Friday, August 11, 2006

My name is John Romano....

...and I support the Superhuman Registration Act.

This is the first of a few posts I will be writing in regards to Marvel Comics' newest event: Civil War. Here I will explain what Civil War - and the Superhuman Registration Act - are, and why I support them from the point of view of someone in the Marvel Universe. In later posts I will discuss my opinions as a reader and Marvel's conclusion of the story (once they finish in a few months).

So what is the Superhuman Registration Act? Well, it begins long ago: in the comic book industry there's a formula: Every summer (or every few summers) have a BIG event, that CHANGES EVERYTHING FOREVER. Naturally, these events rarely make lasting changes, and are almost always undone by the next writer/artist team. This formula though has lasted for a long time, since around the early 80's, at least. This year Marvel came up with a very interesting idea for their event. They called it CIVIL WAR. The idea is that something happens which changes the status quo for the world, dividing the superhero community in two (ideologically).

So the short story of Civil War is: A group of relatively untrained heroes battled a group of superior villains, one of whom caused the destruction of an elementary school in Stamford, CT, leaving hundreds of children dead. In response, the US Congress passed a law, the Superhuman Registration Act, which makes it a criminal offense for any person to use superhuman abilities of any sort to fight crime without first registering with the government and working as an authorized agent. The precise wording of the bill has not been revealed.

This has caused the superhero community to become divided. Some, led by Iron Man and an unmasked Spider-Man (that's right, Spidey revelaed his secret identity) strongly support the Registration; others, led by Captain America and Daredevil, strongly oppose it and see it as a violation of civil liberties.

So why do I support it if even Captain America doesn't? There are several reasons: Safety, Accountability, and Equality.

The Stamford Incident revealed a key weakness in the status quo that has existed with regards to superheroes: they didn't oversee each other. While many groups, like the Avengers and X-Men, trained themselves so as they were not a threat to themselves or others, they did little to stop other groups which were less trained. Thus, inexperienced fighters took on villains too strong for them. If they were only risking their own lives that would be acceptable; but also at risk are the innocent civillian lives endangered during the fight. The government has an obligation to protect all its citizens, and training those with extraordinary powers ensures the safety of themselves and other citizens.

There used to be a saying regarding the X-Men: "From the destruction across the city, you can generally tell where they've been." For a long time superheroes were exempt from the extensive property damage they had caused because they were "fighting supervillains." Often, this is understandable. But when a police officer shoots someone, regardless of who, an investigation occurs to ensure that it was the right thing to do. Thus accountability is ensured; so that if mistakes are made the correct people are held responsible. Property damage and loss of life are so percious that the government must guarantee that when either occur it is for a proper cause, and that it is minimized. With no oversight of any kind, superhumans have been able to not be held responsible, either criminally or financially, for the extensive damage they have cuased.

Ordinary citizens cannot enforce our interpretation of the law. No matter how "right" we believe we are, we cannot infringe on someone else's property or use force to stop them - unless acting in self defense. Yet this is exactly what superheroes have done for decades; enforcing a "might makes right" style law where they avoid encounters with athority simply because they are more powerful and no one can stop them. Criminals and terrorists are allowed onto their teams because they claim they have "reformed," regardless of whether they have actually repaid society for their crimes. This is contradictory to the law that all should be treated equally. In western soceity only the State has the athority to use force to enforce the law.

Some (many named Candace) argue that by being agents of the State, heroes could no longer do what is "right," only what is "lawful," or what they are told. But this not true. If a military soldier is ordered to do something he feels "wrong," or "unjust" in his society, he has the right to refuse to do it. He may be courtmartialed for it, during which he can defend himself and his peers can determine if he was right in disobeying an order, but he still can refuse it. Additionally, the heroes are offered a choice: use your powers to serve the state, or don't. This is the same choice every recruit to the military or police force has. There is no "draft." Since the Registration Act became law many heroes have become former heroes because they choose not to reveal their identities and/or work for the government. They have not been prosecuted, naturally.

Which leads into the next argument against Registration: it is a violation of Civil Liberties. I am unsure of what civil liberties it violates precisely, and no one has specified, despite numerous people, like the Invisible Woman, Wolverine and Captain America, claiming it is a violation, but the only thing I can think of is privcy. Specifically, forcing heroes to reveal their "secret identity" is a violation of privacy. Arguments about the constitutionality of that right itself notwithstanding I showed there is nothing forcing anyone to reveal anything. They only have to register IF they want to fight crime, the same way a police officer must register before he has the athroity to enforce the law.

Finally, this is not, as some have claimed, a reprisal of the Mutant Registration Act, which was pushed during the 80's. That Act wanted to Register all mutants for nothing more than being a mutant, which is wrong. Persons should not have to register simply for being who they are. As I would scoff at the idea that gays, blacks or Jews should register, so do I scoff at the idea that mutants should register. But the Superhuman Registration Act is different: it forces people to register for making a choice. If you choose to fight crime, you must register. Simply having a power does not require you to register. That is a subtle, yet dramatic difference in the law.

Does the Registration Act have problems? Probably. Would I change things? Almost certainly. It is difficult to say with any certainty because the law is not written anywhere, so no one knows EXACTLY what it says. But it is a reform measure that is a step in the right direction. Some fear of abuse; while I agree that this law could be abused, I don't think that that is itself a reason to abandon the law, merely place safeguards in to protect against such abuse.

My name is John Romano, and I stand with Iron Man and support the Superhuman Registration Act.

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