Thursday, February 22, 2007

Civil War #7: R.I.P. Marvel

Watching Joe Quesada and Mark Millar destroy the Marvel universe has been no fun at all.

In fact—and pardon my hysteria—it’s even felt a little bit sinister. A bit? Okay: very sinister. Or maybe that should just be cynical.

How does one assess the motives of storytelling this reactionary?

Sure, sure. Cap’s “radicalized underground” (!) is still out there, no doubt itching to carry on the good fight against Tony’s evil (oops, I mean “equally valid”) machinations. And heck, maybe we’re even supposed to see that last panel as irony. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because the problem with this stupendously awful series is bigger than whose side “wins.” Much bigger.

I’m referring to the fact that this series has changed the way we “read” Marvel superheroes, a change that has something to do with the political content of the story, but even more to do with its form.

Wishful thinker that I am, I sometimes delude myself into thinking of superhero comics as a progressive, sub-cultural pocket of the mainstream media that has at least a minimal investment in challenging particularly odious forms of authority and orthodoxy. And there might even be some justification for this semi-delusional way of thinking, despite the obvious rejoinder that comics are just a storytelling medium like any other and are home to stories that implicitly or explicitly endorse any number of political positions. Despite, too, the equally inevitable rejoinder that superheroes are inherently “fascistic” or “authoritarian,” a topic that has been explored (and refuted?) both intelligently and otherwise within the medium itself (Watchmen, The Authority, The Boys, etc.).

The argument against both of these claims—and against the claim for the inherent conservatism of the superhero genre in particular—is basically formal and goes something like this: Superheroes are not real. Superhero comics are therefore fantasies. That is, they present events that break with reality and in so doing suggest ways in which “reality” as we commonly know it is inadequate or dissatisfying. Fantasy is always, in some sense, a critique of the present. If we take the fantasy of the superhero literally, it is easy to see how it could be described as a sinister longing for fascist solutions and transformations. But must we take the fantasy literally? Not necessarily. Like any literary work that depicts events that do not happen in real life, the superhero comic and its superhero fantasy can also be taken metaphorically. And when we read superheroes as metaphors (or better yet, as symbols), their meaning—especially their political meaning—is no longer so simple or so certain. This ambiguity about how to interpret the fact of the fantasy itself (which is a formal feature of the genre) is why the superhero can be either a terrifying ubermensch or a liberating metaphor depending on how you read him (or her)—and is often both of these things simultaneously.

The reason Civil War has felt so flat and depressing from the beginning is that its architects have done everything possible to completely jettison the liberating (and less rigidly fixed)metaphorical reading of the superhero in favor of a dreary literalism that can produce only the most plodding and banal of political allegories. What if there really were superheroes?, Civil War asks earnestly. The inevitable answer follows: they'd have to register with the government! This, I submit, is a silly question that not only serves as a pretext for a rather unsavory civics lesson, but also calls forth a particularly limited form of reading. In other words, it isn’t just that the conclusion of Civil War is morally bankrupt (which it is), but that, like the rest of the series, its overblown political allegory removes the ambiguity of the superhero fantasy itself and thus robs the series of the rich metaphorical resonance that made us all fall in love with superheroes in the first place.

In the new Marvel universe, we no longer have to think about the metaphor of the superhero and what it might mean in political terms or in any other terms for that matter. Joe Quesada and Mark Millar have already done our allegorizing for us.

To the extent that they manage to contain and limit the metaphorical possibilities of Marvel superheroes in Civil War, Quesada and Millar have simply embellished and generalized the work that Chris Claremont did (much more palatably) on mutants as a metaphor for various forms of social outsidership in the 1980s and 90s. In both cases, there is a turn away from the chaotic complexity of symbols (whose meaning is unstable and thus impossible to pin down) towards the greater simplicity of allegory (where individual images or characters stand in for particular ideas). The difference between Claremont’s quite supple mutant allegory and the crude political cartoon of Civil War is that Claremont, whatever his faults as a storyteller (and they are fewer than people commonly suppose), had years to work out an allegory of enormous resonance and complexity whose delicious reversals and Byzantine storylines produced a genuinely thought-provoking narrative that frequently transcended its allegorical premise. (The fact that it was driven by a powerful and credible moral imperative didn’t hurt either.)

By contrast, the allegory of Civil War has about as much complexity as Pilgrim’s Progress. And this is reflected in the utter flatness of the miniseries’s treatment of character (something that always suffers in works of pure allegory). People (not me) accuse Geoff Johns of “action-figure” plotting; Mark Millar’s messy script for Civil War makes him the true owner of this mantle, and the lack of characterization in the series isn’t helped by Steve McNiven’s pretty pencils. Yes, McNiven is a very talented guy, but all you see on any given page of Civil War is McNiven—the characters themselves are just posed, empty figures.

