Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Comic You Should Be Talking About For September 27, 2006: Amazing Spider-Man 535

I'm a reserved person. I'm not given to making a scene. This stems from my childhood, when I was given to making scenes, and it didn't work out so well. I'm so non-confrontational that part of the reason I'm in therapy is so I'll learn to be more assertive. So, you can imagine, it would take quite a bit to stir me up to the point where I would make a scene, in public, over a comic book.

Like, say, page 12 of Amazing Spider-Man 535.

Feeling distraught after the death of Black Goliath in Civil War 4, Peter Parker approaches Tony Stark and asks to see the prison he, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym have put together to house the unregistered superhumans they've captured. A reasonable request, and one wonders why no one else has made it. Tony agrees, and takes Peter to what I'll assume is the previously uninhabited planetoid in the Negative Zone that they built the prison on. I make this assumption because the alternative makes what follows even more depressing.

The prison isn't a nice place. Aside from being in another dimension, it's made of a synthetic vibranium (hopefully not the Antarctic variety, as that would be just stupid), virtually impenetrable. The cells are wired to counter the prisoners' powers; pyrokinetics are kept in cold rooms with plenty of extinguishers, energy-users have an interfering frequency of energy pumped into the room, and so on. Some of them are hooked into a Matrix-style VR program. Except for the most dangerous, they're kept reasonably comfortable (or at least that's what Tony tells himself; we get the sense that the prisoners themselves aren't too happy with the situation).

Then Tony drops the bombshell: This isn't a temporary measure. It's permanent. All unregistered superhumans are kept here until they register. If they don't register, they remain there for the rest of their lives. Period. No trials, no appeals. As Tony puts it, "This is outside the jurisdiction of the local and federal courts. This is an act of Congress, signed by the President. Only the Supreme Court can intervene, and I happen to know they won’t. This place is not on American soil. American laws don't touch here. American lawyers don't come here. Once non-registrants come here, they're legal non-entities. Occupants. Prisoners. Them… and those who give them aid and support."

Quoth me, at the top of my lungs, in the middle of Burger King: "What?"

That's so wrong, I don't know where to begin. No, wait, I do.

Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states, "The judicial Power [of the United States] shall extend to all cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority." In other words, all federal law falls under the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Any act made a crime by a federal law must be tried in federal court. The section further states that "The trial of all Crimes, except in cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed."

Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment to that same Constitution states that "No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Sixth Amendment states that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed… and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense." The Eighth Amendment states that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor
excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

This is fourth grade social studies. Just by existing, this prison violates four articles of the highest law in the land. At the very least, the way in which the Superhero Registration Act is being enforced is a flagrant and unconscionable abuse of civil rights. At worst, if the act actually mandates that unregistered superhumans be held indefinitely without trial, then that's the ball game. The act is hideously unconstitutional and should be immediately repealed or nullified. And any legislator who drafted or voted for it, the President who signed it, and the nine Supreme Court justices who refuse to review it, should be impeached and removed from office for malfeasance and/or gross incompetence. And any lawyer who supports it should be disbarred for the same reasons.

As for Tony, Reed and Hank, they should be ashamed of themselves. Particularly Reed, the damned hypocrite.

You see, after Peter's guided tour through Thomas Jefferson's private hell, he asks Reed why he supports the SRA. Reed responds with the story you've probably heard about if you frequent Newsarama or one of the other comics news sites. It's about his Uncle Ted, a writer who refused to testify before the House UnAmerican Activites Committee in the 1950s, was found in contempt of Congress, went to prison, and was blacklisted from the industry. The moral, Reed says, is that even though HUAC may have been morally wrong (it was), Uncle Ted was still bound by the social contract to uphold the law. No one is above the law, you see, and people should follow it even if they disagree with it, trusting that the system works and that any truly unjust laws will eventually be repealed.

I trust you see the hypocrisy. A man who created and maintains a prison that spits in the face of the United States Constitution, to say nothing of the principles of democracy, arguing that no one is above the law.

It's been obvious for some time, but this is the final nail in the coffin of the lie that the pro-registration side has any claim to the right in Civil War. The Superhero Registration Act is an autocratic piece of flawed legislation, and the people who enforce it are tyrants with no respect for the law of the land.

