Friday, 15 March 2013

SWA #8-10: "Invasion!", "Assault On Galactus!", "Death To The Beyonder!"

(In which I go on at rather too much length about Captain America.)


Last time around, we left She-Hulk in the clutches of the villains, with Captain America and his forces heading off to hopefully save her. But has she been able to survive the extended beating inflicted on her whilst Steve Rogers was waiting around?

Issue #8 opens with the heroes attacking Doombase.  The villains take a time out from beating on the unconscious She-Hulk and prepare to repel borders, all except the Enchantress who has just gotten herself mindless pissed on magical mead instead.  If I could summon mead at will, I'd do the same thing, if I'm honest.

The resulting fracas takes up much of the issue, which is handy for summarising.  Klaw releases the Lizard only for both of them to decide they'd rather play patty-cake with a once-more depowered Thing, and there's a nice moment where Captain Marvel demonstrates transparent shields aren't any use against someone who can turn themselves into light rays, but that's about all we need to take note of.  Eventually, the heroes gain the upper hand and battle their way to Doom himself, only to find him all but comatose following his stint in the troposphere back in issue #7.  They find She-Hulk, too, even more far gone, but at least she can be put into one of the nearby alien healing devices; no-one dares try it with Doom in case his suit misinterprets the gesture as a threat and detonates one of the many booby-traps it surely has built into it.

With the battle over, it's finally time to bury the Wasp (and here I thought the funeral had been skipped over; apparently it was merely postponed off-panel). Except there's no need, because Wasp is alive! Zsaji the alien healer managed to pull her back from the brink, Janet being "not dead -- merely wounded, but also in some kind of death-like stasis" - or so noted physician Colossus puts it, this presumably being a common thing to happen to Russians who are shot through the chest - though it's nearly at the cost of her own life.  The Avengers are obviously delighted when their comrade returns to them, even if her first action is to complain about a lack of make-up and hair products.

There's just time left in the issue for Spider-Man to go searching for a machine to make him a new costume and end up with a jet-black suit that attaches itself to him, and then play time is over.  The X-Men have called in: Galactus is dressing for dinner.

In issue #9 it's once again time for the X-Men to shine as they try and buy Cap's forces time to mount an offensive against Galactus.  Cyclops, at least, knows that this is suicide, and wonders whether Professor X's recent unpleasant attitude was due to his suspicion that he'd have to send the whole team into their deaths.  That sounds like apologism to me, frankly, but I suppose there might be something to it.  Whatever else one might want to say about Xavier, though, at least he's leading this suicide mission from the front. This is more than can be said for Wasp, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye, certainly, who are standing in the alien village waiting for Cap to arrive.  Much better to die with other humans than those mutie weirdos, I guess.

Cap himself has corralled his cats and the whole herd is heading into battle, including the Thing who has once more regained his powers, and Spider Woman, who Iron Man suspects of being a spy, and of having nice enough legs to make her worth keeping tabs on either way.

The Avengers and friends are almost at the battle when Galactus shoots them down (and not even deliberately), which seems like a long way to have come just to die pointlessly.  Fortunately, they land on Colossus, cushioning their fall (I am not even slightly exaggerating).  Together the second wave of heroes attack, Colossus wondering what fate has befallen his teammates, everyone else wondering how much of them will be left to scrape into a bin-bag five minutes from now. Just as humanity's defenders are starting to break through Galactus' flock of flying death-balls, however, Reed Richards has an epiphany: the heroes must not stop Galactus, which to be honest is a bit like one bee telling his mate that he must not kill the bear currently stealing the hive's honey supply.

Mr Fantastic's reasoning is fairly simple: they should let Galactus win because he'll then receive the Beyonder's prize, and use it to cure his need to consume planets.  Of course, all the refugees the Beyonder dumped on this world will die, as will the heroes, but that's a price Richards is willing to pay (though not mention, apparently).  No sooner has he worked this out than he's beamed onto Galactus' ship (which he describes as "[pulsing with life... with living splendour! Mountains... seas... forests... a world of inconceivable vistas of beauty...", making it a bit of a shame that all we see is a bunch of giant metal rooms).  Galactus has something he'd like to discuss.

