Comic Fodder

What If? DCU Civil War

So Civil War is wrapped up over in the Marvel U, and now Joey Q is moving his horde of heroes into a brave new world of licensed super cops.

Civil War has been a huge boom in sales for Marvel, and, whether one enjoyed the resolution or not, was a story that begged to be told. All of this got me to thinking: What would happen if DC Comics decided to apply the same logic to their own little corner of the pop-culture continuum?

The DCU, as Busiek attempted to highlight in the JLA/Avengers cross-over from a few years ago, is a different world than the Marvel Universe. The name of the game in the Marvel U is a certain distrust of their heroes to begin with, except for the supposed love affair with the Fantastic Four and The (original) Avengers. Who would The Hulk, the X-Men and Spidey be if the public didn't show them equal parts mistrust and loathing?

The DCU is home to hundreds, if not thousands of metahumans, but unlike the Marvel U, it's safe to assume that public sentiment sways far more in favor of the superfolks patrolling their skies. After all, they've sanctioned enormous towers in the bays of both New York and San Francisco as a home to the teen-proteges of the better known heroes. Gothamites are supposed to feel some reassurance (and criminals some dread) when the Bat-Signal hits the skyline. And despite numerous mind-control induced rampages and battles causing untold property damage, the Man of Steel is still considered by a lot of folks to be one heck of a guy. After all, he's still the guy who shows up to take a hit when there's a three-story robot ambling through town, and his pals are the ones who pulled those starfish things off your cousin Murray's face during that weird day last August.

All that aside, the whole DCU is one bad day away from Hal Jordan accidentally levelling Montreal or Wonder Woman cracking the neck of somebody at the DMV (oh, come on... we've all wanted to do it). Ineffectual and often manipulated by Amanda Waller, yes... but the DCU's United States does have something in the way of a government in place, even if nobody can tell you where any of the major cities are located. It's not out of the realm of possibility that such an order could be pushed through, that the capes would be asked to come into the fold or expect to be somehow marginalized if not arrested. There's certainly enough of the same potential for civilian tragedy in the DCU as the Marvel U.

While the JLA and JSA may both have "America" in their team-names, it's a bit of an FDR-era throw-back. It's unlikely that most of the JLA would submit to a bureaucratic organization with political ties delivering instructions, and, in fact, the subject was covered from time to time with a memorable issue by Joe Kelly in the run-up to the Iraq war, and has subsequently been touched upon by Chaykin and others. The JSA, as a whole, is a bit trickier proposition. However, according to current DCU continuity, the orignal JSA and All-Stars walked away from masked crime fighting rather than reveal their identites or submit to governmental oversight during HUAC-style meetings. Whether the current generation would continue to feel that way is a bit of a mystery.

One of the interesting bits when you begin leafing through your ratty old copies of Who's Who, pondering who would be on which side, is how many of the heroes either don't have a secret identity, or are a bit of a N/A. But as per registering and working under a government agency?

DCU has long painted the JLA as gods who walk the Earth (at least the original team). Do gods like being told what to do by career-climbing pencil pushers and political appointees? Apparently not much if the move to the moon was any indication (talk about being out of someone's jurisdiction).

Batman isn't exactly a guy you consider to be great with trust issues (see: OMAC Project). If anyone is aware of the potential for the abuse of power, it's the guy who came up with a wide array of methods for taking out his pals in the JLA. No registration, and certainly would not give up the secret identity.

Wonder Woman
Only recently obtained a secret identity. Also, a former ambassador of a separate sovereign nation. Unlikely that if joining Team America was the only option for staying in the US that she'd stick around except as an ambassador to the UN. Has a secret identity now, but lived without one for years. Could easily move to another nation.

Martian Manhunter
J'onn is (especially lately) first and foremost a Martian. His empathic and telepathic nature could keep him from being manipulated, but it seems he might buck against the notion that his status is less than volunteer. Further, his understanding of humanity doesn't really involve borders. It seems most likely that J'onn might join up just to keep an eye on the proceedings, but would probably continue to maintain multiple identities outside of the US's knowledge.

