembles its original form. And Iron Man will rescue a kitten from a tree.

I'm not saying it's going to happen, but if it does, you read it here first.

More later,