Friday, September 2, 2011

immoral graphic behavior

comic books were a very big part of my early life. I still have several boxes of them from the early and mid-70s, my prime comic-reading period. and I like to catch up with them every once in a while when I have some free time because they can still be cracking good reads, maybe more so now that I'm more nuanced in my understanding of the way the world works than when I was younger.

which is why a comic book story I read this afternoon has weighed on me. it was one of 5 or 6 stories collected in a graphic novel called marvel .1 and it was, I think, an attempt to provide some overview of the direction the company is taking. I'm relying on several-hours-old memory for this story, so forgive me if some of the details are wrong.

the conceit--whose title I don't know but it was written by nick spencer--is that the secret avengers, a splitoff from the regular avengers franchise devoted to covert operations, is going to extract a genetics expert who works for a.i.m., or advanced idea mechanics, a scientific crime organization I remember well from my comics-reading heyday. this scientist has worked for the organization for 15 years and had passed secret information to the government that helped it to avoid a chemical disaster along the lines of the release of sarin in the japanese aubway a decade ago. his cover has been blown and they are responsible for extracting him and his wife and 2 children safely.

they discover in which secret facility the genetics expert works. the superheroes split up and one group attacks the facility. there is a scene in which 2 of the secret avengers, war machine and ant-man, are on their way to the secret lab and are discussing how they'll gain access. another member of the team, valkyrie, will have arrived there before them and neutralized the guards. what this means, we understand from the action we see under their conversation and what they say (ant-man actually says, "you mean when we get there they'll all be dead?"), is that she will kill about a dozen people on entering the facility. this is confirmed when they arrive and valkyrie is standing over their bodies.

when they get there, however, on finding the person they've come to extract, they discover from the man that he is actually a cover and it's his wife who is the genetics expert who has been working in a home lab. she had sent the information under his name for reasons that aren't specified.

another member of the team, moon knight, races to the couple's home, but it's too late. in a panel shown immediately after his fight with the 2 a.i.m. operatives he finds there, we see a woman's arm and hand, both dripping blood, at the top landing of a set of stairs, and his response to steve rogers, the original captain america, who is in communication with the rest of the team, is that the operatives have killed her. we don't hear anything about the couple's 2 children.

the composition of the shot of the victim's arm and hand suggests we should feel badly that the team was too late to save her, and the panel is effective. I had an "oh, no" moment myself. how mature of comics to present the fact that not all stories have happy endings.

but that we are manipulated to feel badly for this woman's murder and not for the deaths of the dozen men (and possibly women since we understand that a.i.m. obviously has women working for it too) that valkyrie kills on her entrance, many of whom are also probably fathers and mothers, is staggeringly immoral. true, valkyrie is presumably operating in self-defense, but from the conversation between her teammates it's obvious she was going there with the intent to kill any opposition she met. the way they talk about it, it's even made light of, as ant-man bemoans his lost opportunity to impress anyone with his superheroics since they'll all be dead.

it's possible that we're meant to sympathize with the murdered genetics expert because when she leaked the salvific information to the government it was, as her husband reports later, "the right thing to do." but so what? she had worked for 15 years for this criminal organization--what did she imagine they were doing with that genetics information she provided for nearly 2 decades? winning science fairs? and who's to say that none of the dozen dead cannonfodder may have also leaked important lifesaving information to some government branch that simply hadn't been made known to the secret avengers? and even if we can assume that none had, isn't that just a byproduct of not being in a position to have damaging information in your hands (possibly that you, as the genetics expert, might have yourself developed)? and, let's face it, in the economy of the past decade, if someone offers us a job, say to guard a facility or a courthouse, that presumably pays good wages and benefits, wouldn't we take it, without being evil or even malicious ourselves? (after all, are we responsible for what the corportation we work for does?)

but so what? it's just a comic book. do I really expect a moral tale from a comic book? yes, I do. by the 1st decade of the 21st century, comics have become an art form that comments as much on realworld dilemmas and events as they do on the madeup problems of superpeople and for better and worse comics have become a method by which some people communicate how they think the world ought to be, and to make light of the deaths of a dozen people and then expect us to shed a tear for a single person who is at the least complicit in research that may have led to the deaths of many more, is an immoral act.

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