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October 20, 2014

Marvel's Civil War Storyline Is Not About Gun Control

Comics and film geeks, this one's for you. Everyone else, meh. As you may know, it appears that the MCU films will attempt to bring Marvel's Civil War storyline to the big screen. This story, published in 2006 and 2007, pitted hero against hero with, most notably for our purposes here, Captain America becoming a libertarian opponent of hero registration and Iron Man championing the pro-registration side of things. The writer of this series describes it as a reaction to the post-9/11 security apparatus, including the Patriot Act.

The news that this story is coming to theaters near you, put one liberal writer in a tizzy. He thinks this storyline is about a "far right paranoid fantasy" and he's worried that he might have to watch it. There are many things wrong with Bouie's piece, but I only have a few minutes to spare this morning, so here are the major problems.

First, Bouie's suggestion that Marvel did something "paranoid," "messy," and "slanted" by treating the Super Human Registration Act as a draft rather than as mere government list-making is ignorant at the outset. The purpose of the Civil War storyline, in addition to clearing up Marvel's back catalog, was to write a compelling story that would set hero against hero in a frantic, no-holds-barred, nation-breaking fight. An, er, Civil War, if you will.

Bouie might as well suggest that it is silly or messy for Magneto to keep inciting the U.S. government to hunt him, since he doesn't want to be hunted. Well, yes, but then there would be no story. Bouie might think it is "paranoid" for the Wolverine to keep acting out of irrational fear that people are out to get him all the time, but, again, then there would be no story. For the Civil War storyline, maybe the SHRA could have been mere list-making and not a draft, but then there would be no story.

Moreover, contra Bouie, treating super registration as a draft is not new to the Civil War storyline or even new to Marvel. Most comics that do super registration stories (which is approximately all of them) treat it as a draft, not mere list-making. That includes X-Men's well-regarded Mutant Registration Act stories, which are viewed by critics and liberal arts students as a thinly-veiled allegory for anti-gay bigotry. DC Comics has this story too, as the Justice League was forced to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee to be unmasked. Alan Moore's DC imprint Watchmen also used the draft version rather than the list-making version in the form of the Keene Act. Even the Harry Potter series used the draft version, with supernatural individuals forced to register and turn out to work for the Ministry of Magic or die.

Second, Bouie's real problem is that, he says, Marvel's Civil War "draft" registration does not work as a gun control allegory. This gun control allegory shtick is entirely Bouie's gloss. Nobody seemed to think the X-Men's MRA was a gun control allegory, nor are gun control schemes often compared with the Ministry of Magic's Muggle-Born Registration Commission because such a comparison is absurd on its face.

Bouie claims that Marvel poorly handled super registration because it gave too much credit to the anti-registration side. But, again, that's Bouie's invented problem. He says the story is supposed to be an allegory for gun control and that, as such, it is unreasonable for the heroes to resist registration since it, like gun control, is reasonable.

In other words, having prescribed an allegory that does not fit the Civil War storyline, Bouie proceeds to dispatch the Civil War storyline for not reasonably describing the allegory. This kind of sophistry is nice work if you can get it.

The issue, then, for Bouie is simply that Marvel set out to engage in story-telling outside of the same old "heroes versus government registration." What if, the Civil War storyline posited, in a rather fresh change, some heroes supported super registration, including a draft? It's compelling. But it's not about gun control, no matter how many words Bouie has been forced to turn out by his liberal magazine.

PS: In regards to Bouie's insistence that registration of people would be reasonable, if only Marvel had written that story, he should review the Supreme Court's decisions in NAACP v. Alabama, which concerned an exercise in government list-making here in our own world that provides a far better allegory to super registration than any gun control yarn he could possibly spin.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 10:33 AM

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