Green Lantern: Hal Jordan
If they gave him his own jet, who knows? Already a member of the US Air Force, and the Green Lantern Corps. Hal might be pulled in with some sort of deputization, and might shed the secret identity (which is more or less moot these days in the comics, except everyone loves drawing that mask). It does seem unlikely that the Guardians/Corps would welcome a split loyalty, but might allow Hal to build a team of allies.

Green Lantern: John Stewart
A wild card. John has no real secret identity, but his private life isn't terribly well flushed out at the moment, either. Probably would face the same GL Corps issues as Hal, and might figure out some dual Oan/American citizenship.

Green Lantern: Guy Gardner
Incensed that he wasn't allowed to run the show, who knows? Might break a few pieces of furniture and leave. Guy seems to believe he bleeds red, white and blue, so he might sign up. But how good of a soldier he'd be...? Guy also doesn't have a secret ID, so it's not much to give up. It doesn't seem as if he'd be willing to play ball for the US government when he could be flying the spacelanes.

The Flash: Wally West
Been there, erased that. There's nothing like a hyper-sonic race to the death with a psychopath to reinforce the notion that having a public ID and a bunch of people who self-identify as 'Rogues" is not a great combination. Up until a few years ago, Wally was already in with a public ID and deputized by the Keystone and Central City cops. As of Infinite Crisis, the picture had changed drastically.

The Flash: Bart Allen
Tough to say. Bart probably saw what happened with Wally and learned his lesson. However, with Jay Garrick seemingly okay with a public ID, he's probably receiving mixed signals. A tough call. At this point, it's tough to guess, but I'd almost lean towards him revealing his identity as, really... what does he stand to lose? And he's signing up with the police force, anyway...

King of his own undersea kingdom with no history of a secret ID? A Namor/ T'challa type story seems more likely.

Carter Hall has played fast and loose with a secret identity, and I'm not entirely certain it is a secret these days. the Thanagarian cop might see the advantages of playing super-cop, and given the right position, Carter Hall could be your Tony Stark in this melodrama.

Here's where the readers who only know Superman from Miller's Dark Knight are going to part ways with the readers of the actual Superman comics.

Superman is the original man behind the glasses, and the writers of the Superman series have gone to no small lengths to explain why our Man of Steel would maintain a secret identity. There's been ample evidence that Superman would agree to be deputized as "Superman", but wouldn't spill the beans about his identity, the understanding is that most people in the DCU don't believe Superman has a secret identity as he doesn't wear a mask.

For all the talk of "Boy Scout", etc... the decision would most likely wear at Superman. It seems unlikely that Clark Kent would sign on the dotted line, but that doesn't mean he'd like being placed in a position to tell the US Government that he was not going to submit to the law. However, after seeing how easily the government can be manipulated with Luthor in office, firsthand knowledge of the shady dealings of the government through experience with things like Suicide Squad and the Ultra-Marines, it seem the likelihood of Superman joining would be fairly low. A few hundred folks dead would most certainly gnaw at Big Blue's core, so it's tough to say how he might react. Certainly he'd be thinking long-term, but whether he felt that the actions of others directly applied to the execution of his role might not be seen in quite the same light.

More than any of these things, Superman would also recognize that bureaucracy would compromise what he feels is a duty to the whole planet, not to any one nation (despite that "American Way" bit). If he requires clearance or is publicly tied to the American government, how can he enter other nations who may not be on the best diplomatic terms with the US? No doubt his ability to hang out in geosynchronous orbit may have played some role in how Kal-El sees the manner in which the world works, and, like Martian Manhunter, he may not have the same attachment to borders that applies to folks on the ground.

The list could go on and on, but we're trying to jump-start a discussion here.

There's certainly a question of how a battle would play out as many of the DCU's heroes could go toe-to-toe with an Iron Man or Thor, whereas those guys are the Big Guns of the Marvel U. The DCU is simply a different playing field. And there's always been a different level of collegiality between the DCU heroes (one which is probably most reflected in Captain America in the Marvel U), which indicates things might simply play out differently.