Back at Doombase, the eponymous villain has decided to have another go at stealing Galactus' mojo, and he knows just the person to help: Klaw.  This leads to what is easily my favourite exchange in the series so far:
KLAW: You narrate your life as you go along, don't you? Are you being taped?
DOOM: Why, yes! Every utterance of Doom must be recorded for posterity!... Come with me!
KLAW: Where to? Toodle-oo, toodle-oo!
DOOM: To the lab! I'm going to dissect you!
KLAW: Oh, good!
What I wouldn't give for a sitcom with those two as flatmates.

We return to the battlefield, where Colossus has found the other mutants (Magneto had buried them under the ground to avoid being blown up), and everyone else basically waits for the other shoe to drop. Soon enough Mr Fantastic is returned, babbling something about Galactus naming him the "universal champion of life", and himself an instrument of death.  Whether this means Reed should let Galactus win so as to save billions of sentients from Galactus' hunger, or fight to the death to protect the people of this particular planet, he has no idea.  Good work, Galactus, nice and clear.

There is of course an elephant in this particular room that Galactus himself might find too big to eat.  The moral choice here - fight to save a planet, or let yourself die with it to save a thousand more - is utterly bogus.  If the heroes fight and lose, it's immaterial.  If they somehow manage to win, then whichever hero is granted the powers of a God can then cure Galactus' hunger in any case.  It's hard to watch heroes agonising over whether to sacrifice their lives when five seconds' thought would reveal there's no need at all.

Eventually, all the heroes decide they're going to get up in Galactus' grill in any case.  Unfortunately, there's one flaw in the plan; they go for Galactus' planet-blender instead of the dude himself.  With his machine wrecked, Galactus simply retreats to his worldship, and starts eating that instead.  Reed points out this is an obvious prelude to eating the planet and then possibly the sun. Galactus doesn't actually need the planet-blender, it just makes things more efficient. Timely info there, Stretcho.  Great work you're doing.

Of course, Doom has his own plans.  Chopping up Klaw (which hasn't actually damaged the guy, though apparently he's more lunatic than ever) has resulted in a series of finely-tuned lenses (because sound can, er, become glass that... focuses because of... resonant frequencies? Yeah, that'll do...), which Doom plans to use to gather the energy from Galactus' ship into himself!

That gets us to issue #10, in which Doctor Doom's plan is going very well, thanks for asking.  The power from Galactus's ship is redirected into him, and he gets busy using it, turning all nearby objects into replicas of his face and laughing his armoured arse off as he mentally dissects the puny desires and needs of his former flunkies.

Tipped off to these developments by a Captain Marvel - reconnaissance is pretty easy when you can move at the speed of light - the heroes decide it's time for another hopeless stand against impossible odds.  The things you'll do to entertain yourself when your TV isn't available.  Magneto animates the heroes' crashed ship, and they head off to battle (with just enough time for some mutant/human bickering, which we'll return to later).  For his part, Doom's not sure Cap's forces are even worth the effort of raising his boot to squash them, so he builds himself a Beyonder-destroying chestplate app and heads off for a real fight.  The heroes arrive to find their quarry gone, Captain Marvel frozen into a hologram, and Klaw just a head babbling about Doom.

Meanwhile, in whatever dimension the Beyonder calls home, battle is joined.  The resulting shockwaves ripple out into our reality, shaking the Beyonder's hastily assembled planet like a Magic 8 Ball with only one prediction: "Signs point to apocalypse".  Both Reed Richards and Zsaji are badly injured (Colossus throws a strop when the Human Torch prioritises the former over the latter), as is She Hulk.  It's Doom himself who fares worst, however, rapidly having his left leg blown off as he tries to close with the Beyonder.  Risking everything on a melee weapon doesn't seem so wise right about now, I'm guessing.

