Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hey Baby, Want to Come to My Place and Read My Entire X-Statix Run?

Not in this sensational issue: Gritty realism

It’s summertime, and that means we get our yearly comics crossover event. In the past I’ve been treated to Age of Apocalypse and… er… yeah, okay, everything since then has been kinda crummy (Onslaught, Operation: Zero Tolerance and House of M). This summer, it’s Civil War.

The basic premise of this one is that, following a massive disaster accidentally caused by superheroes, the government decides that it’s time to register them. Some heroes are for it, and others are against it. Then they fight each other.

Obviously, the registry makes entire sense; you would have to be an idiot to disagree with the notion that superpowered beings need some oversight. And it’s not like the government’s being evil. In exchange for giving up their secret identities (to the government, not the public), heroes get training, benefits and an income. There is nothing wrong with this idea.

Except, this is a comic book. We are willing to overlook some things (like people who can fly, come back from the dead, go into outer space, lift tanks over their head, etc.) because they are enjoyable conventions of the genre. Similarly, the idea that members of the public are willing to embrace anonymous, costumed vigilantes is also one of those conventions nobody really minds. It works, because it’s a fucking comic.

Marvel thinks they’re being very clever by introducing some (ugh) post-9/11 realism into comic books. But it doesn’t work. Superhero comics have never been realistic. They’re not supposed to be. That’s the frigging point. Yes, obviously if you had heroes in real life, you would absolutely have to register them.

Marvel thinks they’re being really clever and cutting-edge, so they have Captain America leading the group opposed to registration. But, why? What’s he opposed to? Heroes giving up their identity to the government (which he himself has done before, anyway) as part of a sensible and fair program of oversight? I mean, Christ, they’re paying the heroes! If I ran around anonymously with a gun taking out criminals, and the government suddenly wanted to reign me in, well… shit, that would make total sense. The way the scenario is laid out in the comic book, there’s really no reason to be opposed to the plan, so Cap and his buddies all come off as idiots.

On the other, pro-registration hand, Marvel is also ruining other heroes, particularly Reed Richards. In an exchange with Spiderman during the crossover, he explains that people who went against McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt in the 50s were wrong because, basically, “the law is the law”. First, that’s an awful, awful statement. Second, Reed Richards used to be cool, man. I own maybe two issues of the Fantastic Four, but I’ve always thought he was one of the better Marvel characters. Now he’s just butt boy for The Man. Third… there was actually a writer out there who thought this was a good idea? Honestly? And nobody on staff disagreed? Come on.

Broadly, the pro-registration heroes also come off as jerks. All of a sudden (the disaster that initiated the registration wasn’t soo bad, compared to similar events in comics previously), they feel the need to sell out their buddies (et tu, She-Hulk?)? Way to go.

Ultimately, it's an issue that should never have been raised. When you start applying real world realism to comics, you "break" the artificial world. Certain things have to be overlooked as we suspend disbelief. In an effort to get all “gritty” and “realistic” in comics, Marvel is totally going against the whole point. Yes, in the real world, registration is an entirely sensible idea. But it’s a comic book. When all is said and done, the problem will show itself in the miniseries’ resolution: once you introduce a concept like this in comics, it has to be implemented. Again, after having the argument laid out, nobody could realistically be opposed to it. So, in the end, heroes in the Marvel universe are either all registered, or everyone is a frigging idiot. Can’t wait.


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