The only good thing I can say about this is that, at the issue's end, Peter makes the only choice a sane and responsible person could: He switches sides. It's pretty clear that he'll be made to suffer for it, but at least he makes the right decision. Given that it's apparently okay for Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic to be morally bankrupt and/or borderline megalomaniacal, I honestly wasn't sure.


TH said...

Excuse me? Did you have a look at the newspapers currently?

Your country is operating such prisons. Not in the Negative Zone, that's true, but in oher countries, only the most famous of which is in Guantanamo Bay on Cuba.

The Pro-Registration Side is losing the "Good Guy"-Argument, but only because it is closely modeled on current events.

RAB said...

TH, one feels this is precisely the point Michael is making here.

One of the many errors in Civil War is in using long-standing major Marvel characters to espouse the side of contempt for decency and human dignity, and depicting them clearly violating the U.S. Constitution. These characters are now permanently broken and can never be salvaged. It's possible for us to understand that Millar and company feel the same way about the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government, while also saying that this story choice for these fictional characters is totally inappropriate, heavyhanded, and artless.

Would it have been possible to do a good story based on the same premise? I think so, and so do a lot of fans who've proposed their own ideas about how it could have been done. But making a bunch of super-heroes into self-appointed fascist thugs clearly wasn't one of the good ways.

J to the A.A.P. said...

"But making a bunch of super-heroes into self-appointed fascist thugs clearly wasn't one of the good ways."

So every hero should be on the 'good' side? If the story is meant be parallel to reality that would imply every American politician/leader is on that side too, which clearly is not the case.

In other words: Certain sides of this story might come across as ugly because that's exactly how ugly the truth is. Just a theory.

Jon Hendry said...

rab writes: "But making a bunch of super-heroes into self-appointed fascist thugs clearly wasn't one of the good ways."

The thing is, "evil government runs amok" has been done to death. It's a cliche.

If, for example, the story had the US Goverment setting up a super-prison to be run by Doom in Latveria, with the superheroes in opposition, and registration enforced by evil gubmint Sentinel-types or Mandroids, it'd be a yawner.

If Civil War is going to have any resonance at all, it has to show "good" heroes doing uncharacteristically "bad" things which they believe are the right thing to do, in response to a threat.

HammerHeart said...

Mr. Hendry - when you say "good" heroes doing uncharacteristically 'bad' things", do you mean like Captain America pretending to enter a truce with his ex-friend Tony and then breaking that truce with the very handshake that should have sealed it? Cause I seem to remember that act of personal betrayal happening in Civil War, which should safely qualify as a "bad thing to do". Not to mention Ben Grimm's borderline-racist commentary to Wolverine in Civil War #1 when he suggests that people "like you" (meaning Wolvie) give superhumans a "bad name" - which was a pretty hypocritical thing to say for someone whose team recently invaded a foreign country (Latveria) against the direct orders of both the US government and UN. Both of these reprehensible things were done and said by heroes who are supposedly on the "good" side.

And about Rab's comment that "These characters are now permanently broken and can never be salvaged"... heh. You're kidding, right? Do you mean "permanently" like death? Or will it be as "permanent" as having a baby child (does anyone still remember that Spider-Man is a FATHER to a baby girl who has been missing for YEARS?)?? Yeah, that Parker kid's existence wasn't very "permanent", was it? And the Civil War-inspired changes won't stick either. Reality check, guys: Once this event is over, ANY changes that are inconvenient to the status-quo will just be swept under the carpet and never mentioned again - you know, like all those awful sexist things that Reed frequently said to Sue in the '60s FF comics, and it will all be forgotten as completely as the Parker toddler was.

Is Civil War not as "impartial" as Quesada claimed it would be? No. Is it a total piece of crap? I don't think so either. It DOES contradict some characters' previously-established characterization, yeah, but honestly - this isn't the first time that mainstream characters have been mischaracterized in major crossovers, and it won't be the last time it happens either. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that anything that happens in this newest "event" will be permanent in ANY way. This publisher's track record regarding such "major changes" to famous trademarks doesn't really support the assumption that these changes will stick.

Just wait and see. If you honestly believe Iron Man, who's currently having a major motion picture made about him, will still be a despicable protofascist 'villain' when Civil War ends... well, you probably haven't been paying attention to how Marvel works. ;)