That's not to say the lessons of Marvel's thought-experiment don't apply. The tone of how heroes deal with the populace in the DCU is different, but that doesn't mean the notion of attempting to bring heroes under the governmental umbrella is beyond consideration. The idea behind the JLI seemed to make the most sense in dealing with the complexity of the issue and retaining the autonomy of teh heroes. And certainly the Justice League Unlimited cartoon explored the government's well-founded paranoia regarding living Gods in a space tower in an engaging manner. There are a million unknown factors, and while comics liek "The Golden Age", "New Frontier" and "Dark Knight Returns" play with the idea, it's never been fully addressed.

What we do know is that the super-teams of the DCU have a red phone to the governments of the Earth, that it's not out of the realm of possibility for Superman to address the UN, and that Martian manhunter can take a meeting with the President. Perhaps this gray area of a relationship is worth exploring at some point.

Still, it's fiction, and there's nothing like the navel-gazing introspection of the true fanboy.

So what do you think?

Come on, I can take it.

In the second Manhunter trade paperback, Superman refuses to admit his secret identity to protect his family after a defense lawyer for Shadow Thief demands he reveal it. It wreaks havoc on Superman's credibility and puts a dent in Kate Spencer's prosecution of the Thief. I think Superman would not go pro-registration if DC had a civil war.

-- Posted by: Dan at March 8, 2007 12:00 AM

Interesting. My reading of Manhunter has been spotty, so I hadn't seen that bit. I can't say I'm surprised Andreyko knew which direction Superman would swing under cross-examination. I'll have to look for this storyline.

-- Posted by: ryan at March 8, 2007 12:31 AM

Here is my own vision of a DCU Civil War.

One that begins right after Infinite Crisis and ends just before World War III. I'm not following the template set by Millar but I am creating new conflicts of my own.

-- Posted by: Sir Martin at March 8, 2007 7:24 AM

Has anyone read Kingdom Come? Did anyone watch Justice League Season 2? or Justice League Unlimited? If you have read it & seen any of JL or JLU, then you should know that there were some similarities. In Kingdom Come, Superman returned from his "ritirement" after Magog destroyed a chunk of Kansas. He started policing all Metahumans good & bad & gave them a choice to join his team or to be imprisoned in the "Gulog". This Gulog didn't hold & this war didn't end because someone noticed that they were causing major destruction. The government didn't agree with Superman's methods so they dropped a nuke on them in the middle of their own little war. In the end, Green lantern was appointed to a UN security council. The Wikipedia site even called this "the metahuman civil war." In Justice League (or was it JLU), Batman began to doubt Superman and advised him that the world was begining to distrust him. Can't get into detail about that because I didn't watch it all in chronological order. But they began to come at odds similar to Cap & Tin man. I would strongly recommend Kingdom Come, much better art, much better story than Marvel's Civil War. I was really excited when reading the Marvel Civil War, but the cross overs into other titles made it very confusing and redundant when the same panels or dialogue was used in different titles (it was like getting 3 comics with the same story in the middle, felt almost ripped off). Also, the ending of Kingdom Come was much more satisfying than Cap ordering his troops to stand down, only to be shot after his surrender (on his way to the courthouse.)

These are just my thoughts.

-- Posted by: only1 at March 13, 2007 12:17 PM

I'm pretty familiar with Kingdom Come. As I recall, the UN didn't approve a nuclear strike because they didn't approve of Superman's methods. The Blackhawks were sent in as it was feared that if the battle expanded and criminal metas spread, the devastation would be incomprehensible. The strike was a tactical decision intended to stop the war before it could begin.

I think it's an important difference.

The JLU cartoon did pit Batman against Superman as to how to deal with certain menaces as Batman believed in sending captured criminals back into the system and Superman decided that Doomsday was too much of a threat, and applied Kryptonian/Justice League law, banishing him to the Phantom Zone.

Batman, knew that once the public found out the Justice League wasn't merely apprehending criminals, but playing judge, jury and executioner, whatever trust and support they had would evaporate. I believe this took place around the same time Waller was taking exception to discovering the JLU had a giant laser cannon pointed at Earth from orbit.

I have no problem with the art in Civil War, aside from some page layout problems. That said, you're not going to hear me saying it's better than Ross's work in Kingdom Come. Hope you've picked up Ross's other DC work such as "The World's Greatest Superheroes" and "Justice". Also, pick up his Marvel book "Marvels", written by Superman writer Kurt Busiek.

-- Posted by: ryan at March 13, 2007 6:57 PM