Marvel has always distinguished itself from DC by rooting its stories more firmly in “the real world”—and Civil War is certainly in keeping with this tradition. It’s just too bad that by rooting its superheroes so uncompromisingly in a “real world” allegory it’s made a mockery of its own internal history, turned half its cast into monsters, and reorganized its universe into a place I can no longer recognize as a space of meaningful fantasy.

114 comments:

plok said...

I swear, the title of my blog should have been "fantasy is always, in some sense, a critique of the present", Jim! Very true, and a neat encapsulation of everything wrong with recent Marvel: the only critique I detect in it these days is a critique of the fantasy itself, through the cheapening of its symbols. No! The cheapening of its symbolism. Slightly more serious matter, there; after all, you can't get Miracleman (or even The Ultimates, or Invincible for that matter) out of cheapened symbolism...!

To me, everything that's been done recently has come out of two distinct revisionist approaches to Marvel's particular fantasy world, that (as destabilizing as each is by itself) produce an absolutely crippling effect when yoked together. Just like this: the first one asserts that many (if not all) of Marvel's signature fantasy elements are "dumb", "don't work", "wouldn't happen that way", and in short aren't realistic -- this would be good for some laughs in a stand-up routine, obviously -- while the second one insists that since fantasies aren't real everything in them must be infinitely convertible and infinitely reversible, so it's silly to be concerned about all this plasticity stopping their sense. Thus (as Jeeves might say), Quesada and Millar are guilty of letting "ain't it cool" wait upon "so what", just like the old cat i' the adage...with the upshot being that both impulses are decomposed into a simple "shut up", down at the very bottom of the reading experience. How many times have I seen that piece of comment-spam over the last few months, that says "I don't see what everyone's so uptight about, I'm sure it'll all be retconned away again in a couple of weeks"? What an insult to the fantasizer: Infinite Crisis seemed to me like a (bafflingly intense) plunge into triviality, but Civil War's intent seems to go a step further, beyond triviality and headlong into trivialization. Claiming to offer a greater multiplicity of angles and positions from which to sample the fantasy, it instead delivers the opposite, crunching all the possible sightlines down into one narrow and hypercontrolled interpretation of "world" that only a true Biercean cynic could admire as fantasy.

Hmm, "micromanagement of the reading process", you could almost call it. Well, it must be something! As political allegory, I don't think it's up to much, in fact I can't see how it's up to anything at all; but as a disaster of comics form, well...you're right on the money, Jim, at least as far as I'm concerned. Somebody over on B@N opined that Civil War was the Marvel universe's 9/11, and maybe that person was onto something...do you think it's possible that all anyone sought to achieve with their so-called political talking points was the weird reflection in dreams, of a terrifying and destructive event in life? And nothing more? Simply: a ground zero, by any means necessary?

Perhaps I go a bit too far with that. Then again, maybe not far enough: let's not forget that Paul Jenkins lately used the story of the Japanese Internment to educate readers about what Spider-Man was going through. So maybe the intent was to change the permissions for reading the fantasy, right from the beginning. I believe the political allegory has proved to be largely empty of meaning in Civil War; but then, so is a trap empty of meaning, until it catches something. And maybe it's as simple as that.

Sorry, long comment! But jeez, what a nightmarish scenario they cooked up on purpose for themselves, eh?

Jim Roeg said...

Hi plok,

Thanks for that great comment!

And oh, you are SO right about this: "with the upshot being that both impulses are decomposed into a simple 'shut up,' down at the very bottom of the reading experience." This is the precise reason why I cannot even bear to skim Quesada's hideous Joe Fridays column anymore. Just how many ways are there to tell one's readers to fuck off?

As for the absent or empty political allegory of Civil War, I'm inclined to agree on one level that it is simply incoherent. But here's how I see it as still operating: The premise of the allegory is fantasy (superhero registration); but the execution of the allegory and the actual plot of the story uses this premise as a pretext for an ideological lesson about the value of the (U.S.) government's increased control over its own citizens, its invasion of privacy as such, etc. (no fantasy there, unfortunately). The powerful superheroes are (perversely) used to allegorize disempowered citizens. Sure, it's totally incoherent as allegory, but that incoherence is what makes the allegory especially troubling--a total reshaping of the real situation it's commenting on. In other words: pure ideology. The political allegory of the series, as I understand it, is thus, for all it's incoherence, crude and simple. It is the political equivalent of Marvel's attitude towards their readers that you outline so exactly here: "shut up." The perfect marriage of form and content!

Tom Bondurant said...

Great to have you back, Jim!

Full disclosure: All I read of CW were #1 and the issues of the few Marvel books I get regularly (Captain America, FF, She-Hulk). I skimmed the "unmasking" issue and #7, and read the "remixed" parodies online.

