Friday, November 16, 2007


Friday Comic Book Blogging: War -- "Civil" & "Sinestro"

Julian Sanchez notes the increased political messages coming out in comic books. However, he draws exactly the opposite message from Marvel Comics' Civil War "Superhero Registration Act" and its aftermath:

But there is often a strong (if unintended) neoconservative subtext even in stories by left-leaning authors.
The "Civil War" storyline may provide the clearest illustration of this. The Superhero Registration Act is a straightforward analogue of the USA PATRIOT Act; the rhetoric of its opponents could have been cribbed from an ACLU brief. But under scrutiny, their civil libertarian arguments turn out to hold very little water in the fictional context. The "liberty" the act infringes is the right of well-meaning masked vigilantes, many wielding incredible destructive power, to operate unaccountably, outside the law -- a right no sane society recognizes. In one uneasy scene, an anti-registration hero points out that the law would subject heroes to lawsuits filed by those they apprehend. In another, registered hero Wonder Man is forced to wait several whole minutes for approval before barging into a warehouse full of armed spies from Atlantis. Protests about the law's threat to privacy ring a bit hollow coming from heroes accustomed to breaking into buildings, reading minds, or peering through walls without bothering to obtain search warrants. Captain America bristles at the thought of "Washington … telling us who the supervillains are," but his insistence that heroes must be "above" politics amounts to the claim that messy democratic deliberation can only hamper the good guys' efforts to protect America. The putative dissident suddenly sounds suspiciously like Director of National Intelligence [Michael] McConnell defending warrantless spying.

On the other hand, the leader of the "pro-registration" forces is Iron Man, AKA Tony Stark -- former secretary of defense; given that registered heroes MUST become members of the uber-CIA/NSA hybrid SHIELD, this is enforced, targeted, conscription. It's one thing for government to pass a law that either bans the use of "superpowers" (as, say, the use of arms beyond basic handguns or rifles) -- or brings back a nationwide draft. But even in the "real" world, one can understand why Americans would bristle at a draft of just some people. Thus, the "liberty" that the anti-registration forces fight for has legitimate real-world cognates.

Furthermore, in Marvel world, the pro-order/pro-registration forces "win" because Captain America chooses to stop fighting rather than endanger ordinary citizens. His "reward" for this is to be assassinated as he is being marched into court. (The post-murder storyline is still playing out in Captain America's own title -- which is arguably much better since the title character was killed off.) The registration goes forward: Most superheroes are now part of the federal security apparatus. Sanchez suggests that that is better than allowing them to be rogue free agents. Those concerned about the concentration of government power might think differently.

Unfortunately, Sanchez didn't have the time to read (or didn't know about), the current "war" storyline going on in DC Comics. He might have noted how the real-world politics are playing out in similar ways as their Marvel rivals. That involves DC's oldest standing paramilitary organization -- the Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar police force wielding energy manipulating power rings.

The "Sinestro Corps War" involves long-time GL archfoe Sinestro creating an evil version of the GL Corps -- all using yellow power rings. The aim -- to take control of the "multiverse" (that would be Earth and all its parallel universe counterparts). The Green Lantern mythos has always been based on whether courage can overcome fear. Sinestro powers his rings through fear. Why, because, a former Green Lantern himself, Sinestro believes that the universe can better organized than the way his former masters the Guardians of the Universe have managed: "I want that universe controlled with order. And I want all to realize that control comes not out of love, compassion or hope -- but out of fear."

A talented YouTuber creates a great "Sinestro Corps War" trailer:

The Guardians, meanwhile, to take on Sinestro, lift their long-standing ban on Green Lanterns using lethal force -- an obvious parallel to the real-world debate on how much the U.S. should abide by Geneva Convention rules on such topics as torture. The final chapter of the Sinestro War comes out in three weeks, but there are already many hints that the Green Lanterns will undergo as dynamic a moral and organizational transformation in the DC Universe as have the heroes in the Marvel Universe.

If that turns out to be the case, there will be little doubt that the bleaker real-world war-time perspective has become the dominant cultural paradigm in what used to be called the "funny book" world. (As the "Sinestro" arc plays out, DC is moving toward its next epic storyline -- beginning next spring -- "Final Crisis." With any luck, the real world won't have come to an end by then.)

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