THE LAW IS A ASS #302: A Civil War Never Is
“Whose side are you on?” That’s how Marvel touted its mega-event of 2006-2007, Civil War. Me? I’m on the readers’ side. So, even though Civil War ended some time ago, we’re still living in its aftermath and I’m still looking for a way to prove it couldn’t have happened.
Civil War started because the New Warriors, a team of “poorly-trained” super-heroes, tried to boost the ratings of their reality show by capturing a group of super-villains on camera. One of the super-villains, Nitro, the villain who can blow himself up over and over, decided that rather than be captured, he would blow himself up “real good,” killing over six hundred people, including a school bus full of children.
Everyone blamed the New Warriors. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s easier to blame the heroes than the super-villain who actually killed the six hundred people. Maybe because Civil War’s plot needed a plot device that would prompt Congress to enact a Superhuman Registration Act. All I know is that in the eyes of the law, the New Warriors shouldn’t be blamed for Nitro’s acts.
See, the law has this thing called the Doctrine of Emergency, which says people can act in emergencies without being subject to normal standards of care. The doctrine exists to encourage good Samaritans, so the law seeks to immunize them if they try to do good in an emergency situation but cause some harm as a result. So if a person performs emergency CPR on a heart attack victim and accidentally breaks the victim’s ribs, the good Samaritan isn’t liable for breaking the heart attack victim’s ribs. In the same way, if a group of super-heroes takes on a group of super-villains who are attacking a city, the heroes shouldn’t be held responsible if third parties get hurt or killed in the fight; and they especially shouldn’t be blamed if one of the villains acts on his own and kills said third parties. God, if the Doctrine of Emergency didn’t exist, can you imagine the property damage and wrongful death suits that would have been brought against Superman after [[[Man of Steel]]]? Instead, he got thanked by some Metropolans in the middle of a bomb crater.
Civil War had major problems in its premise because of the Doctrine of Emergency. The New Warriors shouldn’t have been be liable for the deaths that Nitro caused. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that the law may not be on its side, the Marvel Universe Congress passed the SRA. After all, when has a little thing like the law not being on its side ever stopped Congress?
The SRA required all super-powered individuals in the Marvel Universe to register their identities and super powers with the federal government, so that the government could train meta-humans to use their powers properly. Riiiiight. Our government couldn’t even train FEMA agents how to book passage on Orbitz to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it’s the perfect organization to teach Captain Wrigley how to keep his mutant-powered minty freshness fresh all day.
Under the SRA, failure to register was a criminal offense. Several of the super-heroes, most notably Captain America, opposed the SRA. They refused to register, and immediately became outlaws and fugitives because the SRA and its registration requirement went into effect the day it was enacted. Which is the second legal reason why Civil War couldn’t have happened.
In the real world, laws have a phase-in periods. New emission control standards don’t go into effect overnight, before any automobile manufacturer had a chance to comply with them. Car manufacturers are given time to get their cars into compliance with the standards; usually years. Registration laws also have phase-ins periods. When the Selective Service Act was enacted, the federales didn’t start rounding up the unregistered at the stroke of midnight on the day the law went into effect. No, the SSA gave people a period of several months to register before they were called draft dodgers.
Why? Well, what if someone was in Europe on the day the law went into effect so couldn’t register? Should he be a criminal under those circumstances or should he be given time to return from Europe and register? Now multiply that problem a millionfold for super-heroes. What if, when the SRA went into effect, a super-hero was visiting the Blue Area of the Moon, or fighting Blastaar in the Negative Zone, or was dead and hadn’t been retconned back to life yet? Should said hero be guilty of violating the SRA?
So, if the SRA had a phase-in period, and it would have had one, that means Civil War hasn’t actually happened yet. Remember, the Marvel Universe time moves much, much slower than real time. In the Marvel Universe, the SRA’S months-long phase-in period probably wouldn’t be ending until right about now. We still have time to give Captain America and Iron Man a copy of Civil War #7, with its oh-so-obvious solution to the problem, and keep them from fighting in the first place. We can keep Civil War from happening.
And that means we don’t have to see Tony Stark become someone unrecognizable to anyone who grew up with him when he was a hero. It means we don’t have to see Reed Richards explain that he was in favor of the SRA, because the law was the law and as long as it was the law, we have to obey it; conveniently forgetting that in his own origin he stole a rocket ship, thereby committing the grandest grand theft motor vehicle in history. It also means that we don’t have to see Captain America scolded for not really knowing what the American people wanted because he didn’t have a MySpace page or a YouTube account. (After all, everyone knows that you really measure how in touch with the American people a person is by counting how many e-mails offering financial aid he gets from deposed Nigerian princes.)
So Marvel’s Civil War couldn’t have happened. And we can ignore all those stories that came during and after it. Well, not really, but sometimes don’t you wish you could? I was born in 1952, some ninety years too young to have been in the American Civil War. And after thinking about Civil War all over again, I realized that I wish I had been too young for Marvel’s Civil War, too.
Author’s Note: I wrote a few installments of “The Law Is a Ass” for Comics’ Buyer’s Guide which, for a variety of reasons, it never printed. From time to time, I am going to run one of these previously unpublished installments, slightly edited to bring them up to date. This is one of those times.
My main problem with Civil War was the way characters behaved ‘out of character’. Spider-Man revealing his secret identity is just something I can’t see Peter Parker ever considering because of the danger it would’ve placed his friends and family in. It was an interesting idea, but had I been an editor, I’d have rejected it as it was because of the characters’ incongruous behaviour.
I think Marvel abandoned the idea of Marvel time in the 1990s. They substituted the idea that FF’s first flight happened 10 years ago, which means all those old stories have to be continually compressed to fit that 10 year Procrustean bed. In those 10 years, for example, Reed and Sue have married, separated, had 2 children, the U-Foes and Ivan Kragoff have copied their flight, the FF has broken up at least twice, etc., etc. In that breakneck pace, the phase-in period for the SHRA would be only moments.
BTW, have you written about the SHRA’s predecessor, the MRA?