I agree wholeheartedly with what you and plok have said about the nature of Marvel "realism." I keep going back to the old Gene Roddenberry example for not getting too heavy into the tech issues: a policeman doesn't stop to tell you how his pistol works, does he? However, we fans have apparently gotten so enamored with How Things Could Work over the years that we now crave stories about How Things Wouldn't Work. And yes, "so what" has become a common excuse for something not working. It's a very passive-aggressive, borderline contemptuous approach to a work.

The alternative to "so what" can also be a knowing "oh well," as with, say, "Spock's Brain." I imagine Data or Bashir or the Doctor cornering Admiral McCoy at some cocktail party and asking some winking question about "...so, you really got it reattached?" and rather than getting some remodulated Treknomedibabble answer, just having Bones shrug and smile. Oh well, these things happen. You don't have to explain everything, because once you do, you're limited by the explanation.

Indeed, fantasy is fantasy because you can't fully explain it, right? (Is that too obvious a statement?) It's not how it works, it's how we react to it.

I'm sure Marvel sees Civil War as another expression of "with great power must come great responsibility," but there's also something incredibly joyless about the way it seems to have gutted its foundational characters' underpinnings. Reed's felt guilty about the unauthorized rocket flight before, but now I think he might be fundamentally ashamed of himself. Spider-Man used to be Peter Parker's release, but now Spidey and Peter are synonymous. The only way I can see Marvel digging itself out of this hole is for "World War Hulk" to symbolize the kind of giddy chaos Stan and Jack and Steve used to trade in.

...And wouldn't that make "WWH" The Dark Knight Strikes Again, with the Hulk as Batman...?

gorjus said...

I didn't read Civil War at all--my brother Prof. Fury did, but I refused out of general principle. Tom hits it on the head when he bemoans the lack of "giddy chaos." Put more simply: Civil War is not fun. It's not fun to read, it's not fun to talk about, it's not fun to feel.

And comics are about feeling to me. The wondrous escape hatch of Star Wars, and then the Avengers, and then the X-Men filled my life with mythology and wonder. It was a nromal day in the Gorjus household for my parents to buy me a stack of comics and plop them down next to Edith Hamilton's great work on mythology.

My dad told me stories of the comics he read growing up, and my best friend's dad once returned home from his mom's house with a treasure trove of stripped-cover early 60's DCs: that's where I met the Legion, who along with the X-Men, created the largest world of myth I ever had the fortune to know (people on both teams called each other by their "real names"! And you just had to learn them!).

Forgive my digression, but contrast those wonderful and fulfilling myths with the dreariness of Civil War. I am not one against all "realism" in comics--I've often provided legal critiques of comics--but to me, reality can shape and infuse the myth in a wonderful way. It doesn't have to be so terrible.

As for that last page--it reminds me of reading interviews with Watergate conspirators desperately trying to assuage their damaged psyches.

As always, Jim--your thoughts and insights are so welcome.

Fortress Keeper said...

Great to have you back.

Your post and the resulting comments totally underscore my own revulsion of the conclusion, which seemed politcally and morally bankrupt. Now I realize how it also attacks the very underpinnings of super-hero mythology, a medium I have loved since childhood.

Vaklam said...

Excellent post! You have summed up what I feel about Millar's writing. I don't think he cares about the characters he's writing about. He sees them as plot modules. This is obvious in his Authority run. Ellis wrote people I identified with then Millar turned them into caricatures and stereotypes.

We need a word for whatever is a few steps beyond "cynical". Not only was Civil War not fun it wasn't cool, either.

1 Right Opinion said...

I think the story has some great possibilities. However, it was the most anticlimactic ending I have ever read. If there was an ending at all.

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

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks for commenting, guys! It feels nice to be back for me too. Finding a feasible way of balancing work and play remains elusive this year, but hopefully I'll be back to posting on a more regular schedule soon. In the meantime, I really appreciate your taking the time to leave some feedback. Tom: this is so well put: "You don't have to explain everything, because once you do, you're limited by the explanation." At least Morrison understands this--it's basically the cornerstone of his entire method of "compression." And by the way, gorjus, I loved the real names in the Legion too--what an incredible series that was. I'm dying for DC's archive editions to finally catch up to those later years so that I can read those stories again!

Sharif M. said...

"By contrast, the allegory of Civil War has about as much complexity as Pilgrim’s Progress."

ha ha ha ha. So true!

Andrew said...

My inner-optimist made a bet with my inner-cynic, and we want to know: did you buy CW#7?

Matt said...

Jim, I really love your writing.

