The Betrayal of an Icon and Other Cases of Volte-Face

August 27, 2004

A look at some of Marvel’s foulest misuses of their greatest characters in the past year or so, plus other companies misuses as well

By Avi Green

In the past year or so since April 2003, I made the devastating discovery that Marvel’s new editorial leadership betrayed one of its most famous icons, and one of my favorite heroes, Captain America, turning him from devoted patriot into the opposite, a man who thinks that America is the culprit rather than the target. There is more that’s happened to the industry in such a fashion within that time, but until then, let’s start off with this one.

Film critic and world affairs commentator Michael Medved published some research with attorney Michael Lackner, a comic book fanboy himself as told in one of the news items I read, pointing out some things I hadn’t realized when I first took a look at the Marvel Knights rendition of Captain America (and now that I do, suffice it to say that I feel more than a bit embarrassed), pointing out how the story makes implications that America themselves attacked and viciously assaulted its own attackers, or supplied those who attacked them with weapons for unjustifiable reasons, an accusation chillingly similar in some ways to the ones the Ministry of Truth has made against Israel in past years, by claiming that they attack and torture innocent Arabs and Moslems out of racism. Smear and parrot phrases are what these are called, as George Orwell pointed out in his time.

To begin this essay, I think it best that we take a look at Captain America in Marvel Knights and what I’ve seen in it for starters.

The story in the first few issues, such as it is, opens up with what could very well be considered now a case of the superfluous. Steve Rogers, alias Captain America, is sifting through the wreckage of the World Trade Center along with other rescue team workers and even Nick Fury is present at the scene.

After how misleading and simply dreadful this all turned out to be, I can’t help but feel that, like Amazing Spider-Man #36, which I wrote about two years ago, this too was in questionable taste, and very, very poor.

There’s then a scene in which a man whose daughter was lost in the destruction charges with a knife at an Arab man in an area where there’s some Arab owned stores in NYC, but Captain America stops him and while he doesn’t try to arrest him, he tells him to “save it for the real enemy.”

While not bad in writing Cap trying to tell the man that it’s not worth it to go after an individual with no known involvement with the Al-Qaeda, the downside is that it doesn’t exactly make it clear who the “enemy” is. But that’s nothing compared to what comes by issue 3.

First, as it turns out, the story implies that the US is responsible for helping the enemies of the terrorists by supplying them with weapons (the leader, Al-Tariq, says that his father was gunned down while working in his farming field), while not even really saying who these antagonists are. When confronted by three or four teenagers, it then implies that they too, were victims, by making it look as if they’d had their wrists and ankles cut and injured.

Then, it takes a different stance: when Cap brings down Tariq, who’s killed, he finds a US army tag upon him, implying something that a lot of anti-Americanists either like to accuse the US of or want to believe themselves: that the US itself hired these terrorists to attack its own citizens.

The peculiar thing about these two notions and how they’re presented is that, either it seems as if the writers were ditching one accusation in favor of another, or, that they’re trying to have it both ways. And then, to make it all the more confusing, the story puts in an act of “moral equivalency”, in which one of the teenage boys Cap needs to fight off takes a look at his shield and supposedly realizes that the US isn’t the enemy, while Cap at the same time when discovering the dog tags does. And of course, there’s also the problem with the book acting as if it believes that regular US citizens are warmongers.

Sad, but that appears to be the case here: as I later thought, after reading this time-wasting turkey, there was something very peculiar about the fact that it depicts the bomb factory within the vicinity of a small town. Bomb factories, to say the least, are usually kept far outside the city limits of wherever they’re built, and are under heavy guard by the police and the military. Why exactly was the factory here situated within a city then?

Whether or not it was intentional, it then very sickeningly dawned upon me that the writer/editor/higher powers, whoever was in charge, were implying that rank-and-file citizens of the US are bomb manufacturers! And if this is the case regarding the story, then not only is it unfounded, but offensive and insulting at worst.

The story hit a real low, however, when Cap flies to Germany, and – are you ready for this? – they try to say that the US was wrong to bomb Dresden! It was by far the sickest thing I’d seen or heard of in all my years of reading comics. Who would’ve thought it possible, all for the sake of “gaining publicity” that Marvel was capable of doing something like this? And do they actually believe such drivel?

