Reading Marvel’s ‘Civil War’ and ‘AvX’, or “The counterpoint of Marvel Characters”

Lately we at Noumenal Realm have gotten very much into comics and graphic novels. Although we mostly read the Marvel stuff, there are a few indies and other things that we pick up on from time to time. I would like to discuss an issue that has been on my mind for a while. That is the interesting personal perspectives of certain iconic Marvel Characters in recent years. I will talk about Captain America vs. Iron Man and then briefly the more recent Cyclops.

 

Steve Rogers vs. Tony Stark: allies and opponents

 

In the Marvel Civil War storyline, there was a discussion about registering superheroes. The heroes divided into a pro-registration and anti-registration camp. For me this was a really politically salient narrative, in a decade where the discussion on curbing freedoms in the name of safety was a hot topic in the light of national security issues in the US and Europe, those Marvel writing bods touched on a nerve that divided the Avengers, and many other heroes in the 616 continuity.

 

Steve Rogers was anti-registration. People work from their own individual goodness to get involved with heroism, and it is not up to the state to both mandate and control this. Rogers also had a concern that registration meant that many heroes who kept anonymous, such as Spider-Man, couldn’t function as they remain anonymous. Heroes such as Spider-Man keep anonymity as a way of protecting those he loved, of course that never seemed to work for him in actuality.

 

Tony Stark was pro-registration. The government mandating superheroes would allow for a more centralised and organised distribution of the United States and their defence needs, if they were registered. There would also be a way of checking on heroes, think of the old phrase: “who watches the watchmen?”. By having a government approval, superheroes will have someone to be accountable to.

 

This difference in ideologies represents the truly beautiful and complex relationship that Stark and Rogers has. As people they are different, as political orientations go they are also different, but they also often work together for the same goals. The civil war storyline represents how fragmentation can happen from differing views, but perhaps how arguing out these differences is a necessary part of governance. For a comic saga that involved lots of ‘fights’, I very much enjoyed the political undertones of the civil war.

 

Cyclops and ‘Pax Utopia’

 

In the later ‘Avengers v X Men’ storyline of last year, Captain America and Iron Man had their own little revelations betraying a glimpse into their inner character. Iron Man was so desperate to find a way to understand and defeat the Phoenix force, that he discovered a spiritual faith, and began to think in spiritual terms, acknowledging the powers of characters like Iron Fist. Steve Rogers also had a revelation: that changing the world only comes through consent.

 

When, through a bizarre accident, Cyclops and four other X-Men the great power of the Phoenix force, they begin to remake the earth. There are scenes of bio-engineering and terraforming arid land, where the X-men impute themselves as a saviour to the world. Cyclops also proposes that the world’s representatives in the UN must accept world peace, so says the powerful Cyclops.

 

There’s that old saying of ‘power corrupts’. The Phoenix force fed into Cyclops’ ambition of the world, but also highlighted his darker aspects, such as his constant fear of being persecuted as a mutant, and never being approved by humanity wider. Cyclops’ forced peace, or Pax Utopia, is a definite reference to the old Pax Romana, which Kant considered as a viable model for world peace. If there were a single sovereign to rule all others, there would be no cause for war. Accept the Pax or face the consequences.

 

There were moments when the Avengers thought that it might be worth accepting this vision of the world, but Steve Rogers points out that such a peace was bought too easily. Real change has to be hard, has to be consensual and has to engage with people’s real disagreements and grievances. What Cyclops did was an oversimplification to world problems. I loved the AvX storyline for this insight I had in reading it. It’s also much easier than Michael slowly reading ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, just saying.

 

Sinistre

 

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(anti)Heroes of our time: Cyclops and Wolverine (a year-end post)

So, the year 2012 is ending. This is normally the kind of time when we review what was eventful about the year. To be honest, this year has seemed the same as last, and almost the same as 2010. The headlines seem often the same, either there’s a scandal about someone’s personal affairs which becomes political, or a political scandal that is personalised to specific individuals.