Great post. I will be the first dark sheep in the comments to admit that I enjoyed Civil War as an event, but your comments offer an intriguing angle on one of its major flaws--the way in which the miniseries itself was a plotless, formless set of lead-ins to more interesting stories being told in other books.

in that sense, you can really see the strings behind the puppets--joe quesada and mark millar pulling and twisting the marvel universe into what they want it to be, with furtive spurts of actual story sneaking out in some of the tie-in books.

i've been saying from the start that what excited me about Civil War is that it seemed to be the first character-driven crossover--instead of imposing a random plot upon a universe and moving the pieces around inside of it, the events were driven by a fundamental choice each character had to face on his/her own terms--to register, or not?

now I realize that idyllic dream was more a fantasy of Civil War's potential, rather than a central aspect of its execution. to the extent that writers on individual books understood that opportunity, it worked; those that didn't just churned out more of the same.

Jim Roeg said...

Andrew - tell your inner optimist to pay up. And before you say it: I know, I know. I'm part of the problem...

Thanks, matt. And thanks for the comment. I know where you're coming from with the idea that CW "seemed to be the first character-driven crossover"--I've been having that debate with a friend of mine almost since it began. I sometimes feel tempted to agree, but, as you say, even on these terms, it faltered in the execution. Aside from my more general issues with the series, my quibble with this argument in particular is that I never entirely bought the central "character-driven" idea: that Spider-Man would side with Tony. To me, Spidey has always been the antithesis of the establishment line that Tony adopts. My friend countered that Peter has issues with fathers (or uncles) and that there is a certain logic to having Peter initially be swayed by Tony's position. I can see that (and actually find it a really interesting idea), and if I was more well-disposed towards the whole premise of the series, I would likely have been willing to suspend my disbelief. But, well, you know...

I'm sure you're right, though, that individual writers could work wonders with a concept like this. I'll probably even check a few of the titles out...once I stop sulking.

Anonymous said...

"an ideological lesson about the value of the (U.S.) government's increased control over its own citizens, its invasion of privacy as such, etc. (no fantasy there, unfortunately). The powerful superheroes are (perversely) used to allegorize disempowered citizens. Sure, it's totally incoherent as allegory, but that incoherence is what makes the allegory especially troubling--a total reshaping of the real situation it's commenting on."

Or as Millar himself states - "MM: What's funny when you read the main book is that it's pretty much Tony's side that gets the better rep all the way through. A lot of the tie-ins were interesting because the other writers chose to go against registration, but I don't believe for a second people would feel that way in the real world. Would you really want these guys to be unlicensed? Vigilantes don't have super-powers and they're outlawed. Superheroes would be a nightmare. I'd be leading the march to Washington DC for the Sentinels to crush the bastards because I don't like seeing buildings come down and, as we all know, this happens at least once an issue these days. So I was backing Tony all the way. What the other guys did in the tie-in books demonized them a little, but I think that made it interesting as Tony's victory at the end was much more of a curveball."

Isn't it a case of empowered citizens over the supers that he feels he is addressing?

Jim Roeg said...

anon - I want to apologize in advance because your comment has prompted a much longer and more involved answer than I had intended to give originally. I'm not just responding to the point you raise, but working out some thoughts that have sprung from discussions I've had with other people (live and virtual) on this topic for the past week or so. Thanks for posting the comment, and I hope that I haven't misconstrued its intention.

Regarding the idea that "[it is] a case of empowered citizens over the supers that [Millar] feels he is addressing": sure. And on those terms, I suppose that one could make a defense of the story as an interesting story that follows through on a basic "what-if" premise: "what if superheroes really existed?"

I have two objections to this: the first is aesthetic and personal, so it is largely irrelevant to your point and you may wish to skip the next two paragraphs in which I digress about this. The second has to do with a more fundamental way in which I disagree with the the idea that we can ever adequately understand a superhero comic's meaning merely by, for lack of a better phrase, taking its meaning on its own terms. In this case, "its own terms" would be Millar's idea (or Whedon's or whoever's) that this is REALLY a story about empowering citizens over superheroes. I would argue that the meaning of this story REALLY REALLY can't be limited to its own "auto-interpretation"--and this is only partly because the story so transparently courts a reading as an (albeit poorly constructed) political allegory (for U.S. homeland security, or perhaps just for some vaguely fascist longings that, let's face it, we all harbour on some level, but which are perhaps best left unindulged, and certainly best left uncelebrated). But more on that below...

So, my basic aesthetic objection is simply that literalist "what if superheroes were real" stories don't really float my boat--especially as the premise for an entire line of mainstream superhero comics. I like the idea well enough as something to explore in a pocket-universe where the (hair-raising) implications of "real superheroes" can be relatively contained and not spoil my starry-eyed fun; as the premise for a quasi-reboot of the Marvel universe, I find it boring because it isn't the reason I read superhero comics. To me, this kind of story squeezes out everything that is fun and meaningful about superhero fantasy. I guess you could say that I prefer to read stories that largely avoid the issue of how we would react to the premise of real superheroes (for reasons that I've elaborated ad nauseum on ye blogge here).

But that's just me. And obviously there are many people who totally dig the literalism of this sort of "what-if" story (unless, like me, they were just buying Civil War out of a morbid sense of curiosity--which I wish were true, but suspect otherwise).