But at least the ruler of Latveria has cojones, steel-covered though they might be.  With his last strength he knocks the Beyonder back long enough for him to appear before the heroes and ask for assistance in exchange for godlike powers.  No-one takes him up on the offer (Magneto is briefly tempted, leading to yet another argument), however, and Doom is quickly overwhelmed.  Intrigued by his new plaything, the Beyonder begins to dissect Doom, layer by layer, whilst Victor is still conscious.  This proves to be something of a mistake when Doom manages to hold onto consciousness long enough to trigger the device inside his breastplate...

And suddenly it's all over.  The heroes, having fled the collapsing Doombase (after freeing the trapped villains, because our guys are classy) find themselves standing before an omnipotent Victor von Doom.  He assures everyone that the defeat of the Beyonder has also resulted in the death of the old, villainous Doom, and that the war is at last over.  Looks like it's going to be two issues of peaceful harmony and garden parties, right?


With events snowballing to the double-length finale, there's not a lot of room here for mutant/human relations to be explored, and what does creep in is, perhaps inevitably, centred once more on Magneto.

The first and most important standoff occurs in issue #10 as the heroes head towards a show-down with GodDoom.  It starts off with some atypically snarky patter from Captain America and some entirely typical overreaction from Magneto:

America: Amazing! Looks like you've managed to live up to your own hype, Magneto!
Magneto: I gather, Captain America, that you would have preferred that I fail!  Or... was that remark, perhaps, intended to be a "well done" for which I should be humbly thankful!
Frankly, I'm entirely behind Magneto on this one, though since here that essentially boils down to the fact that I'd have told Rogers to go fuck himself as well, my position on this probably isn't worth a great deal. Instead, let's take a look at Wolverine's opinion:
What you don't understand, Cap'n, is that we mutants are at war! Always have been, always will be! You, with all your high-falutin' ideals -- you're the champion of the American dream, fightin' for liberty and justice -- but only for your own kind! For humans... for regular Americans!  But you just stand by while mutants are being persecuted, don't you? When have you ever fought for our rights? Some of the God-fearin' Americans you protect hate mutants -- and when they come after us, it's a lot like how the Nazis went after the Jews! Xavier wants us to hide... try to help humanity... earn acceptance... fit in!  But when they're threatenin' you and yours, it's easy to play it like Magneto did--! Fight back--!  Take the offensive--! Drive 'em into the sea if you have to... Now, though, Professor X has convinced Maggie to lay off...  Stop taking the expedient route... stop using noble ends to justify violent means... an' still you won't lay off!
This not just gets to the heart of the problem regarding the intersection between Captain America and mutants, it strikes at the core of a much bigger issue: the intersection between Captain America and America. So let's take a look at what these problems are, shall we?

The root of this problem is a common one: fifty states, five centuries, and four million square miles have conspired to create a country of a variety difficult for a Brit like me to truly comprehend.  There is not, and never was, a single America.  The "real" America is a construct that exists only in the minds of the most self-absorbed and intolerant conservatives.  It is the first Great Lie of the USA. America's strength is its diversity.  The Founding Fathers knew this; the explicit aim of much of the Bill of Rights was to ensure as many different people as possible could call themselves American without the place exploding.  The translation of "E pluribus unum" is not "You better be white and Christian round here, pal".

And yet President Obama notwithstanding, that seems to be the way it's worked out in practice.  There are many Americas, but there's only one holding all the cards.  Even the first black president spends an awful lot of time trying to do things the way the rich white guys want it to be done (exhibit A being the insurance-friendly Affordable Care Act, which whatever its advantages - and there are many - was explicitly crafted to try and keep as many monied interests as possible on-side).

This has always been the uncomfortable truth beneath Captain America; he's the de jure champion of an entire nation, and the de facto champion of whomever has the largest voice, which is almost always the white guy with a sharp suit and access to the Situation Room.  When Cap discovered agents of the Seret Empire had infiltrated America's government, corrupting it from within and causing Cap to abandon his role and become Nomad, the shock wasn't that the US government had been so riddled by enemy agents, it's that Cap could ever possibly have believed the American government could have been living up to his ideals in the first place.

