Following up J’s multifaceted treatise on the titular Marvel Comics crossover event is no easy task. For one thing, he did such a good job with it, there’s always the danger of falling short of the bar set. Second, he covered so much ground its daunting to try to find something worth saying about it that he hasn’t said. Third, and perhaps most pressing, is that this site is quickly becoming Marvel Civil War-centric. That being said, I will attempt to do things a little differently, by using my meditations on the event as a framework for other, more general subjects, following each Civil War post with another that, for variety’s sake will focus on another comic. To further distinguish my take on things, I’ll reveal my side at the onset. I’m Team Cap all the way, but not for the reasons one might expect.
Having read only the core issues and roughly twenty of the other tie in’s, I can’t say for sure that my opinion on the matter is unshakable. There are nearly eighty more opportunities for the writers to change my mind, but my opinion has been shaped by years of contemplation on centuries of encroaching federal authority and its unlikely that the remaining 1440ish pages of sparse dialogue will outweigh the 4000+ pages of dense, mind numbing histories and primary sources I’ve suffered through to reach my current conclusion on government. Like J, my stance is the result of considerable soul searching, but most of it took place before ever reading the comic. That’s not to say that I made a hasty, uninformed judgement. As a matter of fact my current position is 10 years in the making and nearly 180 degrees out of phase with my original position.
Ironically, I find myself after a decade of intermittent consideration of the subject, agreeing with
someone with whom I stringently disagreed when the series first debuted. This was during the squandered twenties portion of my origin story, wherein I found myself living in a house with, among other roommates, an avid comic fan. Being the listless layabout that I was at the time, I was always open to pleasant diversions. So whenever my roommate would entice me to watch Cartoon Network’s Justice League, I would dutifully oblige. These hours spent watching episodes pirated from Kazaa sparked my interest in comic book adaptations. Truth be told, my interest in actual comics wouldn’t come until doing research for this site, due mostly to being burned on the one actual comic I purchased in my youth.
.) When he, as part of my introduction to the genre, brought up the then current Civil War comic event we were instantly at odds.
You see I was, at the time, a Baby Conservative. I fancied myself a proponent of small government, but in truth was more an adherent to the Republican party than a consistent political philosophy. I was rather selective about when to apply my small government principles, namely when told to do so by the GOP. So naturally I turned a blind eye at the broadening of federal authority under the Bush administration and the Patriot Act. Much to my eternal shame, I must say that I still don’t know entirely what is in the Patriot Act, but I know enough to say that, while I may not have had the knee jerk reaction of some opponents of President Bush at the time, I now recognize that any empowerment of the federal government results in a proportionate loss of freedom of the people. All that is to say that my reaction at the time was a knee jerk reaction of sorts itself. Rather than truly consider the merits of the argument, or say read the actual comic, I chose to defend against what I saw as a thinly veiled assault on my party and the sitting President.
I argued that, while it was regrettable to have to resort to such, registration made sense. If people had to register to drive or to own a gun, a privilege and a right that could be misused for destructive purposes, then they most certainly should have to register if they themselves could blow up a building or half a city. My roommate countered that registration of individuals simply for being who they were was a slippery slope and that the last time Cap saw something like that it didn’t turn out well. I retorted that no one was being rounded up wholesale or targeted for extermination in this scenario and that if super powers were real we would be forced to reevaluate some fundamentals of government. And we pretty much left it at that. Though I now know that this framing of it was somewhat of a misnomer, the fact remains that I once saw things from Tony Stark’s perspective on this matter.
Which brings me around to first actual point about the whole affair: When choosing whether to dig in on something, perhaps the most important step is to reexamine what you think you’re digging in on. Stubbornness and conflict are not only inevitable in a free society, but they are a healthy part of making it function. They help us weed out the bad ideas from the good, and in theory lead to only the best ideas becoming policy. But if we are mistaken about the parameters of the issues at hand, if we fundamentally misunderstand what the issue is or even where we stand on it, such stubbornness becomes a liability. Conflicts arise when incompatible solutions to the same problem are put forth. In Civil War the problem was that collateral damage of super heroism had eroded the public’s trust of costumed vigilantes in general. The government, ever in the habit of trying to solve problems that aren’t within its authority or purview to solve, decided to restore that trust by federalizing and legitimizing such activities.
