Friday, May 19, 2006

A House Divided...

I have rarely been so torn about a special event in comic books.

Possibly never.

Death of Superman? It was always going to be temporary. Breaking of Batman's back? Again, it couldn't last. Secret Wars only really affected the course of comics by giving us the Symbiote. (For which I will forever curse it). Crisis on Infinite Earths? Neccessary book-keeping, which I maintain to this day. (Well, it wouldn't be neccessary if DC had just allowed characters to age and die, but they didn't.)

Civil War is different.

I like the myth of the superhero. This should be obvious, I do, after all, have a blog dedicated to superheroes. I like the fact that superheroes are those rare beings who have amazing abilities and do right with them. And for some reason, I like the fact that they aren't soldiers, or firemen, or police officers.

Most people are willing to call those individuals heroes. They choose to put themselves in harm's way, for the good of the rest of us. They make this decision, then make a career (or at least a job) out of it, going through training.

Most superheroes didn't make that choice, or at least not as formally. They gained their powers, and then they decided it was better to use them for good. They decided they couldn't sit back and not use their powers, or use them selfishly. This is where superheroes inspire in a different way then the real life heroes around us. We would like to believe that if suddenly blessed with the power to make a difference in the world, we would act like Spiderman, Superman or Iron Man. We might be fooling ourselves, but we would like to believe that.

But most of us aren't willing to give up our lives, our identities or our privacy. That's why we don't become policemen or soldiers. We want to be responsible only to ourselves: our families, our friends, our ideals, our hopes and our dreams. Like most superheroes.

As such, the Registration Act violates my dream. Forcing all superheroes to become soldiers and policemen will only drive many of them to sit on their hands and not act, or to continue to act as heroes, in direct violation of the law.

And yet... if they are breaking the law, do they not become supervillains?

In Civil War 1, Captain America says that he doesn't want Washington to decide who is, or is not, a supervillain. The S.H.I.E.L.D. director responds that she always thought that supervillains were people in costumes who broke the law. Neither side is being entirely truthful here. Both are oversimplifying. Both are right, but both are wrong as well.

For all that I dream of the myth of the superhero, if actually lived in a world where people could fly, or bend steel with their hands, or laugh at bullets, I would want them to be held responsible.

I don't trust our government any more than the next guy. In fact, I am very actively political and trust our government less than most. Still, I think that the system, as a whole, is designed to minimize abuses of power, and to hold people responsible when they violate the public trust. And even when it fails, I believe it to be better than anarchy.

Registration and requiring the heroes to be held responsible is for their protection, and ours. A police officer has a defense if he shoots and kills someone. Superheroes, currently, do not. Registration also keeps the heroes from feeling that they have the right to decide what is right for the rest of us. If they are responsible to us, then we need never worry about suffering the fate of the Squadron Supreme's Earth.

I am torn. I don't want my heroes to be forced to register. I want them to continue on as we have envisioned the superhero for over sixty years. I want the heroes of the DCU to look at their counterparts in Marvel and recognize the heroes from the villains. But the rational part of my brain can only look at superheroes and say "They should register."

I fear for the future of my superheroes. And I hope that Marvel has the courage of their convictions. If this law is proposed, things will change forever, even if it is later repealed. While I do not want the events of Civil War to happen, if they are going to write and publish this story, I hope they let it have the impact it needs to have.

(Oh, and my review of Civil War 1? It was good. Really good. It had intense action sequences, good art, and it made me think.)

Next issue will get a regular slot in the Weekly Comic Round-Up. And I apologize for the time it took me to get this commentary written.

Now, off to the theatre!


Anonymous Matt said...

I loved the Civil War, but I am interested to see if other ramifications of what the proposed Superhero Registration Act will be explored.

We know the ramifications for the traditional, active superheroes. They can either register their identities and become employed with the government or be declared an enemy of the state and hunted down like a criminal.

However what will this act imply for super powered people like Jessica Jones/Cage who have super powers but choose not to be heroes? Will they have to register their identities too and risk being called up if the government requires their services?

If the answer to this ends up being a yes, than Spidey's notion that some heroes will hang up their tights to avoid this matter no longer becomes an option. They will have to pick a side or be stuck with the outcome depending on who wins.

And what will happen to minors with super powers like members of the Young Avengers and the Runaways under this act? Will they be forced to register and pressed into service if the government requires their aid even though they're not 18 yet? Will the government force them to hang up their costumes until they presumably turn 18 and can be legally recruited? Will the government look the other way (like it does with the military now) and allow underage recruits to join?

I'm looking forward to this event and to see whether Marvel uses some of its other books like New Avengers and the Young Avengers/Runaways book to explore these other possible issues.

5:13 PM  

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