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Things That Turned Out Bad – That Time Marvel Compared Japanese Internment Camps to Spider-Man’s Secret Identity

by  in Comic News Comment
Things That Turned Out Bad –  That Time Marvel Compared Japanese Internment Camps to Spider-Man’s Secret Identity

In this column, I will spotlight plotlines by writers that probably weren’t a good idea at the time and have only become more problematic in retrospect. I’ll try to stick with stuff that’s more ill-conceived than flat-out offensive (like racist stereotypes of characters during the 1940s).

Today, we look at an ill-considered historical comparison that took place during Marvel’s Civil War crossover…

During the Civil War crossover back in 2006-2007, Paul Jenkins wrote a tie-in series called Civil War: Frontline, which mostly told three major ongoing stories. 1. The reaction to the ongoing battle over the Superhuman Registration Act (with one side against the Act and one side in support of it), as seen through the eyes of reporters Ben Urich (of Daredevil fame) and Sally Floyd (who Jenkins had just then recently introduced during the Generation M mini-series, where Floyd covered the then-recent “decimation” of the mutant population – artist Ramon Bachs did the Generation M series and also did the main story in Frontline, following Floyd and Urich). 2. The fallout from Speedball of the New Warriors surviving the explosion at Stamford that launched Civil War, finding himself to be persona non grata as the poster boy for under-trained, reckless superheroes and 3. The revelation of a sleeper cell of Atlanteans in the United States, which lead to a plot by someone to provoke a war between Atlantis and the U.S. to help with the superhero Civil War.

On top of those three ongoing stories, Jenkins would also tell one short story in almost every issue (before the last couple of issues required longer main stories and thus less back-up stories) where he and an awesome guest-artist would compare whatever was going on in that particular point in the Civil War crossover to a major point in world history, typically stuff involving wars (and often specifically civil wars).

Jenkins is a very good writer, but I think some of the historical comparisons worked better than others.

In the second issue (with art by Kano), he quoted from one of Plutarch’s historical works and compared Iron Man arresting Prodidy (of the Slingers), the first superhero to violate the Superhuman Registration Act, to Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon river to ignite civil war within the Roman government (the Rubicon river was the general boundary of Italy, any general like Caesar with troops would have to cede control of the troops once he entered Italy – him crossing with his troops while staying in control was a sign of insurrection, which was his intent, of course. Once he crossed the river, there was no going back, which is why the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has now taken on the meaning of going beyond the point of no return).

In the third issue (with art by David Aja), he quoted W.H. Auden’s poem about World War I, Futility, and compared soldiers dying during World War I to the Anti-Registration hero Bantam dying in a battle with a Pro-Registration hero named Thunderclap…

In the fourth issue (with art by Sean Chen and Rick Magyar), he sampled Billy Joel’s “Goodnight, Saigon” and compared U.S. soldiers fighting a battle during the Vietnam War to a group of anti-Registration heroes being ambushed by Iron Man’s pro-Registration forces, along with a bunch of SHIELD “cape-killer” troops…

In the fifth issue (with art by Roy Allen Martinez), he quoted from letters between two brothers who had realized, after the fact, that they had actually fought against each other in a battle of the United States Civil War, and compared that with Iron man and Spider-Man attacking some fellow superheroes who were on the opposite side of the Registration Act issue…

In the sixth issue (with art by Jorge Lucas), he quoted from a sonnet written by a Canadian pilot who flew combat missions in the famous “Battle of Britain” during World War II (the pilot/poet, John G. Magee, died before the war ended), where the Germans tried to obtain air superiority over England, with the beleaguered Royal Air Force managing to prevent them from achieving it through many air battles and compared the air battles to anti-registration hero Nighthawk fighting pro-Registration forces in the air…

In the seventh issue (with art by the late, great Eduardo Barreto), he quoted from an A.E. Housman epigraph about the dead soldiers at the Battle of the Somme during World War I and compared them to Atlantean soldiers killed by the Green Goblin…

In the eighth issue (with art by Frazer Irving), he quoted the poem “Into Battle” by World War I soldier/poet Julian Grenfell and compared the Battle of Edgehill from the English Civil War of 1642 to a battle between pro-Registration superheroes and anti-Registration superheroes…

In the ninth issue (the final issue to have one of these stories), with art by the main artists for the series, Ramon Bachs and John Lucas, Jenkins wrote the most personal story of these backups, telling the story of his own great-grandfather, who was killed during World War I. He compared his great-grandfather’s story to that of a retired Nick Fury in the future, contrasting the soldier who died a young man to the old man soldier who survived so many wars…

Okay, so that gives you an idea of what Jenkins was getting at with these stories. Again, Jenkins is a good, clever writer, so some of these work really well (I particularly enjoy the final one) and some of them are a bit of a stretch. Go to the next page, though, to one that I think really didn’t work at all, one comparing Japanese Internment Camps to Spider-Man’s personal dilemma over whether to reveal his secret identity…

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