Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kree-Skrull War, pt. 4

Was Jacques Derrida correct?  Can you really deconstruct any text?

Well I'll keep trying.  My deconstruction of the comic book saga of The Kree-Skrull War continues.

Actually it just seems to keep slogging along.  I enjoyed the back issues of this series as a kid.  I'm just trying to remember how.

Avengers #92 opens with our principle heroes of the past three issues (The Vision, Quicksilver, The Scarlet Witch, and Goliath) chilling out in Avengers mansion.  Two facets leap immediately from the page.  One is the sharp turtleneck that The Vision is sporting, perhaps in an effort to become more human (why else would an android wear it?) and the other is the nearly stomach-churning sexism dished out to the Scarlet Witch.  Her brother Quicksilver says, "Wanda, it ill becomes you to flaunt your carefully acquired colloquialisms at your male betters.  Be off with you girl."

And this comes on the heels of Yellowjacket punching the Wasp.

I don't know.  Maybe writer Roy Thomas was trying to reflect the feminist struggles of the late 60s as being a definite strand of the zeitgeist, but it still comes off as a reminder of how dated comics can look to modern readers.  Anyway, Scarlet Witch is about to give her brother the what-for when Jarvis conveniently interrupts with startling news.

Those scientists the Avengers saved in the Arctic?  The said same men who swore to stay silent about the Kree menace?  Well they blabbed and now the whole story is all over the press.  Interestingly enough, it is The Vision who has the greatest difficulty understanding why it happened.  "I thought they understood the need to remain silent," he says, genuinely confounded by the human ability to lie.

That's not the worst of it.  There's a new sheriff in D.C. and his name ain't Stan Lee.  It's Senator H. Warren Craddock and he's an obvious riff on the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy.  In response to the "alien threat," Sen. Craddock announces that he has in his possession "a list of 153 'model citizens' who are actually alien spies. can quote me on this, boys..I intend to ferret them matter where their trail may lead..yes even to the Avengers Mansion itself!"  Translated, "We know they have that Kree named Captain Marvel and we want to bring him in."

Pure McCarthyism.  Politically, however, there is more going on here.  Keep in mind that this was published in 1971.  Americans were already growing skeptical of or even downright disgusted by their government.  The character of Craddock is a stand-in for McCarthy but may also be a symbol of this dissension as well.  The Vision's commentary on truth might also be seen as such.  Geez, and this was even before Nixon and Watergate.

Back to the story, the federal government assigns Nick Fury and SHIELD to close the airspace over Avengers Mansion in an effort to keep Captain Marvel from escaping. Carol Danvers, head of security at NASA and close confidant of Captain Marvel, breaks through the security quarantine and helps get Marvel to a safe location in upstate New York.  It helps that Fury himself half-assed the quarantine.  Why?

"I got a look at our Japanese-American Relocation Centers back during the Big One.  Saw what they did to men on both sides of that barbed wire.  So I didn't do that for Marvel...I did it for America!"

So much going on here.  Fury really reveals his true character here as well as his exact definition of "duty." True, he is a "good soldier" and a patriot, but he seems to subscribe to what Immanuel Kant would call "the categorical imperative." There is a higher sense of "duty" at work here and it has to do with moral law.  The lessons of history were still fresh at that time and writer Roy Thomas perhaps sought to keep them that way.

This all results in the Avengers being brought before a hearing of the Alien Activities Commission while swarms of protesters gather, public opinion having already convicted the heroes of being alien traitors.  The Fantastic Four make a guest appearance as witnesses.  Reed Richards gives an overall favorable testimony on behalf of the Avengers but The Thing is unsympathetic.  In fact, he has particular disdain for these heroes.

"They shoulda made Captain Marvel show up here 'steada helpin' him take a power!  Super heroes like them four we don't need!"

Goliath nearly enters a brawl with the Thing (geeks, take your sides on that fight) and the hearing is adjourned until the next day.  The heroes return to the Mansion and find that protesters rioted and then ransacked the place.  It seems rather simple to apply historicism here and see the civil unrest of the late 60s in full force.

Then it happens!  Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man show up in the series!  At last!

The problem?  It's only in the last page and their sole purpose for appearing is to fire the current roster of Avengers for gross incompetence.  

And we're still no closer it seems to the titular Kree-Skrull War.

That aside, there is one other aspect of this issue that truly resonates with me.  Rick Jones finds himself fading into reverie at one point, thinking about the comic books he read while growing up in an orphanage.

"They were full of heroes, too — but simpler heroes — an’ even the few of ‘em who turned out to be realies didn’t have a lot of hang-ups then. They were just Super-Powered Joes with a clear idea of what truth was — an’ justice — yeah, even law an’ order — that’s when I first decided I wanted to be a superhero — or do anything I could to be around guys like that — guys who lived and fought in a world of black-and-white, not murky gray –Let’s face it, fella — the world ain’t like that anymore. If it ever really was. These days you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys without a scorecard — and there ain’t no scorecard!"

Postmodern cynicism?  In a way, was this foreshadowing the 1980/90s era of comics of borderline psychopaths...who were actually the heroes of the titles?  Maybe.  More likely it all goes back to the growing cynical sensibilities of the times and a constant puzzlement over what is "right." As Rick points out, things just keep getting grayer.  Rick is essentially a kid in a weird situation and a forced efflorescence into adulthood.

And it sucks.

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