This is not me trying to suggest there is something uniquely problematic about American politics.  On the contrary, the problem is that American politics are so utterly like everyone else's, but this is played out against a backdrop of unique self-righteousness, and with access to a unique level of power. Cap is told this more or less explicitly in Captain America Vol. 4 #6, in which a mass-murdering terrorist tells Rogers he hails from a country utterly fucked over by US interference in its politics and infrastructure, and promises to give himself up if Captain America can successfully guess which country he's talking about.

As Mark Twain once quipped, "Loyalty to your country always, loyalty to your government when it deserves it".  And a large part of what makes the American government unworthy of Cap's unswerving devotion is it's insistence - usually implicit until HUAC starts up or Steve King starts congressional hearings into Muslims in Congress - that the needs and identity of America should correlate with what the white guys are thinking.

This is basically what Logan is getting at.  There are human Americans, and mutant Americans, and the former both hold all the power, and are closer to what the pollutions Rogers venerates think constitutes "real America".  And when the deck is stacked that badly, there is no such thing as remaining neutral. If Captain America isn't actively aiding the mutant cause, he's enabling their oppression.

This is something Steve Rogers really doesn't want to think about, because he buys the first Great Lie, and because he buys the second Great Lie as well.  The second Great Lie is intertwined with the first, and says that America is complete.  The second Great Lie states that everything is fine now, that racism has been solved, that sexism has been overcome; that mistakes were made in the past, but these days everything's been sorted and people should stop going on about it.  

Again, this is a product of the American right - just look at the conservative-heavy Supreme Court gear up to chuck out the VRA because clearly legislatures in the former Confederacy don't have so much as a hint of racism mixed into them any more - but really it's just the US flavour of standard conservative thinking, the only way a political movement that has fought against every form of social progress in human history can look themselves in the mirror.  It's also an utterly essential foundation for Captain America's ability to function.  Try to imagine Captain America waking up during the '60s and actually engaging with the Civil Rights movement.  Or dealing with President Reagan sending in the National Guard to break the heads of some hippies. Up until the late '90s at the very earliest, the idea that contemporary America might be suffering from internal battles more complicated than the Avengers brawling with Ultron was simply inconceivable.  The battles against the bigoted and the wealthy aren't there for Captain America to fight, they're there for Captain America to state were right to have been fought twenty years after the shooting stopped.

And Logan is calling him on this.  If mutants were real, instead of fictional, Marvel Comics wouldn't have come within a million miles of having Cap fight for their right to exist.  The closest they'd come is to have him take the stance he does here, that terrorism is never the answer.  Which Logan then points out is too loaded a term, though in truth Magneto wouldn't be the person I'd go to the mat over on that particular rhetorical point.  The larger point though is the Catch-22 mutants find themselves in; if they don't make enough noise they're ignored, allowing them to be oppressed.  If they start fighting back, they're decried as menaces, causing them to be oppressed.  There is theoretically some kind of sweet spot where things will gradually, painfully progress - Martin Luther King Jr. found it, and it cost him his life - but it's one thing for the oppressed to find that centre, and another for those who are allied - even if only by default - with the oppressors to give lectures on the need for it to be found.  "Please proceed in a way that won't spook heterosexual white Christian men" isn't something a minority needs to hear from a heterosexual white Christian man.

This, ultimately, is why I don't think Captain America works as a character, particularly in the same universe that hosts the X-Men.  His title has no real relevance when he's outside his own country, and it limits what we can plausibly interact with upon his own turf.  It's a character limitation, not a character facet.  And whatever the flaws of mutants as an analogy to the real world, at least those parallels can be drawn.  Captain America exists as an anti-metaphor; an attempt not to reflect the real world but to shore up something that does not and cannot exist in reality.  It's unfair an oversimplistic in the extreme to suggest Captain America's only foundation is jingoism, but it is true that treating him as such might be the only way to keep everything consistent.  

Which is a real problem. I mean, at least Captain Britain is a drunken sexist malcontent.  That's how you put together a character who represents an entire country.


These issues pick up directly after SWA #7, and continues for several hours.


Thursday 12th of January, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Standout Line

The Human Torch warns of the dangers of over-exuberant embraces from the Thing:

"Jeez, I can see the headlines -- 'Affectionate hug slays Human Torch en route to battle -- universe destroyed as a result'!"

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