Monday, September 25, 2006

Comic Book Politics: Civil War

So, those of you who follow comic books instead of/in addition to local politics are aware of Marvel's Civil War. No, it's not about the slave-holding Inhumans duking it out with the abolitionist Fantastic Four (though that would be a very good idea for a series). Instead, it is about how a super-powered battle took out civilian casualites (blew up a school in Connecticut) and as a result, the Feds decide to register all superheroes, an act which has split the superhuman community. And it is not a bad idea for a discussion about the question of how much responsibility comes with great power.

But as a discussion it has pretty much gone off the rails, with the pro-registration forces (headlined by Iron-Man, Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, and Hank (Ant-Man and everything else) Pym), fighting against the anti-registration forces (Captain America, Luke Cage, and much of the rest of the list). Spider-Man is currently on the Pro-registration side, but is quickly questioning the wisdom of the pro-reg forces as atrocities start to pile up. The rest of the Fantastic Four have already walked out on Mr. Fantastic, leaving him a Fantastic One. The X-Men are officially neutral, but the shadenfreude of seeing all their non-mutant buddies now going through exactly what they went through with Mutant Registration is practically palpable. The Pro-Registration guys keep getting behind boneheaded, horrible decisions (extradimensional prisons, allying with supervilians, blackmail of allies, cloning Thor), and sympathy has swung to the Anti-Reg side, which has Captain America. Others have noted this, but really, how can the side with Captain America leading it be wrong?

Some folk are pitching this as a fight between Right and Left, between Conservative and Liberal, and indeed, between the basic and ongoing discussion of Security versus Freedom. But its not a good fit, primarily because a lot of heroes don't fit in a neat Conservative or Liberal modes. Captain America has fought leftie and rightie fantatics with equal aplomb, while Iron Man has moved from Anti-communist Munitions Maker to Progressive Business Mogul to Conservative Secretary of Defense without surprising anyone. Part of this is because heroes tend to embody ideals as opposed to agendas. Captain America, even when he is on the outs with the government, is still presented as the embodiment of the American people. Tony Stark, regardless of the political fashion he is wearing, is all about technology, and the responsibility that comes with it.

No, Civil War is not about right versus left. It is about brain versus heart. About logic versus emotion. This is Spock and McCoy brawling in four-color uniforms. The Pro-registration/security side is stacked heavily with the smart guys of the Marvel U - Reed, Tony, Hank. These guys cloned Thor, for Kirk's sake! They embody that "we know better" tendency that is seen on both the right and left when those in charge assure you they have thought it all out, and know more than you (which is usually a warning that the wheels are about to come off). On the Anti-registration/freedom side we have characters like Cap, Falcon, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Dagger - figures that did not think their way into power. and, perhaps more importantly, were often the RESULT of someone else's actions than anything they built for themselves.

There are some guys in the middle, embodying both worlds, and you can see them crossing the lines. I mentioned that the rest of the FF (feelers, not thinkers) have already left, and Spider-Man is having doubts (being a combination of heart (and accidental powers) and brains (web-shooters, back when he had them, but more recently the metal spider-suit that Tony gave him). Wolverine is on the Pro-registration side, but is uncovering evidence to show that he may flip as well. On the other hand, Nighthawk started with the rebels, but he's a thinker (a Batman clone, to be exact), and he just bailed for the pro-registration force. Absent from the mix is Hulk/Banner, the personification of the rational and the emotional, who the "thinkers" sent off-planet. Doctor Strange is given a special leave of absence and moved off stage right, a thinker who feels too much. Black Panther, a combination of Cap AND Iron Man, has been sent on Honeymoon (no, really). The only other candidate who embodies both thought and feeling, the Beast, has been mysteriously reduced to a minor role in all this.

And I think that's why it is so hard to show a balanced view of all this. Right and left I think we could manage. Conservative and Liberal can be done and done well (Looking at the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow teamups, conservative Hal Jordon gave as good as he got with liberal Ollie). But this has wandered off the boards entirely, and it is increasingly the smart kids against everyone else. And as time goes by, the justifications for horrible actions get more and more logical, and easier and easier for a smaller and smaller group of decision-makers who are stovepiping their own decisions and suspicious of anyone who voices even the slightest dissent. I think that's the intent of Civil War - not to create a balanced discussion, but to show the dangers when the mind is not coupled to the heart.

But those are just my thoughts on the matter.

More later,