Monday, February 26, 2007

Just Imagine... Civil War in the DCU

I'm not a huge fan of Marvel comics, as anyone who's been hanging around here for any length of time knows. I don't understand them, and they don't understand me. I think we can both accept that relationship and move on.

Still, I've thought a bit about the ending of Civil War (arguably the biggest comic event of 2006). When you consider the sales, it seems to me that Civil War has largely been accepted -- if not enjoyed -- by the average "Marvel Zombie."

Which makes me wonder. As the "DC Drone" that I am, would I accept a story like Civil War set in the DC Universe? Let's consider what that story might look like, and I'll let you judge for yourself.

Imagine a DC Universe where Wonder Woman has been killed, and there are tensions existing between normal people and meta-humans. A lesser super-team -- oh, we'll say some sort of lame iteration of Infinity Inc. -- mucks up a mission and blows up a school, killing a bunch of kids.

This is obviously bad, and the government decides that they should start registering all meta-humans. Even guys like Superman. For some reason Batman agrees with this, so he hooks up with Checkmate and they start marking people off the list. Superman isn't too keen on the whole thing, so he says no.

Of course, Batman doesn't take no for an answer. He takes the initiative, reveals that he's industrialist Bruce Wayne, and then forces Robin to do the same:

"My name is Tim Drake and I've been Robin since I was thirteen years old."

Lines are drawn and the various sides do battle. Some guys (like Aquaman and Doctor Fate) initially decide to stay out of the fight. Now imagine for a moment that Batman, Will Magnus, and Ray Palmer get together to build a robot murderclone of Wonder Woman.

Holy crap, that's insane. But it doesn't end there. A bunch more people get killed, and then Batman assembles a team of supervillains -- including guys like Bane and Gorilla Grodd -- to do his bidding.

Things get weirder as a desperate and underground Superman recruits Wild Dog to aid in his fight against the forces of registration. Wild Dog promptly shoots some guys, and then Superman acts shocked that Wild Dog did what Wild Dog does.

Then there's a big ass fight in the middle of Metropolis between both sides, with Superman and Batman (decked out in anti-Superman armor a la Dark Knight Returns) beating each other up. Some people tackle Superman -- freakin' Superman -- because they don't want him to beat up Batman. So Superman -- freakin' Superman -- up and gives up.

So Superman gets carted off to some crazy red sun jail (a la Superboy Prime) and Batman chills with his new honey aboard some sort of weird Checkmate flying helicopter thingy. I don't even know.

Can you imagine how that story would have been received by DC fans? They would have thought it was batshit insane. Which -- when set in the DC Universe -- it is. So my question is: does it make any more sense in the Marvel Universe? Is it logical that Tony Stark would make a robot murderclone of Thor? Does it make sense that Captain America -- freakin' Captain America -- would ever give up?

As an outsider, it seems strange to me. For one, I can't understand why people in the Marvel Universe continue to "hate and fear" people with special powers. I mean, Jesus Christ, people. How many times have the Avengers saved your planet from the Skree or the Krulls or whatever they're called? Why do you still have trouble telling the difference between the X-Men and Magneto?

In the DC Universe ordinary people don't have this problem. They recognize that people like Superman are good because they save lives while people like Baron Blitzkrieg are bad because they're always trying to take over the world.

So what's the big difference between the DCU and the Marvel U? What is the thing that makes a story like Civil War work -- at least nominally -- in its universe when it would never even get off the ground in the DC Universe?

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At 9:58 PM, Blogger CalvinPitt said...

I think that it could have been done in a way that made sense in the Marvel Universe. It just couldn't be written by Mark Millar. Maybe Brubaker, or Vaughn.

And I would imagine part of the problem people have distinguishing between Magneto and the X-Men comes from Magneto's stint as headmaster at Xavier's (occurred around Uncanny #200), and that mutants keep switching sides for various reasons. The Avengers are always accepting people with criminal records, Spidey has a bad knack of being around when members of the Stacy family die. Makes it hard to know who you can trust.

At 12:11 AM, Blogger Fortress Keeper said...

Aside from Cap, nearly everybody in the Marvel U has screwed up big time in front of the public - i.e. Spidey hounded by the press, Iron Man appears drunk before the UN, FF forcibly takes over Latveria.

Then you have the Hulk smashing things all over the place and everybody's prejudiced about mutants anyway.

That said, Civil War is stupid by any universe's standards.

DC's equivalent, in my book, is Identity Crisis - which sought to "humanize" the JLA by revealing all their ugly secrets. It's not among the characters' finest hours.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous andy G said...

Everybody seems to be spitting invective at the Civil War, so I'll sidestep any criticism and respond to what I think is the core of your post, a DC compared to marvel kind of thing.

First off, there's a certain kind of logic that's applied that is fairly pointless. With both publishers, we have created world with similar concepts, that heroes walk the earth. The stories that have been created around this concept have been churned out, sometimes with beauty and style, often with sweat and blood, for over half a century.

Concepts such as parallel worlds, time holes, vortexes and the like have been employed over the years to excuse continuity mishaps, and alloy a constant regeneration and reinvigoration of what are, essentially, a reasonable finite set of ideas. Dynamics are ushered through the years with a degree of manipulation that is testament to their success (economic or otherwise) as icons. Batman always fights The Joker, Spiderman constantly combats The Green Goblin. Context and identity (secret) alter and shift, but the essence remains. Some changes do stick, like Clark and Lois' wedding vows, others fade into memory like overgrown and abandoned roads (Aunt May's death? Anyone's death for that matter?).