To get to the main issue your comment raises, though: I have trouble buying the defense of CW on the grounds that Millar is really telling a story about empowering human beings over superheroes because, in my view, no work of fantasy (i.e. no work that depicts things that do not really exist in our reality--such as superheroes) ever means only what it says it means, as if it is being produced and read in a vacuum--as if it isn't necessarily produced at a specific time (our moment in history) in a specific place (the United States). As if popular culture did not always and necessarily reflect and reflect upon the time and place in which it was produced. This is especially true of a comic like CW which unsubtley invites comparisons to contemporary US politics over and over again (heck, Millar even brags about the fact that he "reads newspapers" in the newsarama interview). Indeed, Millar's views on this political allegory seem to be as plain as day in all of the newsarama interviews where he talks about how he'd love to "hang-out" with Tony more than any other Marvel hero. And when he says, in the snippet you quote, that "I'd be leading the march to Washington DC for the Sentinels to crush the bastards because I don't like seeing buildings come down and, as we all know, this happens at least once an issue these days. So I was backing Tony all the way. What the other guys did in the tie-in books demonized them a little, but I think that made it interesting as Tony's victory at the end was much more of a curveball" (my emphasis)

"Demonized them a little"? Millar is being coy, if not disingenuous here. He keeps bringing the comments back around to the issue of telling a good story, surprising the fans, giving us the superhero equivalent of "porn," etc. But the real-world referents to which he is alluding in these comments are obvious: in the plot of CW, unregistered Marvel superheroes are terrorists (not "vigilantes"), and the buildings that come down and bring Captain America's principled revolt to a grinding halt are the Twin Towers (would the trope of "buildings coming down" have been conceivable as the climax to a major Marvel crossover event prior to 9-11? I don't think so). The series's depiction of Tony's team of government lapdogs is the most flagrant and reactionary glorification of a state's power over its citizens that I have ever seen in a mainstream comic book. The "citizens" who step in at the end to settle the fight are merely ideological functionaries: in dramatic or narrative terms they are nobodies. As readers we care about Cap and Iron Man, not the man in the street. Their role in the story is simply to put the stamp of approval on Tony's position. That's about as blatant as pop culture ideology gets. I simply cannot make sense of the narrative in any other terms.

None of the evasions and condescendingly jockular attempts to deflect the political interpretation of CW in Millar's current interview at newsarama ("That was honestly my big intention with the book. Superheroes fighting. Does it get more lowbrow than that?") persuade me that it would be worth making the attempt.

Jim Roeg said...

And while I think of it, X-Axis guru Paul O'Brien has an excellent review of why the series stumbles on purely narrative grounds too.

Evan Waters said...

I think there may be a more fundamental miscalculation here.

We, the target audience for this big event book, like superheroes. We are fans of the genre, otherwise we wouldn't be reading. We like the conventions of the genre, the tights, the weird powers, and the fact that superheroes operate, for the most part, outside the law. They're not quite vigilantes in the way that we think of them, but the whole "working above the law to catch criminals who are above the law" thing has been a key element of the masked crimefighter genre before supers were even invented.

So, no matter how rationally you can think "well, yes, if superheroes actually existed, I'd want them to be answerable to the public and to an authority capable of preventing them from abusing their power", and how logically that argument can be presented in a piece of fiction, on an emotional level we will sympathize with the superheroes who try to preserve their adventurous, freewheeling lifestyles.

So, even if Millar honestly does make a logical argument for the Pro-Reg side, the emotional vibe is with the Anti-Regs, and when we're talking about art and entertainment, the gut is gonna trump the brain.

There's no emotional release in the ending- maybe there is for those whose sympathies always lay with the Pro-Reg forces, but even then it's too pat and neat to really satsify. "So, the other side just kinda gave up..."

Anonymous said...

"In this case, "its own terms" would be Millar's idea (or Whedon's or whoever's) that this is REALLY a story about empowering citizens over superheroes. I would argue that the meaning of this story REALLY REALLY can't be limited to its own "auto-interpretation"--and this is only partly because the story so transparently courts a reading..."

Oh I agree that can't be the final word on the meaning of a work. I brought it up as a starting point really hoping that you would bring to bear more rationale to your interpretation to flesh out the divergence which I see as derived from the second, perhaps more personal point, which I have found that share as well toward a " basic aesthetic objection is simply that literalist "what if superheroes were real" stories" - but fundamentally disagree with where you take that to be wrongheaded as the "premise for an entire line of mainstream superhero comics."

Just the reverse really for me is the offside one-off as thought experiment is much more aesthetic blind alley by its nature of being hampered by that literalism it seems we both despise to an extent. While true that everybody has a different idea of starry-eyed fun as much as they have attention spans then perhaps wouldn't the necessary "leakage" to sustain an ongoing universe suggest something else.