The story already hit a real low when Cap was on the plane sitting next to a German punkette, and in his discussion with her, he doesn’t defend the war on terror, but rather, makes anti-war statements, and even confusingly refers to 9-11 as the work of a “psychopath” without even pointing out that it was the work of a whole bunch of Islamic extremists. Actually, what worries me is that the writing staff aren’t trying to indicate that it was mastered by Osama bin Laden, but rather, by…

Let’s not keep on with it then, shall we? For more, go and read the whole PDF file yourselves and see what you think of it. For now, I think it’d be best to advance to some more examples of abominations of this sort.

I am going to decidedly take to focusing upon Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency, second issue from November 2002, in which the US military is villified within the context of a science-fiction premise: soldiers are turned into cybernetic fighting machines in brutal fashion. Apparently, this must be Ellis’ way of claiming that the army “bullies” its subjects into going to war in real life, or something like that. It is known in some circles, if not all, that he may be anti-American, and to make matters worse, as revealed in same issue, a female Israeli army official, with battle scars, meets with one of these victims of would-be army abuse, and tells him “we know what it’s like to be abused by commanding officers and forced to do the wrong thing. I’m from Israel, for God’s sake. None of us ever meant to be like this. Let us fix this.”

Well I’m also from Israel, where I live now, and I also served in the army, when I was 19-21 years old, and while I wasn’t in a combat unit, neither I nor any of my other fellow soldiers, both in and out of combat units, ever felt that we were being abused or forced to do the “wrong thing”, whatever that is. Am I to assume that what Ellis means is that Israel – or its army officials – are trying to force their subjects to be “conquerors”? Or that Israel is a conqueror? Did Ellis even do any genuine research on what our army, or that of America, is like?

I’d rather not say here what the cyborg tells her in response at first, but I will say that it includes a very juvenile sounding sentence at next: “There’s a wire in my brain that simulates sexual pleasure when I kill people. That’s all I have now.” I can only guess that this is Ellis’ way of trying to equate sex with violence, in a most vile way. Not very appetizing, to say the least.

I am very disappointed, to say the least, with some of today’s comic book writers, of Warren Ellis’ standing, who use comic books as a way of channeling their political viewpoints to such vicious effect, and who let it get in the way of the real purposes of comics as a whole.

Now for another observation and analysis. In the Red Zone story arc in the Avengers, while I can’t say that the possible political implications are as bad as in some of the above books, the story still sadly falters due to the fact that it goes the easy road, by not trying to answer the hard questions as to if terror is a product of hate from the side of ideology. What was interesting about it is the following points:

1] When the Vision carries a sick child onto one of the cargo planes carrying victims away from the Mount Rushmore park where the lethal virus struck, two soldiers aboard, while it’s not as if they want to fire, still hold their rifles towards him and argue that “we loaded to capacity. Any more weight and we’ll drop.” Strangely enough, I didn’t seem to see any more patients on board the cabin section they were standing in, and somehow, I doubt that anyone would’ve been concened about having a small child as extra weight either, whether they’re really in overload or not. In any case, the Vision grabs their weapons away in annoyance and throws them out the plane door, telling the soldiers that their weapons weighed 50 pounds or so each, and so does the boy, and that their guns can be replaced, while the kid cannot.

Maybe they were acting out of concern for the rest of the passengers, wherever they were, but this was still a very forced and needless scene, part of the problem of Marvel’s padding out stories considerably for the sake of trades in bookstores.

2] In issue #61, following the prior story arc, “World Trust”, they come into a position where they’ll be reporting to the United Nations, they of the notorious Oil-for-Food scandal in Iraq, instead of the US government. Let’s put it this way. I don’t think they should have to be under the US jurisdiction, if they are, since of course, my arguments notwithstanding, the US does have its faults, and I detest that they should be supporting the PLO, as they sadly are, but then neither should they have to be under that of the UN either.

In fairness, it could be said that not that they’re literally under the UN either, since in said story, they’re recognized a world embassy movement in their own right, but it’s still very bothersome how they ended up doing it all the same. The problem is that, big or small, editorial interference for the sake of what then chairman Bill Jemas envisioned, still permeated the writing here.

As far as the fictional secretary Dell Rusk is concerned, since he’s already been revealed to have been the Red Skull, who infiltrated the ranks of the US government under a disguise, that’s one more reason why the story isn’t as bad what Captain America’s solo book became, but which doesn’t excuse it either. Not to mention that the way that Red Skull manages his sinister feat (he used mind-control devices to bypass other officals by making them think he was an authentic member of the cabinet), was still asking a lot from the readers. Not to mention that even with Red Skull having been “executed” at the end of the story, he’s still alive, and just left a replica of himself to take the electroshock from the chair.