Time and the dollar will tell whether this particular change of direction will stick, but your funny "DC Civil War" does point out some of the fundamental differences in approach that the two publishers have.

Both DC and Marvel in recent years have recognised the need to remove their heroes from the clutter on continuity, with lines that sell (and sell well) to younger and older markets (Marvel adventures, Johnny DC for the kids and Ultimate and All Star Lines for the late teens). Which leaves the rest of the output in a frankly messy state, healthily generating sales with a constant outpouring of crossover madness.

If you're asking the difference between DC and Marvel, then I agree that Civil War highlights a fundamental difference in attitude between the two. I think it's pointless but funny to argue individual character motivation, as if these icons had fixed characteristics that remained constant over fifty plus years of contradictory action. To do so betrays what Iron Man or Wonder Woman mean to us as individuals, which is fine, but besides the point.

Grant Morrison, who is firmly ensconced in the DC ideas machine, has talked at length previously of comics as a handbook for the coming gods, of the world of imagination acting as a magical device that creates the world we live and breathe in around it, in the spirit of classic science fiction of Jules Verne or H G Wells that both predicted and inspired the future it pre-dated. The indulging of silver age ideas currently taking place in DC titles like 52, Dr Thirteen, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters and others are entertaining examples of this approach.

Marvel has another Scot brewing toil and trouble, and Millar's approach with Civil War, regardless of its success or not as a piece of work, symptomises the Marvel Way, intact since the sixties, of a superhero world with a flavour of the real. Spiderman has always played on the "what if I had superpowers?" riff with the reader. Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy is Batman's disguise, Tony Stark is a billionaire playboy. The Hulk is in the long tradition of the Jeckyl and Hyde exploration of our dark side.

So it stands to reason in these turbulent times that it would be Marvel that attempts a more direct comment on a world fearful of terrorism and inequality, where the conflict is not the simplistic dichotomy between the us and them of the good ol' Cold War, but against the unseen enemy of terrorism, with all the confusion and mistrust that entails. The argument is no longer to fight or not to fight, as Captain America symbolised when he inspired troops in Europe in the forties. It is now the argument with ourselves, to trust or not to trust. Security vs. freedom. And unlike the Cold War or the Second World War, there are no winners.

Civil War, I think will be remembered for its attempt to address these issues and it is within this context that it is best judged. However many Kree invasions there have been in the Marvel Universe is less relevant that seeing them as an analogy for communism in the body snatchers mode.

So, given that, I put this to you. What does Captain America's surrender say about us? And what does an unaccountable superhero look like in the "real" world. George Bush maybe?

At 7:58 AM, Blogger LurkerWithout said...

As to your point about people being gratefull to the Avengers or what not for protecting them from the Skrull or the Kree or whoever. According to one of Joe Quesada's interview/editorial things the average citizen in the Marvel U doesn't believe in aliens.

I kid you not. The EIC for Marvel said that most people don't believe in exterestials in his universe. In spite of that giant purple dude who tried to eat the planet a couple times...

At 9:19 AM, Blogger SallyP said...

The average "Joe on the street" in the Marvel universe is apparently a fearful, bigoted crybaby. Despite being saved REPEATEDLY by various superheroes over the years, they continue to distrust them and to hate any and all mutants. Frankly, they deserve all the fallout from Civil War.

I don't think I'd want to live in the Marvel Universe anymore. And I say this as a former Marvel Zombie. Since they have turned characters that I was mildly fond of, over the years, into nasty fascists, I've been burrowing happily into the DC universe, where, despite all the death and rape, things are still a little more sane.

Besides, Green Lanterns are the greatest concept ever.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Tom Foss said...

Actually, I was more or less with you up until the Murderclone thing. I think parts of this would actually work better in the DCU. Batman being distrustful of a large contingent of people with superhuman abilities? Superman standing for his ideals and believing the best in people (i.e., he opposes registration because he thinks it's unnecessary)? Yeah, that actually sounds about right.

Of course, it'd have to be someone other than Robin unmasking. Someone for whom the whole thing would be wildly out of character. My immediate first thought was Green Arrow, and if not for the fact that his mask is so laughably ineffective, I think that'd work.

The only thing that woukd make it work better in the Marvel Universe is the utter lack of trust. The people don't trust their superheroes or the Mutants, the Mutants don't trust the people, the superheroes by and large don't trust each other, and no one trusts the government.

How did this whole storyline go by without involving Henry Peter Gyrich?

At 8:47 PM, Blogger David said...

Simply put, the characters in "Civil War" wore the names and faces of identifiable characters with whom they had nothing in common.
The explanation for Reed Richards' behavior in particular was such a crock that it makes the entire storyline unreadable.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger googum said...

You know, I always laugh a little at a name like 'Baron Blitzkrieg,' if only because I picture his parole hearings going south mighty quick.

Anyway, maybe the public distrust of superheroes and mutants reflects the fickle nature of the public: sure, they saved the universe from certain doom last week, but what have they done for me lately?

Personally, I don't know which I hated more: Civil War, or Infinite Crisis. Tough call.

At 7:55 AM, Anonymous The Mutt said...

What if Marvel had done Identity Crisis?

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Shane Bailey said...

You know why I didn't like Civil War and why I wouldn't like it in the DC Universe either?

No Rick Jones or Snapper Carr.


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