Thursday, October 20, 2011

On X-Men Regenesis and Superhero Civil Wars

Much like sitcoms, superhero comics seem to cart out the same basic plot lines time and time again. For instance, how many comics have featured two superheroes meeting each other, having a misunderstanding, fighting, realizing their mistake, and then teaming up to fight a bad guy? Answer: A billion-ish. In the last 20 years or so, one of the more popular re-occurring plot lines is the superhero civil war in which two heroes, or two factions of heroes, have a falling out, fight each other (or each others) and then go their separate ways, glaring at each other vowing never to be friends again. The most popular example of this storyline is Marvel's "Civil War", and the most recent example is Marvel's "X-Men: Schism/Regenesis".

The two stories follow almost the exact same basic structure. In "Civil War", a superhero battle results in a some school kids getting killed. The US government decides that superheroes will basically need to get licenses to continue to be superheroes. Some superheroes are totally cool with getting licenses, like Iron Man. Others are not, like Captain America who thinks superheroes should have the freedom to hide their identities. The two superheroes fight over their new belief in registration/notregistration and their friendship basically ends. Oh, and then Captain America dies (SPOILER ALERT- He got better).

In X-Men: Schism, an attack leads world governments to revive their Sentinel programs. Threatened "as never before", the X-Men's leader, Cyclops, uses every weapon at his disposal, including X-Men students "Generation Hope" (like Generation X for the Millennial post-Barack Obama set). Wolverine objects to Cyclops's use of children as weapons (he never seemed to have a problem with Professor X sending the New Mutants, or Generation X, or the Young X-Men out to fight bad guys, but let's accept that for the purposes of this story that Wolverine objects to child soldiers). They fight. They stop being friends. Wolverine moves out to start his own X-Men team where young X-Men won't have to fight anybody (ummm, yeah right).

Here's the thing; I'm not really opposed to the fact that these stories are basically redundant. I get it- superheroes fighting each other is fun. Tension between characters is good for plot development. Watching Cyclops blast the skin off of Wolverine's face is great action. The problem I have with these stories comes from interviews where the writers say things like "We really tried to make both sides sympathetic. We want you to relate to both Iron Man/Cyclops or Wolverine/Captain America's point of view. No one's wrong here. Everyone is just doing what they think is best." I really, truly believe this is total bullstuff.  In "Civil War" Iron Man sided with the US government who were making superheroes register their secret identities AGAINST their will! Cyclops is using kids to kill his enemies! How in Odin's name are they NOT the bad guys in this? Sure, they aren't moustache twirling Snidely Whiplash villains. They have heroic intent, but they're doing villainous things. What did Cap do in Civil War that would make you unsympathetic to his side? Nothing. What did Wolverine do in Schism that was immoral? Nothing. Illogical? Sure. But bad? No way.

Oh, and did you notice that the more popular characters are the ones who take the more morally defensible positions in these stories? Wolverine is WAY more popular than Cyclops, so he gets to be both A) the good guy, and B) the "rebel" (who in American literature/pop culture is ALWAYS the good guy).

Look, if you're going to write a superhero fighting superhero story, great. Go for it. But make both sets of characters morally ambiguous, or don't pretend that both sides are sympathetic when really, one side is morally ambiguous and the other is as classically heroic as ever. I don't mind reading the same story over and over again, but I am kind of sick of writers saying the same, basically dishonest statements about the stories. That's it. Got a little ranty there. Sorry.

I love you, comics!

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