As far as the Truth miniseries, thankfully abortive and now confirmed as not being part of Marvel continuity goes, it was still a very atrocious concoction, whose apparent purpose was to attempt a backstory shoehorning into Captain America’s history, by implying that the US government project that worked on the super-serum exploited black soldiers in order to do so. And what’s not offensive but peculiar is how Marvel appears to have meant this to be an attack on the army in real life, implying that the elements of the Syphilis Tuskagee from during the 1930’s in Alabama was even used during WW2, without even properly confirming their facts.

Let me offer some points on this. First, as far exploiting anyone for chemical experiments goes, while most definitely atrocious, the research that I turned up points out that it was not soldiers of black backgrounds who were being exploited, but rather, convicts in prisons who were. And not just black ones, but white ones too. But even if black soldiers were exploited, then it’s to be assumed that white ones were too. Even Jewish and Italian. And if so, well then, isn’t that hypocritical of Marvel to be making it seem as if only black ones were victims? Don’t even the white soldiers have rights too?

Sadly, such things seem unimportant to Marvel’s regime of then, which would rather seek to defame the US in the worst ways possible by using the most one-sided approaches of all time. Thanksfully, as of this writing, this miniseries has been disavowed from continuity at Marvel, though they did it in a most insulting way, in the 28th issue of the current volume of Captain America, during which Cap restores the World Trade Center to standing erect via time travel. No jest. Do I feel glad that this nightmare is over for now? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that the aforementioned story of the bizarre was any good to begin – and end – with.

Putting all that aside, there has still been more since then, even at Marvel, of stories with anti-patriotic or just plain ludicrous plotting, that has plagued comic books to no end. Even more recently, and surprisingly enough, at the same time that the 2004 Punisher movie came out, Garth Ennis has been using his now MAX sponsored title as a platform for attacking the US(and you can read about it over here), with the government as the cover, and an excuse for raw language to boot. It’s implied that the war on terror is one of “the government’s”, and Frank Castle is shown refusing to go after bin Laden.

Let us be clear. While it would be trivializing to have even the Punisher go after bin Laden when he’s still at large in reality, that doesn’t mean that it’s polite to the victims in reality either to have a character, whether hero or anti-hero, act as if such a monster should be tolerated and allowed to walk around scot-free, either. And since when was the war on terror solely a concern of the government? As any citizen of Israel in the right frame of mind would tell you, it is not so much a concern of the government as it is of the citizenry. And as a concern of the citizens, it is because nobody with sanity wants to have savage terrorists threatening their lives, day in and day out. Not at all.

I just can’t believe that Ennis too has joined the fray of writers who tolerate terrorism against democratic countries, and can no longer consider him a favorite of mine. What’s really troubling about this characterization though, is that it obfuscates the Punisher’s war on crime by separating between terrorism and other violent crimes. Supposing that Frank Castle lived in Israel or Ireland, or his family had been inside the WTC at the time it was attacked and destroyed? What if they had been journeying across the Israeli countryside, and Frank’s family was gunned down by a gun-wielding member of the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or even the PLO’s own Fatah movement? What if they were in a public shopping square, and were blown up by a suicide bomber? How would the Punisher feel if his loved ones had been taken from him by ways of a sadistic hate crime?

Believe it or not, by resorting to such characterization, the writer and editors have insulted Frank Castle’s own family. Talk about such disrespect for their own properties, this one really goes right down there with the worst of the lot. And to make matters worse, much of the reviewing community glosses over this tripe almost entirely, and does not make any mention of how full of contempt it is for innocent civilians in particular at all.

Conclusion

While it’s probably safe to say that Marvel has backed away from a lot of the politicization of their own comics, they’ve still got – or can be expected to have – a lot of such problems in the future, and it’s to be hoped that such things can be repaired. This same concern also applies to DC, its affiliates, and any other company out there. Marvel had undergone severe damage when Bill Jemas was in charge, and now that he’s out, they’re just beginning to recover.

But only if we keep an eye out for what and whenever these things are that could be happening, will we be able to do what we can to prevent this from happening.

Recommended links:
National Review: Excerpt from Michael Medved's part of the research

Copyright 2004 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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