Suggesting what you point out as my main point, the disconnect between the construct and the ideology - Heartily, I agree (again, this is sounding so suck-up) that Millar is being coy, if not disingenuous here about his Set-Up. Rather I see no "flagrant and reactionary glorification of a state's power" or much of any role of its citizens that step up at the end as ideological functionaries toward saying see you thought it was ALL jackboots and power but rather it is about idiots and brute democracy as an out. One just has to look at how SHIELD is depicted throughout the series to have an index of what the power relations are. I seem to remember that the genesis of this event was an aborted SHIELD vs. the Heroes story and it shows through the cracks. That is part of what I mean by leakage of ideological content as wishes for clarity of the real. What many blunt allegory does is attempt to clarify what you should be thinking about ideas and institutions. Here we see not the sleek almost cool Guardsmen of yore or even the Mandroids in the SHIELD ranks of capekiller (wtf?) dogs of war leaping out of the gate to beat down america, excuse me, Capt. America. We will tell you these are your surrogates but what you see is some thing else. How classic is that? Are you going with what you see with your eyes or believe what I tell you.

Contra to what Evan Waters said... I think they are fully aware of the sympathies of the readership so that to hammer home this distrust theme. SHIELD after all is an even better stand-in for Government as an supra-institution beholden to whom exactly? Thus the empowerment issue is the question not the statement in Civil War which we are expected by understanding of the genre to answer - only your own rogue conscience and only that can be your guide as "the people" will act selfishly too.

Thanks for your extensive reply to a level I have come to expect for this blog.

Uli said...

First, let me just say I have really enjoyed all the posts, responses and analysis. You have articulated my unease with CW better than I ever could - but let me throw my two cents in anyway.

I was more or less enjoying CW up to the midpoint and the death of Bill Foster. At that point I felt Millar had made a mistake he couldn't back away from - massively overplaying Tony, Reed, Pym and the other pro-reg heroes as bad guys, as you've pointed out. From that moment on, for me the only satisfying conclusion would have been an anti-reg victory. I expected we might see public opinion turn against registration and perhaps some compromise by both Tony and Steve to fix a bad law and salvage their relationship.

So, I suppose that puts me in the camp that expected no long-lasting change to come of all this.

I think a lot of my disappointment with CW stems from the fact that I'm a lawyer. Not that we were ever presented with the text of the Reg Act, but assuming the U.S. Constitution in the MU is the same as the real world, you have a law that is blatantly unconstitutional - as has been pointed out, a law that essentially press-gangs heroes into becoming agents of SHIELD with no opt-out provision, allows for arrest and indefinite detention without trial in a Negative Zone Gitmo or Abu Ghraib where former heroes are tortured and killed. Of course I'm going to side with Cap on this one - even if someone should have pulled him aside and said leading an underground resistance movement is unlikely to get the law changed.

Reed's rationale - explained in ASM, I think - that the law is the law and heroes cannot choose which laws to obey makes him look spineless. Tony, on the other hand, comes across as a complete bastard. He's for the Reg Act because he thinks the alternative will be even worse for the meta community - okay, fine, but why employ methods that make you look like Dr. Doom's protege?

I won't accuse him of masterminding the whole Stamford incident. If that were the case, he'd be guilty of conspiracy to commit mass murder. Also, he didn't write the Reg Act, so I don't think you can blame him for its provisions.

Let's accept that Tony foresaw some kind of Registration Act as inevitable and he wanted to manipulate events so that he would be the person to protect everyone's identities as the new head of SHIELD.

Safety spoilers on!

1. In ASM, he secretly paid Titanium Man to attack him and Pete in Washington, thereby increasing public and political demand for the Act.

2. He convinces Peter to give up his identity in public, thereby endangering May and Mary Jane - despite his suppoesed end goal of becoming the Director of SHIELD so he can protect everyone's identities. What's more, the Reg Act doesn't require public disclosure of secret identities, so Tony engineered this for pure political gain.

3. His Thor clone went nuts and killed Bill Foster. In my book, this would amount to manslaughter or negligent homicide, even though Bill was engaged in unlawful activity. This is the point where I thought the pro-reg forces had been irrevocably cast as the villains.

4. He sends killers (the new Thunderbolts) after Peter. I don't care what you say about giving villains a chance at redemption - I'm stunned Tony would have anything to do with Norman Osborne.

5. In Front Line, it is revealed that he used his nanotech to force Osborne to kill an Atlantean - risking war with Atlantis in order to gain support for greater control of the Thunderbolts.

6. In the recent She-Hulk, Tony (still in the shadows) sends SHIELD to Canada to kidnap the Wendigo for some secret project, even though Wolverine, Talisman and members of the local aborginal community are trying to help the Wendigo.

