Old Stories And Missed Opportunities

Civil War

Civil War (Photo credit: borkweb)

A few years back Marvel Comics created quite possibly the best crossover event of their entire run: Civil War. The premise was fairly simple. A disaster strikes in a suburban town as some of the setting’s less experienced heroes try to tackle dangerous supervillains, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of children. The public, tired of battles between superpowers pushes for the heroes to be registered. Some of the heroes come on board, some do not. If for no other reason that it shows just how complex any big issue is, and that public policy is not necessarily about “good guys” and “bad guys” it is one of the better stories in all serialized storytelling (TV, comics, etc) of the last fifty years. Also, I did not hate the fact that it took the death of lily-white, suburban kids to get people motivated after decades of city neighborhoods being torn up in this fictional universe. That is pretty much how things would go down if there really were super heroes.
There are a couple of areas that the story drops the ball on though. I don’t want to make to big a deal out of this. First and foremost comic books are meant to entertain, and this story did so, very well. Far better, in fact, than Marvel comics had the half decade before and the slightly longer time since. Good, graphic storytelling has suffered since the mid nineties, especially in what was once called The House of Ideas, so it was wonderful to see such an epic tale pulled off for the entirety of a year crossing over most of Marvel’s titles at the time. Still, this little play intended to teach lessons, and while it did a good job on the big issue, it failed in a couple of related issues.
The first one isn’t really a failure, after all, I mentioned it positively in the first paragraph. We need only look at our different reactions to ongoing suffering in our urban neighborhoods and the occasional tragedy in our suburbs. I don’t mean to belittle the awful events at Newtown. No one should have to go through what these parents did, but our media, and therefore our society, seems to only care when it is worthy victims. Little brown children die all the time, and it seldom makes the news. Both major comic book companies have a dearth of African-American heroes. They have no first tier black characters (though DC’s John Stewart comes close.) Marvel, however, does have several second tier characters, Luke Cage, Falcon, Photon, Misty Knight, and a few others, that you’d think would have made more than the thinly veiled references at the beginning of the event. Hell, why didn’t Cap, a champion of ALL people mention it? Again, at least they gave that little nod, but I would have liked to have seen more.
Of greater interest to me though is the nature of the resistance. Not once, in the entire series, did any character on the side opposing registration mention non-violent civil disobedience. Hey, I get it, these are comic books and they should be action packed, but again there were at least a few characters on the resistance side of things that would have at least mentioned it. Iron Fist is a warrior, but he is also a man of peace. Why didn’t Black Panther, who stayed out of it until the end but was friends to both sides not mention this to Cap? I’m not saying they should have run with the idea, it would have made a short series, but at least giving a shout out to it would have made for a more complete story and done our culture as a whole a service.
I understand that these are just comics, and I also understand that we have a very aggressive society that frankly looks down at nonviolent resolution to our problems. Just look at the differing coverage of the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Sure a few people on the left were shocked to see people bring firearms to a protest, but there seemed to be animus both from the left and right toward those “kids” squatting in NYC letting themselves get beat up by the cops. Later, when some Occupiers were being more active, it was disavowed and put down, but there seemed to be a satisfaction, again on all sides, that went beyond “see? We knew those kids were trouble.” Aggression, to American eyes, is the only action worth noting, and the only way to get things done.
Well, I don’t buy that. We’ve seen non-violent action work here and abroad. We saw the greatest gains in Civil Rights in this country won by non-violent action. We saw the occupied people of India shame the world’s mightiest empire into submission using non-violent action. Don’t get me wrong, I know those issues were more complex, and that King, Gandhi, and their friends did not get their work done without other influences: a lack of resources by Britain, the worry of greater civil unrest here. Non-violent action is action however, and it appeals to the best of us. It shows we really are evolved and can suppress our baser instincts to work for a better world. Maybe sometimes violence is the answer, but it’s not always and it is worth discussing that. The writers and editors at Marvel had a chance to give that idea a passing reference in which it would have been relevant. I still love that story, though I really wish they had taken that chance and run, at least a short distance, with it.

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