Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Comic Book Blogging: A Different Outing

So, in the new company-wide storyline, Civil War, superheroes in the Marvel Universe are required to comply to the Superhero Registration Act. That means registering with the government as "living weapons of mass destruction" -- and revealing their identities. Superheroes line up on either side of the "freedom" vs. "responsibility" equation and decide whether to unmask or not.

The biggest name to do so --
Peter "Spider-Man" Parker who outs himself in Civil War #2 which hit the stands yesterday.

This is an interesting theme and one that DC has played around with in the past -- though to nowhere near this level. In DC history, the Justice Society of America disbanded in the 1950s rather than go along with a McCarthy-era demand that they reveal their identities.

Secondly, Marvel has often used the mutant X-Men as an allegory for civil rights or sub-rosa gay themes; this storyline is really a masterstroke to explore how a modern-day government, dealing with security and WMD issues would react to these superhuman beings in their midst (though Peter Parker's line, "I'm proud of who I am, and I'm here right now to prove it," could also work for a different sort of
"outing" too).

That theme has been touched upon in parallel universe/imaginary/Elseworlds type of stories like Watchmen, X-Men Days of Future Past, The Golden Age, Kingdom Come, Squadron Supreme and even Marvel's "Ultimates" version of The Avengers. But this is the first time that that this has been incorporated into the storyline of the "real" Marvel Universe. Of course, this is the first time that America and its society have become enveloped in a war on terror. The modern Marvel Comics were created in the shadow of the Cold War and the Atomic Age. Most of the early '60s heroes all had radiation in their background (including Spider-Man). In addition, the Fantastic Four rocketed into space trying to match up with the Soviets; Tony Stark's company was firmly entrenched in the military-industrial complex and was deeply involved in the Vietnam War. Bruce Banner became The Hulk because of the testing of a gamma-ray bomb. And so forth.

In a contemporary culture where friends and colleagues argue over the Patriot Act and the limits of NSA wiretapping, the Superhero Registration Act is an ideal taking Marvel back to its real-world roots.

Two other thoughts pop into the mind.

1)Is unmasking Spider-Man a way to make the comic book a bit closer to the movie world where -- after SM2 -- it seems like everyone knew who Spidey was (Norman and Harry Osborne, Otto Octavius, Mary Jane, anyone who was on that runaway train)?

2) This would have made a bigger impact if so many Marvel superheroes hadn't already revealed who they were by now (or permanently given up their other identities): Thor abandoned his Don Blake identity long ago; Tony Stark is publically known as Iron Man (or was, at one point); Daredevil was outed several years ago (and took over from uber-crimelord The Kingpin).

Still, this looks to be an interesting major development to follow over the next several months.

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