Every time I look at a character now, its through the lens of whether they were pro- or anti-reg. Half the characters are broken now, turned into fascists or apologists for a vile piece of legislation that essentially turns every "legit" hero into a slave of the government. Sure, the Reg Act could be repealed through legal or political means(get cracking Murdock!) - but how can Steve and Tony ever be friends again without complete moral capitulation on Steve's part? It makes me want to reach into the page and strangle Tony.

I read a lot of comics, I love superhero comics - but I don't think I can read anything with Tony in it anymore. I was going to get The Initiative and Mighty Avengers but not now. I'll stick with Cap, Spidey, New Avengers and the X-Men but any title featuring pro-reg heroes is getting dropped. Congrats Marvel!

Anyway, sorry if this rambling post has dragged down the level of discussion. You summed it up best with your closing comment - there's just no place for meaningful fantasy in this version of the MU.

Jon H said...

" My friend countered that Peter has issues with fathers (or uncles) and that there is a certain logic to having Peter initially be swayed by Tony's position."

a) I don't think Tony fits that mold. He's not old enough. I don't think Tony would be very good at that kind of paternalism, being a playboy. He'd be better at being a frat brother for Peter.

Reed would be a much better candidate, since he *is* a father and husband. He just might not have the social skills for it.

Cap would be better than either, I think, due to his stature, and due to his history with younger men. (Get your mind out of the gutter, you know what I mean.)

b) Maybe I'm not up on the current state of Spiderman backstory retconning, but I'd think Norman Osborne would have given Peter a lifelong allergy to reasonable-talking scientific genius father figures who wear costumes and fly around. No?

In any case, I have a hard time imagining Peter getting suckered like that at this point, after all the crap in The Other and everything else that has happened to him. It's silly to think that everything else he's lived through has left no marks on his psyche or changed him, and that he hasn't matured since the radioactive spider bit him.

Jon H said...

Oh. Another thing.

Marvel seems to be writing with the idea that the only thing 'super' about superheroes are their powers and abilities.

Maybe this is from being so focused on mutants, wolverine, and punisher for so long.

But historically, for all their emotional angst at being heroes, they've also been super-HEROES. ie, their behavior and judgement and character are also well above average, if not superhuman.

After all, if their character (at least in heroing) wasn't near-flawless, they'd be villains, right?

Millar is writing their characters as if this is not the case, that they are if anything of *lower* character than the average person, and especially don't measure up to real-world 'first responders'.

Which is just ridiculous, given what we know about real-world malfeasance and abuse among law enforcement and government in general. Real cops shoot puppies and use grenades during SWAT raids to serve warrants for non-violent offenders. Superheroes don't do that (except maybe when Ennis is writing.)

If superheroes were real, and had their long public records of good character and judgement I suspect Millar's wrong, and the public would side with the heroes. Even in the event of something like Nitro blowing up Stamford. Much like the mainstream public tends to side with the police in a police abuse or accidental death case, or even something like when Philadelphia police bombed MOVE and burned down a city block of houses.

And, in context, it's not like that kind of destruction is anything new in the Marvel universe.

You want a real-world equivalent of Nitro in Stamford? Try Union Carbide's plant gassing Bhopal. The US hasn't exactly bent over backward to help Bhopal receive justice, let alone put a single Union Carbide executive in a costume with spikes on the inside.

Millar is just incoherent on this. It's probably a feature of being a Scotsman ill-informed about what the US is actually like, inflating that erroneous conception into an authoritarian monstrosity that he likes and writing a story based on it.

Given Millar and Quesada's Marvel Universe, I can only assume that, if a man with Hitler's brain got himself elected and started passing Nuremberg Laws, they would have Captain America go along with it, and quite possibly herd people into the boxcars with his shield. It's the people's WILL! Fighting wouldn't accomplish anything! The law is the law!

Anonymous said...

But historically, for all their emotional angst at being heroes, they've also been super-HEROES. ie, their behavior and judgement and character are also well above average, if not superhuman

that until Spider-man came along and this guy had Spider-sense?

Anonymous said...

Starting in the 90's and continuing forward to present day, Marvel and DC have thoroughly succeeded in stripping the superhero comic of any hope, any fun, and any sense of nobility or heroism. All that is left is a depressing, nihilistic shell of shock value and cheapening of our icons.

In just the past day alone, I've been able to read about the murder of Captain America by yet another sniper; the Punisher (the new Scourge perhaps?) murdering numerous classic villains with poison; a crocodile man killing Black Marvel junior in a spray of blood and gore; Red Tornado's arm getting torn off with a clearly visible bone sticking out of the bloody stump; and Jarvis, the faithful Avengers butler, referring to Tigra as a bitch (well it was censored but its pretty clear that whatever he is calling her isn't pleasant). Fun loving Speedball is now a morbid freak who has to wear a suit that impales him with spikes so he can inflict pain on himself to use his powers. Spider-Man wasn't the product of a simple radioactive spider-bite at all, he is a magical "totem spider" who has to have his eyeballs eaten on panel.

