Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The lesser of two dark sides?

My friend and my artistic partner, Wally Conger and Warren Bluhm, are both concerned about the direction our mutual old imaginary friend, Peter Parker, has chosen - or the path Marvel Comics has chosen for him. In a comic book story I haven't seen yet, Peter chooses to take off his mask at a news conference and reveal himself as Spider-Man - apparently willing to stand up and obey the "Superhuman Registration Act," kind of a REAL ID for superpowered good guys - because Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin certainly aren't going to submit.

The W-men both think Mr. Parker is the last one in the world who would roll over for totalitarianism, and I tend to agree, so I picked up a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #531 to see if I could understand the ramping-up-to-toadydom storyline. I get mixed messages. First, during a battle with Titanium Man, who has interrupted a secret meeting of the congressional committee studying the act, Spider-Man pauses to admire in silent awe the Lincoln Memorial, that well-known homage to the empire builder and crusher of free and independent states. But then writer J. Michael Straczynski has Spidey give a fairly eloquent speech to the committee where he says, in part, "The problem is that after registration always comes regulation." And the masked man is slapped down by the committee chair, who orders the speech stricken from the record because Spider-Man won't give his testimony under oath after providing his full name and place of residence.

On the other hand, it seems the Titanium Man's attack was staged by Tony "the original Iron Man" Stark to influence the thinking of the congressional committee. Later Stark tells a suspicious Peter he admired Lincoln for taking a position against the South that he knew would lead to civil war.

"He knew that a house divided against itself cannot stand ... a nation cannot be divided and survive," Stark says. "Under his administration, brother hunted down brother, friend turned against friend. It was terrible. It was bloody. It was necessary. Because at the end, the republic held, and the nation was restored."

So Peter is being portrayed as torn between two totalitarian whack jobs, and he'll have to choose between them. The pro-registration types are portrayed as officious, meddling morons, and the anti-National ID types are portrayed as conniving conspirators willing to let innocents die in a civil war to preserve America as we know it. Given a choice between those two straw men, it looks like Spider-Man is going over to what he and Straczynski apparently feel is the lesser of two dark sides.

It's wrong to have citizens queue up to accept their numbers, and Stark's way of fending off that proposed law is devious and wrong in itself. Hopefully Straczynski and Marvel Comics are taking a third path: Influencing public opinion against the outrage of REAL ID with a parable that shows readers why it's a stupid idea. Sacrificing Spider-Man at the altar of truth may be their way of shocking readers into understanding. Let's just hope.


Anonymous Michael said...

Not being a huge fan or reader of Marvel comics (I have a huge DC habit, instead) I am interested to see where Straczynski takes this, too. Guess I'll have to pick up the Civil War title. Given Straczynski's other efforts and their messages I would say that this will likely turn out as a pro-liberty arc. Look at B5, Rising Stars, etc. Government usually turns out as the obvious evil in his works, I'd be surprised to see him go in any other direction.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Wally Conger said...

Tony Stark's actions as you describe them, B.W., mirror somewhat the actions of Woodrow Wilson and FDR in getting the U.S. involved in the two world wars.

10:21 AM  
Blogger B.W. Richardson said...

B5 is on my "I shoulda gotten to that and I will eventually" list, but what I've read of Straczynski matches your take, Michael, so I'm holding out hope.

I'm working my way through Wilson's administration in "Empire of Debt," Wally, so I understand what you mean. If I was writing this series, I guess I'd make Peter's announcement some kind of a reaction to the fascist maneuverings that Stark seems to be working up - a way to separate from the "bad good guys" - but I don't know how you take back revealing your secret identity to the world when the crisis has passed.

9:59 AM  

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