Right off the bat there is a misunderstanding of the situation. The public didn’t object to the amateur nature of superheroes or the fact that they weren’t legitimately sanctioned by government. They objected to cities being destroyed and lives being lost. The atrocity of the Stamford incident didn’t occur because Speedball and The New Warriors were overzealous and inexperienced, though they were. It happened because Nitro had no regard for human life other than his own and viewed his escape as more desirable than the continuation of the lives he ended. Its easy to say after the fact that Iron Man would have been able to contain the blast somehow or that the Avengers would have known better than to go in half cocked without thinking about the consequences, which may also be true, but they couldn’t have changed the fact that Nitro is a killer. The values, or lack thereof, of a murderer like Nitro are constant, regardless of the training or license of those attempting to apprehend him. More accomplished, A-list heroes may have minimized the damage, but it still would have occurred, if not in Stamford, somewhere else and if not then, sometime down the line. To argue that they could have avoided loss of property or life altogether is to expect perfection from an imperfect world and imperfect people.
Furthermore, once the SHRA was enacted the
dynamic wasn’t one of registering a class of people as seems to be the reaction by Cap and his ilk. Many took offense at becoming criminals over night for simply doing what they’d always done, being who they’d always been, but mutant registration or even Superhuman registration hadn’t become law. Superhero registration had.
As J points out with his Firestar post, those who chose to leave well enough alone could do so, no questions asked. While there is a case to be made that saving people is who heroes are as much as if not more so than what they do, the fact remains that the actions were legislated, not the identity. Only those who engaged in costumed derring-do were required to register.
By misdiagnosing the problem Iron Man and the government were made a problem out of thin air. By reacting to their perception of the law, or what they believed the law could devolve into, rather than the actual law on the books, Cap and the Secret Avengers doubled down on that problem and turned it into a crisis. Both sides were right in some ways and wrong in others, and rather than hone in on exactly what their differences were and find either a compromise or a workaround, they muddied the waters with misrepresentation of each other and ignorance even of their own motivations. Likewise, in the actual Civil War, the South wanted to exercise the 10th Amendment right to legislate for themselves anything that wasn’t specifically enumerated in the United States Constitution, and denied that, to exercise the right that many political and legal scholars until that point in history agreed also existed since it wasn’t specifically denied to the states–the right to secede. Admittedly they clung to those rights primarily because their entire economy hinged on the exploitation of slave labor, a wrong that many wanted to use federal authority to abolish. The North wanted to preserve the Union as it had existed for over half a century, to retain the aforementioned economy within its orbit and continue to benefit from its commerce. That the America’s original sin of slavery became conflated with the just cause of the South only helped to reinforce the questionable cause of the North. Both sides had some valid points and both sides operated from some self serving motivations, and the failure of either sides to extricate the good from the bad resulted a toxic mixture of each that continues to poison the country to this day.
That most Americans think of the American Civil War as a war intended to end slavery is indicative of the misunderstanding that is rampant in political culture on both sides of the spectrum. Then, as now, people shrouded their less than honorable intentions in high minded rhetoric and use the veracity of some of their beliefs to compensate for the downright hypocrisy of others. Then, as now, coalitions were formed, cobbled together out of contradictory constituencies simply to accrue strength in numbers against a common enemy. Then, as now, the very same tenacity that birthed our country and carried it through the birth pangs of the frontier, that catapulted us to the forefront of global commerce and leadership, now threatens once again through its imprecise and inconsistent application to undermine the very bedrock of that iron will: free will itself.
How you may ask? For the answer to that, check back next week as I separate the fanboys from the fanmen.