This is becoming the new status quo. This is what passes for "adult entertainment" in comics today. Is it any wonder that sales are down?

The ending of Civil War looked like it was supposed to be uplifting or ironic. But to me it was just chilling. Welcome to the new Facist States of America. I thought I was watching one of those parody commercials from Starship Troopers.

The Watchmen was great reading as a series. It doesn't mean I want all my comics (or even a significant portion of my comics) to be like the Watchmen. I especially don't want to read about the Marvel universe becoming the Watchmen universe.

In 25 years I doubt comics will exist as a viable medium any more.

They just aren't any fun any more. What once highlighted the most noble aspects of what a person can be now instead highlights all of our worst and most petty qualities.

Alex said...

I agree Civil War REALLY fucked up Marvel. Completely. Not only did it ruin poor Iron Man and make many a hero into criminals(did I mention that it also potrayed all of its characters, one way or another, as out of character?)but it also did a lot of things that an acutal writer and maker of comics would never do. Furthermore, Tigra is my favorite comic character(so sexy and adorable)and orginally, she was both awesome and very loyal to her friends and a good, trustworthy lady. And, after so long being absent, WHAT does that motherfucker Mark Millar do to the poor dear? He makes her a fucking double agent, which is out of character and quite likely a lame- ass attempt by Mark Millar to try and justify the years of cruelty(at the hands of such writers as Jim Shooter)she's endured. Plus, our favorite Captain gets arrested (and killed later on)the pro reg and anti reg are troubled and now are never the same, and cool villains now function as heroes under force. Mark Millar, I HATE YOU!!! In fact, fellow Civil War haters, picture this of me doing the following to the benited asshole who destroyed Marvel forever.

Alex: Hello, Mark.

Mark Millar: Hello, young man. Is there something you need?

Alex: Yes...I want to share with you that I am very, very, very unhappy indeed. You ruined Marvel & all its heroes and you made a spy out of the long time loyal and lovable Tigra, who by the way is my favorite. AND you pissed people off, upheaved what we've known for so long, and I'm betting would shamelessly do it again if you had the chance.

Mark Millar: Well, I...um...it just that I...err..heh...heh...

Alex: Your names begin with "M" So does the word "Molecules" and "Malicious" And I am going to maliciously rearrange your molecules, Mark Millar, for making a mole out of my beloved Tigra and for messing up Marvel and much of its men and women and marring the matter of the comic! Bet you thought I wasn't gonna run outta "M's," eh, mud?

Mark Millar: Please! I beg of you, show me mercy! Granted, I did all that! Granted, I destroyed a whole series! Granted, it was bad of me! But please...don't...

Alex: Shut the fuck up and get your just desserts, motherfucker!
(alex beats mark millar to a bloody pulp and we hear Nelson Muntz let loose a "HA HA!!!" in the midst of it)

Alex:(after Mark Millar is garbage and blood and bones)Hopefully, the likes of Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Tigra, Wasp, She-Hulk, Wonder Man and more will be turned back to their old selves, and Cap will be brought back and the other heroes made non criminals again.

Alex said...

oh, and anonymous? Like you, I hated how so many bad things went on in comics, especially Cap being killed and Jarvis calling Tigra a bitch. You should know that it was planned for Cap, knowing the Red Skull was unwatched, and the Tigra bitch thing wasn't JARVIS talking, it was BENDIS talking. As if we needed another reason to hate Bendis and for that matter, to hate
Millar for setting up Cap's death with Civil War and how it happened.
As if those two weren't already death deserving enough, with all the shit they did(killing Hawkeye, ruining anyone pro-reg, making a bad bitch outta Wanda Maximoff, and so on, there's plenty more) Now, with all this said, in addition to the fact Marvel's going to go out of business forever
by 2009 at latest, please allow me to show you all my "to do" list, in thanks to how Millar and Quesada
destroyed so much comic fun for all of us, and in thanks to how Bendis made it even worse. Things to do...

Buy as much Marvel as I can before it all goes out of business forever

Kill Millar

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Pray that something equally fun can replace the destroyed MU

Kill Bendis

Kill Bendis

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Kill Millar

Kill Quesada

Kill Bendis

Kill Millar

Kill Millar

Kill Quesada

Kill Quesada

Kill Bendis

Tell people who liked Civil War(my surprise is there are many)that they all have a serious mental problem

Kill Bendis

Kill Quesada

Kill Millar

Kill Millar

Kill Millar

Kill Bendis

Kill Quesada

Kill Bendis

Kill Millar

Sensing a trend here? I thought so. And after the way Marvel broke their promise to give both pro-reg and anti reg sides equal treatment,
you'd expect nothing less from any fan, including me, would you now???

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