I’m a believer in the notion that our culture reflects our times. Often nostalgia for the year passing focusses on entertainment news or things that have happened in culture. At least in the UK, culturally we seem to live in two worlds. There is the discourse of aspiration and the reality of its improbability. Television shows offer fame and stardom, give us things we wish to aspire to: lovely food, great homes, interior decoration or the spiritual gin of a cheap thrill through comedy and music. I am just as guilty as anyone else in buying in to this irreverence. I am reminded of Robert K. Merton’s notion of strain theory in criminology: the idea that criminality and deviance directly relates to the dissonance between the ideals of what people are told to aspire to against its inherent difficulty due to current social times.

Perhaps one way to sum up the year for me, is through a Comicbook storyline and the way in which it has concluded. Marvel’s ‘Avengers Vs. X-Men’ (AvX) was a story about two teams of heroes who were forced to fight because of a difference of opinion. This difference of opinion was based on the significance of a very powerful supernatural force known as the Phoenix, which enters a physical body and imbues them with special powers. The Phoenix was destined for one particular character, Hope Summers, but as it happened, by an accident the Phoenix entered five different people who it was not supposed to.

(spoiler warnings)

Cyclops and Wolverine

The conclusion of this story was that one of the most archetypal characters representing the moral good has turned into a villain, namely, the X-Man, Cyclops/Scott Summers. Cyclops in his depiction in Marvel Comics has always been a morally upright citizen, the one who always holds the line of decency and has a commitment to the values of Xavier’s ideology of mutant equality.

Perhaps the most notable turn of events for me was the ‘transition’ from hero to villain of Cyclop’s character in the 5 issue short: AvX: Consequences. Cyclops, imbued with vast amounts of power had the ability to change the world, at first it looked like he was acting out of good. Many of Cyclops and the other Phoenix hosts moved to create a better world, some of their acts included things such as improving ecological conditions and solving the fundamental problem of the scarcity gap to end hunger and global energy needs. Quite a poignant use of superhero powers if such people ever lived in the real world. However the vast power of the Phoenix emphasised the nobility of their hosts, but eventually their darker sides were also emphasised, which eventually led to the moral corruption of the Phoenix five.

After the Phoenix ordeal, Cyclops is put in a prison. In a conversation with his former team-mate Wolverine, the latter says: you were always the man I wanted to be. Wolverine references Cyclops’ idealism and his commitment to moral good, incorruptible nature and his courage. Cyclops is, or was, as traditionally heroic as heroes get. Cyclops’ fall was notable in this regard. Eventually Cyclops’ is sprung out of prison and it looks like he has become part of a villainous ‘X-Men’ group including Magneto. One of the most notable acts of Cyclops when  he was empowered by the Phoenix force was that he killed his mentor, Charles Xavier, who is the most important character in the X-men series, since he founded the team.

After killing his mentor and murdering a prisoner out of vengeance, Cyclops realised he has changed and accepts this new moral character emerging from his actions. Summers leaves a note at the prison for Wolverine after he escapes, which says to the effect: I realise that I have to be the hero you once saw me to be, because that hero has now become you. Wolverine, as it has been acknowledged throughout comic law, and by himself, is hardly the most traditionally heroic. Wolverine has killed in cold blood, believes in a vigilante form of justice and embodies rage in many occaisions. Wolverine as an X-man, and a role model realises that his behaviour has implications for those who have looked up to him and this has made him more mindful of his behaviour.

I think that the transition of the hero mantle from Cyclops to Wolverine reflects a change in the cultural sensibilities of our time. Idealism seems no longer relevant, idealism seems sour in an age of austerity and hardship. Our heroes are often the reluctant ones. The heroes of our time are more like Aeneas: brooding, strained, unwilling, encumbered by duty. Charlie Brooker has written a piece a few days ago to this effect pointing out how James Bond and Batman, characters of two blockbuster films this year; are essentially the same character. That Cyclops has become a villain hit home to me the cultural sensibilities of today, and how different this decade was in relation to the last. The bubble has broken and we are in a wet spot. Anti-heroes are our heroes, and idealism is replaced by cynicism and regret.

Michael

P.S. Happy New Year from the Noumenal Realm team 🙂